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Karen Bass elected mayor of Los Angeles

Congresswoman Bass, 69, has her work cut out for her, with homelessness at record highs and turmoil at City Hall.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Congresswoman Karen Bass will be the next mayor of Los Angeles, according to an Associated Press projection made Wednesday afternoon. She is LA's first female mayor and its second Black mayor.

Bass, 69, was considered the front-runner in the race to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti from the moment she declared her candidacy in 2021. Though her opponent, mall magnate Rick Caruso, who spent more than $100 million of his own money to fund his campaign, had a slight lead after the early mail-in and in-person ballots had been counted, the considerable number of late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots — some handed to poll workers on Election Day — broke Bass' way by a 20-point margin, more than enough to put her over the top.

She currently leads Caruso by six points, or nearly 50,000 votes. It is estimated that around 75% of the ballots have been counted. In a written statement, Bass said that Caruso called her Wednesday evening to congratulate her.

"This evening, I received a gracious call from Rick Caruso, who is someone who I hope continues his civic participation in the city that we both love," she said. "I have great respect for his commitment to serving the people of Los Angeles."

She added that she was " honored and humbled that the people have chosen me to be the next Mayor of Los Angeles."

A former community organizer who's held elected office since 2004, Bass touted her close relationship with President Joe Biden and her ability to collaborate with other politicians and form coalitions. She resisted a push from progressive activists to endorse a far-left platform, promising instead a more moderate approach. She angered Black Lives Matter activists, for example, by promising to hire hundreds more police officers. She's also promised to enforce bans on street encampments, a position that did little to differentiate her campaign from Caruso's.

Yet she was always just to the left of her well-to-do opponent, who advocated hiring more than a thousand cops, and whose homelessness policy emphasized a reliance on temporary shelters, rather than more permanent ones Bass seems to favor.

"Structurally, the city is a Democratic stronghold," said political consultant Mike Trujillo. "While Rick Caruso could have said he was a Democrat 20 times, all we had to do was say he was a pro-life Republican once, and that was enough to create doubt."

Bass may have also been helped by the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which effectively overturned Roe v. Wade. The ruling galvanized Democrats across the country, and is widely credited with helping the party retain control of the U.S. Senate. Bass used the issue as a cudgel to attack Caruso, a practicing Catholic who has donated money to anti-abortion Republicans in the past. Though the mayor of LA can do little about abortion access, the issue may have served as shorthand to emphasize the partisan differences between the two candidates.

The challenges facing Bass when she takes office next month will be considerable. City hall is still reeling from the publication of an 80-minute audio recording in which then-City Council President Nury Martinez and two other councilmen could be heard making crass and racially insensitive remarks, all the while crafting a cynical political strategy. Martinez has resigned; one of the other council members lost re-election and is set to leave office. The third, Kevin de Leon, has refused to step down — much to the ire of activists and other elected officials.

That scandal, taken along with the upcoming bribery trials of current City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas (currently suspended without pay who but could return to council if he's acquitted) and former Councilman Jose Huizar, has meant that trust in City Hall is at an all-time low.

Political polarization at City Hall, meanwhile, will be higher than at any time in recent memory.

Prior to this year, an incumbent City Council member losing re-election was a once-in-a-decade occurrence. This year, it happened twice. Both incumbents were defeated by first-time candidates aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America who have advocated shrinking the LAPD's budget and legalizing street encampments. And while those two candidates hardly make up a majority, they are each capable of riling up their base and causing a ruckus. City Hall will be louder than ever. And there will be more rookie council members than ever, especially after Martinez is replaced via a special election in the spring.

And so Bass' skills at coalition-building and consensus finding will be put to the test. The city still has, by most measures, the worst homeless crisis in the country, caused in no small measure by a housing shortage. She addressed the crisis in her statement.

"I ran for mayor to urgently confront the crises our hometown faces," she said. "Tonight, 40,000 Angelenos will sleep without a home — and 5 will not wake up. Crime is increasing and families are being priced out of their neighborhoods.

"This must change."

She promised to "solve homelessness" and "prevent and respond urgently to crime."

"Combatting homelessness is going to have to be her starting issue," said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at California State University, Los Angeles. "She campaigned on that, and she’s going to be accountable to that promise."

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