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Karen Bass signals openness to Los Angeles mayoral run

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in her office at the Rayburn House Office Building in 2020. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), one of the most prominent Black women in Congress and an ally of President Biden, has signaled she is open to running for mayor of Los Angeles in 2022 under encouragement from some Democrats, according to two people familiar with her thinking.

The congresswoman has made no decisions about the race, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Others voiced skepticism that she would ultimately enter the contest. But Bass’s openness is notable; her stock in Washington has been on the rise in recent years, with some mentioning her as a potential future House speaker or Cabinet official.

Asked for comment on her intentions Tuesday, Bass spokesman Zach Seidl provided a written statement that said, “People are urging her to do it. She is not considering it at this time. Her plan right now is to run for re-election to her House seat in 2022.”

One significant factor in her thinking will be whether Mark Ridley-Thomas, a close friend and Los Angeles City Council member, decides to run, the people familiar with her thinking said. Close observers said they would not expect Bass to challenge Ridley-Thomas. A spokeswoman for Ridley-Thomas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Democrats see Bass as strong potential candidate. Should she enter the race and win, Bass would be the first woman to serve as Los Angeles’s mayor. Bass would join a growing group of Black women who recently made history by winning the top job in major cities, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Bass was vetted by Biden as a potential running mate in 2020 and has been leading negotiations this year for a deal on bipartisan police reform. She chaired the Congressional Black Caucus in the last Congress and has been at the forefront of the national reckoning over race and police violence.

Historical trends suggest Democrats are at serious risk of losing their slim House majority in the 2022 midterm elections, potentially leaving Bass and her party with significantly diminished influence in 2023.

On top of that, climbing the ranks in House Democratic leadership has proved challenging in recent years, with little movement near the top, prompting some ambitious politicians to seek different elected offices in hopes of advancing their careers. The top three ranking House Democrats are longtime politicians in their 80s.

Bass represents a Los Angeles district. She is a former activist who quickly worked her way up the ranks in the California State Assembly to become speaker.

Biden recently nominated the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, to serve as ambassador to India. Should Garcetti win confirmation for the job in the Senate, the Los Angeles City Council will be empowered to appoint his replacement.

Regardless of the outcome, the 2022 race to helm the second-most populous city in the country could be a crowded one.