The Movement of Progressives and the Force of the Moderate Has Birthed a New Dream for Change.
The second-largest city in America has turned a new leaf. The fall of old political male power has ironically come in the fall. The reason for the season is that Black Californians are here to stay and have a lot to draw from.
Winning the tight race to become the first female and first Black female mayor of Los Angeles was a tough fight for Karen Bass. Now comes the harder job of uniting a city confronting a racism scandal, worsening homelessness crisis, and rising crime rates.
Bass, a six-term Democratic congresswoman, won the city’s mayoral contest, besting real-estate billionaire Rick Caruso, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
Bass will join a growing group of Black women leading major cities in the US, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Seven of the 100 mayors in America’s most-populous cities are Black women — all of them Democrats — according to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University.
“Those are cities that really demonstrate Black women’s capacity to lead at these top executive levels, as well as the influence they can have in policy making,” said Kelly Dittmar, director of research at CAWP. “The mayor of Los Angeles is obviously a key player in California politics as well as national politics — so this is a position where we are really talking about a large amount of political power.”
Bass, 69, is no stranger to breaking political ground. She’s served as a Democratic congresswoman since 2011, following six years in the California legislature, including two as assembly speaker, the first Black woman to hold that post in any state. A Los Angeles native, she also worked as an organizer in South Los Angeles to triage the drug epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.
Fernando Guerra, the director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, believes Bass will face pressure from both progressives and moderates to bring about their opposing visions for change. The rise of Caruso, a former Republican-turned-Democrat, represented a shift to the right in the reliably left-leaning city.
“There is a large group of Angelenos who feel that the liberal Democratic coalition or regimes that have dominated LA politics have not met the moment when it comes to homelessness,” said Guerra.
Sharon Wright Austin, who is the author of the upcoming book “Political Black Girl Magic: The Elections and Governance of Black Female Mayors,” said a new political force is emerging.
“It used to be that Black women were the organizers of civil rights protests and later political movements, but now you’re seeing Black women running for office themselves,” said Austin, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. “They’ve got the governmental experience that they’ve gained, sometimes under the mentorship of previous Black mayors, and they are qualified to run for mayor themselves.”
The second-largest city in the US, Los Angeles is home to about 4 million people. Roughly half the population is Hispanic or Latino, while about 9% of residents are Black. As in other cities, Black people make up a disproportionate number of LA’s homeless population — one of the city’s most intractable issues. Bass has pledged to shelter 17,000 people experiencing homelessness in her first year. She plans to appoint a homelessness chief and end the encampments that are common in the city.
In her new post, Bass will confront a city grappling with renewed racial tensions after three Los Angeles City Council members were caught making racist comments in a leaked recording, leading to the resignation of its president. The other two councilmembers have refused calls to resign.
Austin expects Bass will face bigger demands from constituents than Tom Bradley, who served as Los Angeles’s first Black mayor from 1973 to 1993. Already they have made it clear they want change: At least half a dozen officials lost their bids for reelection, creating a “significant shift,” Guerra said. For one, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose tenure was marked by scandal, was widely defeated to Robert Luna, a former police chief supported by top Democrats in the state.
“To some extent, the voters cleaned house for her,” said Guerra. “She’s gotta have a reform agenda that people can trust and believe states the values of LA going forward.”
Part of story originially posted in Bloomberg News
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