U.S. Rep. Karen Bass defeated developer Rick Caruso Wednesday to become the next mayor of Los Angeles, as voters elevated the first Black woman to hold the post as City Hall contends with multiple scandals that have shaken trust in government, an out-of-control homeless crisis and rising crime rates.
With 70% of the vote tallied, Bass had amassed an insurmountable lead of nearly 47,000 votes.
Bass — a Democrat who was on President-elect Joe Biden’s short list for vice president — overcame more than $100 million in spending by the billionaire Caruso’s campaign while arguing that she would be a coalition builder who could heal a troubled city of nearly 4 million.
The election tested whether voters in the heavily Democratic city were willing to turn away from their liberal tendencies and embrace an approach that would place a strong emphasis on public safety.
Caruso, a former Republican who became a Democrats shortly before entering the race, had represented a turn to the political right. He argued that Bass and other longtime politicians were part of the problem who led LA into multiple crises. He promised to expand the police department to deal with rising crime rates and quickly get ubiquitous homeless encampments off the streets.
Bass, a former state Assembly leader, had the advantage of being a lifelong Democrat in a city where Republicans are almost invisible. She was backed by Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the Democratic establishment.
The election had historical dimensions, as she will become the first woman and second Black person to hold the job, after former Mayor Tom Bradley. She takes office next month as City Council faces a racism scandal that led to the resignation of its former president and calls for the resignation of two more members. More than 40,000 people are homeless, and there is widespread anxiety over crime that has ranged from daytime robberies on city sidewalks to smash-and-grab thefts at luxury stores.
The winner replaces beleaguered Democrat Eric Garcetti, who will conclude two bumpy terms with his nomination to become U.S. ambassador to India stalled in the Senate — apparently over sexual misconduct allegations against a former top Garcetti adviser.
The race was shaped in large part by Caruso’s lavish spending — and his unavoidable advertising. City records show his campaign expenses have topped $100 million so far, most of it financed with his own money.
Bass, with just a small fraction of that amount at her disposal, had said “it’s not the power of the money, it’s the power of the people.”
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