Karen Bass declared next mayor of Los Angeles

Developer Rick Caruso concedes after spending $100M on campaign

Los Angeles mayor-elect Karen Bass and City Hall (Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal with Getty Images)
Los Angeles mayor-elect Karen Bass and City Hall (Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal with Getty Images)

Rep. Karen Bass has clinched the race for Los Angeles mayor, despite a record $100 million spent by rival candidate Rick Caruso.

The Bass win, as projected by the Associated Press, makes her the first woman and second Black elected to lead Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Caruso, a billionaire developer of popular shopping centers, outspent Bass more than 11 to 1 but was unable to prevail as a former Republican in a solidly Democratic city. His spending millions of his own fortune on TV and field outreach shattered L.A. records.

Bass, upon learning of her projected victory, reiterated her pledge to “solve homelessness,” “prevent and respond urgently to crime” and make Los Angeles affordable for working families.

“The people of Los Angeles have sent a clear message: it is time for change and it is time for urgency,” Bass said in a statement.

Early results wavered on election night, but by the next morning Caruso had nosed ahead on the support of voters who had gone to the polls to mark their ballots.

Vote-by-mail ballots counted after Election Day strongly favored Bass, and her margin steadily grew. By Wednesday, she was ahead by over 6 percentage points.

More than 100,000 votes remain to be counted. The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office is expected to certify the results on Dec. 5.

Caruso, 63, called Bass to concede a hard-fought race.

“I’m proud of the work we did to engage long-neglected communities, giving a voice to the unheard, and to the light we shined on the biggest challenges facing our great city,” Caruso said in a concession statement. “There will be more to come from the movement we built, but for now, as a city we need to unite around Mayor-elect Bass and give her the support she needs to tackle the many issues we face. Congratulations, Karen, and Godspeed.”

The city’s first competitive mayoral race in nearly a decade was a story of contrasts, with two candidates who symbolized divergent visions of the city.

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Bass, a Black woman poised to become the city’s 43rd mayor, has spent decades in public service, evolving from an activist organizer to politician as she fought for incremental gains in underserved parts of town.

The former Assembly speaker and six-term member of Congress is reputed to be a low-key politician, known for her ability to build coalitions.

She will take control of a city marred by corruption scandals, marked by homelessness and beset by inequities made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Confidence in local leadership has tumbled after City Hall indictments and the release of a leaked audio recording weeks before the election that revealed Latino council members making racist comments and scheming to maintain power.

Days before the election, Bass said her first priority upon taking office would be to declare a state of emergency on homelessness and house the up to 41,000 residents who sleep in tents, RVs or on the streets.

Caruso, a former Republican who is white, built a real estate empire with spectacular attention to detail, creating highly controlled private spaces like the Grove shopping center that evoke an idealized version of urban life.

His high-sheen candidacy, and his easily digestible pledge to “clean up L.A.,” positioned the former Police Commission president as a political outsider with the business chops to succeed where longtime politicians had failed.

He couldn’t prevail, however, on his rival’s wall of support from the local, state and U.S. from the Democratic establishment, with former President Barack Obama handing Bass his endorsement.

Those lockstep endorsements from Democratic officials and clubs buttressed Bass’s contention that she was “the only Democrat” in the race. While Caruso aimed to run up his lead with San Fernando Valley voters, Latinos and moderates, Bass maintained strong backing from women, liberals and registered Democrats.

— Dana Bartholomew

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