Column: Of course, Karen Bass will run for mayor. Why settle for a gridlocked Congress?

·5 min read
Los Angeles, CA - July 15: Congresswoman Karen Bass talks about the expanded Child Tax Credit at a press conference held at Barrio Action Youth and Family Center on Thursday, July 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Rep. Karen Bass smiles during a July news conference at Barrio Action Youth and Family Center while talking about the newly expanded federal child tax credit. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

So, word on the street is U.S. Rep. Karen Bass is going to run for mayor of Los Angeles.

As my Times colleagues Dakota Smith and David Zahniser reported last week, three sources who asked to remain anonymous predicted she would join the increasingly crowded field of candidates vying to succeed Eric Garcetti in 2022.

Additional anonymous sources, these quoted by the Washington Post, said that Bass would make an announcement as soon as this week — "barring unexpected changes."

And indeed, on Monday morning, she made it official.

“Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” Bass said in a statement. “I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change — especially in times of crisis.”

Cue the breathless speculation over what it all means.

For one, Bass is vying to become only the second Black person and the first woman to be elected mayor.

To pull it off, she will have to beat out L.A. City Council members Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino, plus City Atty. Mike Feuer. There's also Jessica Lall and Mel Wilson, both bigwigs in the business world, and possibly former L.A. Unified schools Supt. Austin Beutner.

And if she does pull it off, it will mean giving up an influential role as a six-term member of Congress — where she just wrapped up a stint as head of the Congressional Black Caucus — for one in which Bass will have to share power with the City Council.

But still, even with all of those supposed political risks, it's hard to understand why Bass wouldn't run for mayor. And frankly, it's also hard to understand why she wouldn't win.

As a longtime progressive with a national profile, she surely would be able to get more done in an increasingly lefty Los Angeles than she would in a Congress held hostage by partisan gridlock in Washington.

Case in point, the collapse of negotiations over the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Democrats in the House passed the bill — twice — in hopes of finally reforming police departments by creating a nationwide registry of problematic officers, prohibiting racial profiling and ending the shield officers have from lawsuits, known as qualified immunity.

But, of course, Democrats ran into a wall of resistance in the Senate. Ultimately, Bass and the rest of the negotiating team were just unable to reach an agreement with Republicans, led by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

"The compromises that had been made over in the Senate were going to move the needle forward. But it wasn’t going to be transformative," Bass told my colleague Nolan D. McCaskill last week. "It’s sad. But at this point, I just felt like we were just running around in circles and we were never going to get to yes on anything. And so I think it’s important to recognize when you cannot go further and to close."

And to think, Bass has a reputation — forged as speaker of the California Assembly during Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration — for being collaborative, willing and able to work across the partisan aisle. But in hyperpartisan Washington, she clearly hasn't had much luck lately.

Why continue to put up with that?

Can you imagine anything more maddening than having to try to find common ground with dozens of increasingly delusional and hypocritical Republicans every day? Or having to take House Minority Leader and Trump lackey Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) seriously?

Or, for that matter, having to deal with the Republican Party's followers.

In the first three months of this year, more than 4,100 threats were made against members of Congress, my colleague Sarah D. Wire reported. That's on pace to double the 8,600-plus reports that U.S. Capitol Police received last year.

Again, why continue to put up with that?

Instead, as mayor, Bass would have a much easier time getting along with progressives on the L.A. City Council, as well as in county government on the Board of Supervisors and in the district attorney’s office — especially since the last attempt to recall George Gascón went nowhere.

The mayor has the authority to hire and fire department heads and commissioners. The office also comes with the power of a massive bully pulpit — and, unlike some politicians, Bass is known as someone who is unafraid to use one to speak her mind.

She would have all the building blocks to propose expansive policies that could actually reform the criminal justice system in a "transformative" way, including by addressing the size of the Los Angeles Police Department.

She also probably would find progressive allies willing to tackle homelessness and the horrors left behind by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected the Black and Latino residents of the South L.A. neighborhoods that she represents in Congress.

In fact, according to her spokesman Zach Seidl, addressing those dual humanitarian crises is the main reason why Bass is running for mayor.

“She does not want to see these two issues tear the city apart," he told The Times last week. "Los Angeles has to come together."

Bass already has street cred for figuring out how to solve complicated societal problems.

Way back in 1990, she founded Community Coalition to help the people of South Los Angeles who at the time were dealing with a scourge of crack cocaine addiction (and now, similarly, are dealing with a rise in fentanyl and heroin use).

During the pandemic, the nonprofit has provided many of the volunteer boots on the ground, helping to run vaccination sites and going door-to-door to persuade reluctant Angelenos to get the jab. It's working, too. I know because I've followed those volunteers.

So, of course, Bass is going to run for mayor. If she wins, she will be the best thing to happen to progressive politics in Los Angeles — and maybe the nation — in decades.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.