Jasmyne A. Cannick | Special to California Black Media
I can describe the leading crop of declared candidates angling to lead the second largest — and one of America’s more liberal and progressive leaning cities — in two words: White and male. So, when rumors hinted at a possible mayoral bid by Congresswoman Karen Bass, I thought to myself, now things just got interesting. While the beloved Democratic Congresswoman, who served as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and authored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, hasn’t officially declared her candidacy for mayor, the rumors alone have already overshadowed her would-be opponents and given Angelenos hope for an alternative to the candidates they’ve been presented with thus far. Of the current mayoral candidates, one doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell after he spent his eight-year tenure as city attorney prosecuting the protestors and the homeless for everything from smelling bad to sleeping on the sidewalk while covering up the LAPD’s misconduct and hiding body camera footage at taxpayers’ expense. And speaking of the LAPD, one candidate is a former cop, and they aren’t too popular these days. In addition, his approach to dealing with L.A.’s unhoused crisis has been opposite of how most voters want to see their elected leaders deal with the problem.
The possible entrance of Bass, who has been one of the few politicians I can say didn’t do a Jekyll and Hyde after being sworn into office, has been the most welcomed news since President Biden announced he’s sending Mayor Eric Garcetti to India. Who we elected is who we got with Bass — a compassionate, thoughtful and bold leader on important issues. Bass, like most female candidates who run for office, would definitely bring a different and I believe more thoughtful perspective and approach to L.A.’s longstanding and chronic issues, including our city’s chaotic unhoused crisis. In the past few elections, Angelenos have made it clear that they want leadership at all levels who will provide services to the unhoused, such as housing, mental health treatment, drug treatment and job training to help get them permanently off the streets and back on their feet. No longer is the criminalization of the homeless an acceptable solution to our city’s crisis. But as exciting as a Mayor Bass would be, it’s a long way from bended knee to the altar — and she hasn’t even officially declared she’s going to run. Councilwoman Jan Perry who ran for mayor in 2013, says today she is less concerned about whether or not voters vote for a woman because she is female. “Plenty of women have run for mayor who were viable candidates but couldn’t compete because they couldn’t raise the money needed to get their message to voters,” said Perry. “We live in an expensive media market where we are deeply affected by candidates who are on television versus candidates who just put out a lot of mail. I learned that firsthand in 2012. Television works. Media works. Social media works too.” Given how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted voting nationwide, to Perry’s point, candidates who can afford traditional and digital media in the upcoming mayoral election will have a better chance of reaching prospective voters.
Perry estimates that in 2021, to run for mayor candidates will need to raise north of $5 million, money that has traditionally been much easier for male candidates to raise than female. The fact is: men still have an easier path to the top while women have to do more to prove our worth. But raising the money is half the battle, the other half is getting the votes. In 2021, it isn’t enough to be the candidate with the largest war chest — just ask former Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. As progressive, liberal and “hip” as Angelenos like to consider themselves, that hasn’t always been reflected in our choice of elected officials and nowhere is that more apparent than in the city hall, where in our city’s nearly two-hundred-year history we have never ever not once elected a woman as mayor. But there’s hope. According to the 2018 Women in Leadership Pew Research Poll, “the public sees female leaders as having an advantage. In both business and politics, majorities say women are better than men when it comes to being compassionate and empathetic, and substantial shares say women are better at working out compromises and standing up for what they believe in. Similarly, more adults say female political leaders do a better job serving as role models for children and maintaining a tone of civility and respect.”
Maybe 2022 will be the year we finally join many other parts of the civilized world in electing a woman to lead our city. And let’s be clear. Bass isn’t just any woman, she’s a Black woman. Angelenos haven’t elected a Black woman in 20 years since they elected Jan Perry to the city council. At the last Census count, Whites and Latinos still made up the majority of the population in Los Angeles, followed by Asians, with Blacks coming in just under 9 %. Will voters in Los Angeles show up in real life with the same level of energy they give to Black women on social media? Because a Bass candidacy would definitely put to test L.A.’s self-proclaimed love of Black women.
In addition to Bass, Perry, who served as General Manager of the Los Angeles Economic & Workforce Development Department until 2018, says she’s been asked to run for city controller in 2022. If both women were to run and win their respective races, it would be a first for a city that hasn’t elected a Black woman since 2001. The field for mayoral candidates is still far from being defined as both Council President Nury Martinez and recently elected councilmember Kevin dè Leon are rumored to be seriously considering mayoral bids. For now, a Karen Bass for L.A. Mayor campaign is far from definite but certainly exciting in a city where voters are looking for someone to lead with compassion and audacity on the homelessness crisis.
I say run Karen, run.