LOS ANGELES (AP) — Karen Ruth Bass, a former physician assistant who shattered glass ceilings with her rise to leadership in the California legislature and later a prominent seat in Congress, took a ceremonial oath of office Sunday as mayor of Los Angeles.
Bass, a progressive Democrat, becomes the first woman and second black person to hold the city’s top job and will formally assume her duties Monday amid multiple crises in the country’s second most populous city.
She was ceremoniously sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, a longtime friend and former California Attorney General. The formal oath was taken privately by the city clerk.
Bass is tasked with reducing rising crime rates, rebuilding confidence in a city hall shaken by racism and corruption scandals, and addressing the problem of more than 40,000 people living in trash-strewn encampments or rusty RVs scattered in virtually every neighborhood. have spread.
Bass struck a note of unity, saying the many, disparate powers of government must come together to confront homelessness.
To move in a new direction “we need to have a single strategy” that brings together government, private sector and other stakeholders,” Bass said during a speech at a downtown theater near City Hall.
She said if people put their arms together instead of pointing fingers, lives will be saved. She called it “my mission” as mayor.
She also urged residents to get involved in city government, echoing John F. Kennedy’s presidential inaugural address in which he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
“I’m calling on the people of our city to not just dream of the LA we want, but to participate in making the dream come true,” Bass said.
Bass — who was on President-elect Joe Biden’s shortlist for vice president — claimed the post last month after overcoming more than $100 million in spending by rival Rick Caruso, a billionaire developer and Republican-turned-Democrat that campaign conducted as a centrist and promised a strong emphasis on public safety.
Caruso would have meant a turn to the political right for the strongly democratic city. Bass swayed voters by claiming she would be a coalition builder to help heal a troubled city of nearly 4 million.
“We’re going to build a new Los Angeles,” Bass had promised at an election night rally.
On a marquee outside the theater was a picture of a radiant bass with the slogan “A new day for Los Angeles.” The backdrop for the stage, topped by American flags, was an enlarged shot of the steps and columns of City Hall.
In a surprise performance, Stevie Wonder got the crowd dancing by playing “Living for the City.” He and Bass shared a hug.
Bass, 69, ran as the consensus pick of the Democratic establishment and was endorsed by Biden, former President Barack Obama and former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Despite her close ties to the Democratic political community, she described herself as a change agent who plans to declare a state of emergency to tackle homelessness on her first day in office. She has indicated that she will try to use “all the city’s resources, skills, knowledge and talent” to help homeless people find housing.
Details of the emergency order have yet to emerge, though she has said she plans to provide housing for more than 17,000 homeless people through a mix of temporary and permanent facilities in her first year.
It will also suffer from deep-seated urban problems, including housing shortages, crumbling streets and some of the country’s worst traffic conditions.
“The mayor’s first priority and probably the most important for some time to come is homelessness,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.
“Voters will not expect a miracle, but will look for a clear and credible path to measurable and visible improvement,” Sonenshein said. “It’s an opportunity for an energetic reset from a crisis that seemed stuck, and also an opportunity to restore confidence in local government in Los Angeles.”
She replaces beleaguered Democrat Eric Garcetti, who ends two bumpy terms with his nomination as US ambassador to India, deadlocked in the Senate apparently over allegations of sexual misconduct against a former top adviser to Garcetti.
Bass takes office as the City Council grapples with a racism scandal that led to the resignation of the former president and a powerful union leader, while a councilman caught up in the scandal resisted calls to resign. Meanwhile, three current or former councilors have been charged or pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
Bass made history in the state assembly by becoming the first black woman to serve as speaker of a state legislature. She also chaired the Congressional Black Caucus in 2019 and 2020.