Mayor-elect Bass names LA28 executive Chris Thompson as chief of staff

L.A. mayoral candidate Karen Bass at an election rally on Nov. 8.
Mayor-elect Karen Bass named her chief of staff on Tuesday. She has invited staffers working for Mayor Eric Garcetti to remain in their jobs through April to aid in the transition. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Mayor-elect Karen Bass announced one of the central roles in her administration Tuesday, naming LA28 senior vice president Christopher Thompson as her chief of staff.

Thompson, who will also guide Bass' transition, will start Monday. He is the first major hire announced by the new administration.

"My number one priority is assembling a team that will be ready on day one to move our city forward," Bass said in a news release that touted Thompson's public and private sector experience.

Thompson currently leads government relations for the organizing committee for Los Angeles' 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. He started his career in Congress, ultimately serving as chief of staff to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and spent nearly seven years in various roles at Edison International and Southern California Edison.

He also serves on the boards of the PBS SoCal/Public Media Group of Southern California and the California Science Center Foundation and previously served on the board of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, according to the Bass campaign.

The mayor-elect’s term begins Dec. 12. She previously invited all staffers in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office to remain in their jobs through April, according to a letter sent last week — an unusual move intended to provide stability during a short transition period.

"The chief of staff is your alter ego. It’s your enforcer and it’s always your bearer of bad news," said political science professor Fernando Guerra, who heads the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. "So this person better have a thick skin and the ability to implement the tough decisions that the mayor has to make."

A City Hall insider who knows Thompson said he is someone with a strong legislative background because of his work with Feinstein.

Guerra said he was a bit surprised that Bass had selected a chief of staff who didn't appear to have previously worked inside City Hall.

"I thought she would have selected someone who knew City Hall completely inside and out because of her not having worked at City Hall before," Guerra said, though he posited that Bass' allies on the City Council and Thompson's experience lobbying City Hall could both help ease the transition.

In his role at LA28, Thompson has been registered as a City Hall lobbyist since November 2021, according to L.A. Ethics Commission filings. He filed paperwork terminating his lobbyist registration Tuesday.

Thompson's recent past as a lobbyist for LA28 will probably raise some hackles, particularly with activist groups opposed to the Olympic Games.

Rob Quan, a frequent City Hall critic, said he was reserving some judgment on Thompson as a hire because he didn't know enough about him yet.

But Quan — an organizer with Unrig LA, a group focused on issues of representative government and money in politics — said Thompson's close relationships with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, LA28 and Southern California Edison gave him pause.

"This is the chief of the staff — the chief of staff controls access," Quan said, raising questions about how that access might play out for powerful local interests. "Maybe he's just a really good manager, that's important. But he's been managing a certain world in the city family, and that says something."

Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl said that Thompson "will not participate in matters regarding the Olympics for the first year of his service."

A spokesperson for LA28 confirmed that Thompson's last day with the organization would be Friday, and the group's chief executive, Kathy Carter, described Thompson as "an exceptional colleague."

“The people of this city spoke loud and clear when they delivered a decisive victory for Mayor-elect Bass," Thompson said in a statement Tuesday. "She has laid out a clear vision and plan to confront the crisis of homelessness and to make our city safer and more affordable for all. I look forward to helping her execute that vision.”

Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.