CALIFORNIA Karen Bass sworn in as Los Angeles mayor, the first woman to hold the office

Bass has long promised to declare a state of emergency on homelessness
Sunday - 11/12/2022 21:55 Author: Editors Desk Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass shakes hands with Vice President Kamala Harris following the oath of office during inauguration ceremonies Sunday at Microsoft Theater.(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass shakes hands with Vice President Kamala Harris following the oath of office during inauguration ceremonies Sunday at Microsoft Theater.(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

After 241 years, the nation’s second-largest city has its first female mayor. 

The mood was jubilant Sunday afternoon, as thousands of Angelenos danced to a surprise Stevie Wonder performance and cheered while Karen Bass was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris as Los Angeles’ 43rd mayor.

The crowds inside downtown’s Microsoft Theater exploded into applause after Harris said the words “Madam mayor” and remained on their feet as Bass walked to the podium.

Bass used her history-making moment to emphasize her place within a constellation of barrier-breaking California women. 

The first Black woman elected mayor of Los Angeles was joined by the first female vice president, the first woman to lead the California Senate and California’s first female lieutenant governor. 

 Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass bows in appreciation to Vice President Kamala Harris
Bass bows in appreciation to Harris.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Harris is also the first Black or Asian American vice president, and Senate President pro tempore Toni G. Atkins is the first openly LGBTQ person to lead the statehouse’s upper chamber.

Bass honored Harris, Atkins and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis as she began her remarks, saying, “Making history with each of you today is a monumental moment in my life and in Los Angeles. The four of us — Californians, leaders, women.

“And let’s not forget our all-female county Board of Supervisors! We are all going to make so much history together,” Bass said. 

Bass’ remarks described the moment as an “inflection point” in the history of a city battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapidly changing economy and high cost of living, climate change and the homelessness crisis. But, she said, “L.A. magic is still here.”

She spoke to the deep difficulties faced by working families on the margins and urged Angelenos “to welcome housing in every neighborhood.”

“I call on our city to not just dream of the L.A. we want but to participate in making the dream come true,” Bass said — one of several calls to action during her remarks.

The inauguration of L.A.’s second Black mayor was also a celebration of Black artists, with a lineup that included gospel duo Mary Mary, singer Chloe Bailey and poet Amanda Gorman, as well as Wonder, who performed “Keep Our Love Alive” and “Living for the City.”

The mayor’s oath of office was preceded by musical performances, remarks from Atkins and UCLA Labor Center Director Kent Wong and two poetry recitations.

A voice in the back of the theater joyfully hollered “East Los in the building!” as the Chicano band Las Cafeteras — another surprise addition to the program — sang “La Bamba.” The chamber choir from Bass’ alma mater, Hamilton High School, performed a soul-stirring rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Gorman, who made history in 2021 as the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration, read an original work, as did fellow Los Angeles poet Sophie Szew. 

The event was ceremonial: Bass was privately sworn in Saturday by Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott and won’t officially succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti until 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Sunday’s ceremony was originally scheduled for the steps of City Hall, but a storm scuttled those plans, necessitating the move indoors. Bass, City Council members and other dignitaries sat in rows on the theater’s stage, with a screen displaying the exterior of City Hall behind them. 

The event began with interfaith invocations from Bass’ pastor the Rev. Norman Johnson of First New Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR, IMAN Cultural Center Executive Director Dr. Sadegh Namazikhah and Iglesia Restauración co-founder Pastor Rene Molina.

Incoming Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez, Katy Young Yaroslavsky, Traci Park, Hugo Soto-Martínez and Tim McOsker also took oaths of office onstage, as did incoming City Controller Kenneth Mejia and incoming City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto. 

People swarmed around Gov. Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, seeking selfies as the pair weaved through the crowd before the ceremony. The governor told The Times that “optimism, dual opportunity and partnership” were behind his decision to attend Bass’ swearing in.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, former governor Gray Davis and outgoing mayor Eric Garcetti
From left, Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Gov. Gray Davis and outgoing Mayor Eric Garcetti attend the ceremony.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“At the end of the day, it’s pretty clear the magnitude of some of the challenges we face require us working at another level of collaboration and cooperation,” Newsom said. “So it’s in that spirit that brings me down.”

Developer Rick Caruso outspent Bass more than 11 to 1 during the nationally watched race that preceded her mayoral victory, but the six-term congresswoman triumphed with a nearly 10-point lead.

She takes control of a city in crisis, where tens of thousands of residents lack permanent shelter, and confidence in local government is at a nadir. 

Less than 48 hours before the inauguration, embattled Councilmember Kevin de León drew national headlines for a physical altercation with an activist during a holiday celebration for local children. 

The melee followed months of tension at City Hall, where business was upended in early October after The Times reported on a leaked audio recording of De León and other city leaders making racist and derogatory comments about a host of groups. The scandal only deepened mistrust in a municipal system beset by a string of corruption indictments in recent years.

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