The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rep. Karen Bass plans to announce run for mayor of Los Angeles

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.)  attends a recent campaign event for California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) attends a recent campaign event for California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Bing Guan/Bloomberg News)

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) is planning to announce that she will run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2022, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, joining a high-stakes race to run the second-most populous city in the country.

The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations, said an official announcement is expected soon. It will possibly happen next week, barring unexpected changes, they said.

“Los Angeles is facing a humanitarian crisis in homelessness and a public health crisis in the disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on Angelenos,” Bass spokesman Zach Seidl said in a statement, when asked for comment. “She does not want to see these two issues tear the city apart. Los Angeles has to come together. That’s why the Congresswoman is considering a run for mayor.”

Karen Bass signals openness to Los Angeles mayoral run

Bass is a close ally of President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). She was a finalist to be Biden’s running mate last year and was a lead negotiator on Capitol Hill in bipartisan talks to overhaul policing laws. Those talks ended this week.

The congresswoman is a longtime veteran of California politics and one of the most prominent Black women in government. Before joining Congress, she was a state lawmaker and activist.

Her credentials — a former physician assistant and then-head of the Congressional Black Caucus — appealed to Biden’s team during the running mate deliberations, since they thought she was well suited to lead during a global pandemic and a nationwide reckoning on racial issues.

The congresswoman is set to join a crowded field that will test her political abilities anew. She is seen by Democrats in California as a formidable contender.

Rep. Karen Bass fought for Blacks and Latinos in South Los Angeles. Now, she’s on Biden’s VP shortlist.

Bass has been considering a run since at least August. Biden has nominated the current 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 have the power to appoint his replacement.

Should Bass win the mayor’s race next year, she would make history as the first woman to serve as mayor of Los Angeles. Across the country, Black women have made history in recent big-city mayoral elections, including in San Francisco, St. Louis and Chicago.

One question that looms over her plans is whether Bass plans to stay in her House seat during a run for mayor. House Democrats hold a narrow majority and can ill afford to shrink it further in the near future as they seek to pass a sweeping domestic spending agenda.

On Wednesday, when the failure of the bipartisan talks to overhaul policing tactics became public, Biden issued a statement thanking Bass and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) “for working tirelessly with the White House, the civil rights community, and leading law enforcement groups, and for their relentless efforts to negotiate a bipartisan bill in the Senate that is worthy of George Floyd’s legacy.” Republicans declined to accept even modest reforms, Biden said.

Democrats face an uphill climb in next year’s midterm elections. First midterms have been difficult for the president’s party and 2022 is looking especially hard to many Democrats, given their party’s slim majority and Biden’s declining popularity.

Already, eight House Democrats and 10 House Republicans have opted to retire or seek another office. The Democrats’ challenges could be compounded by the post-census redistricting, since Republicans have an edge in many of the statehouses that will be drawing the new congressional maps, especially in states that are adding seats.

In recent years, a series of high-profile Democrats have left the House in search of another office. Moving up into the highest ranks of Democratic leadership has proved difficult for younger and ambitious members, given the grip several longtime leaders have had on the top posts.

The party’s top three leaders in the House — Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) — have all held leadership positions for many years.