Karen Bass
Karen Bass. Official Congressional photo

The Los Angeles mayoral race this year contrasted two different viewpoints and, most importantly, two different approaches on what the future of LA should be. 

It garnered national attention compared to past elections, and the angst across the city was palpable as Election Day loomed. Angelenos were exposed to a barrage of political ads on TV, social media – everywhere you can imagine. They were dominated by candidate Rick Caruso, a wealthy real estate developer who tried to buy his way into City Hall, spending $100 million of his own money. 

That’s right– $100 million to run for LA mayor. And he failed. Congresswoman Karen Bass was declared the winner on Wednesday.

Those funds could have been used for important causes like homelessness. Instead, voters kept hearing promises from Caruso to expand the police department and take a tough-on-crime approach to governing. This brought back unsavory memories to many in LA. As a native Californian born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, I have seen firsthand the importance of local elections and the impact that law-and-order politics have on Black and brown communities. 

For decades, people of color have been marginalized through discriminatory policies and divisive politics. I lived through the crack-cocaine epidemic that decimated communities in South Los Angeles. I lived through the 1980s and ‘90s and witnessed how the war on drugs, compounded by the rhetoric of the Reagan and Bush administrations, legitimized the militarization of the LAPD and mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth. 

Voters wisely rejected Caruso’s platform and embraced a coalition-builder in Bass, who has spent her career representing Southern California in the state Legislature and Congress. For years, she has organized the community to push for civil rights, and been an architect of multiracial unity in South LA at the grassroots level. 

After founding Community Coalition, a Black and brown South LA organization, she worked with the neighborhoods to empower residents to challenge the status quo and ensure that overlooked communities were given the resources and respect they deserved. 

The politics of race relations in Los Angeles were exacerbated by the infamous leaked audio recording that exposed how city council and local labor leaders colluded for power. They cynically tried to pit Black and brown communities against each other. 

But rather than divide the city, these recordings galvanized and united the communities. The views of these so-called leaders do not represent the values of Angelenos, and actually expanded efforts to establish solidarity among racial and ethnic groups. Voters capitalized on the moment and sought real commitments on the campaign trail to serve the needs of our most marginalized people. 

Coalition-building took center stage with the heightened attention on Los Angeles politics. County supervisors put Measure A on the ballot to create much-needed accountability for the Sheriff’s Office, and voters were overwhelmingly in favor. To address the long-running and deepening homelessness crisis, a proposed tax on expensive property sales to help build affordable housing is also leading.

Building togetherness is a core part of Los Angeles history. The only way the city makes progress is when multiracial coalitions work together — just look at the coalitions built by former mayors Tom Bradley and Antonio Villaraigosa. They were successful in organizing and building support from every racial and ethnic group.

The outcome of this year’s election will reignite the people’s movement in Los Angeles. With Bass as mayor-elect and important ballot measures poised to pass, this election was a mandate of the people and a referendum on division. 

Julio Esperias is the communications manager for Community Coalition, a nonprofit serving South Los Angeles that emphasizes community organizing to influence public policy. He is an executive board member of the California Democratic Party and a South Central Los Angeles native. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.



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Ellen Bullock