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Karen Bass, promising to pursue unity, takes oath as L.A.'s mayor

The Democratic former member of Congress defeated the largely self-funded campaign of a billionaire developer to become the first woman to hold the office.

At a time when U.S. cities have been torn apart by crushing housing costs, contentious battles over police and crime, and the ever-widening divide between haves and have-nots, Karen Bass embraced unity Sunday night as she set out to lead Los Angeles.

Bass, a former House member representing Los Angeles, was inaugurated as the city's 43rd mayor Sunday night amid fanfare that included a swearing-in by Vice President Kamala Harris and performances by Stevie Wonder and Las Cafeteras, a Chicano band from East L.A. that fuses Afro-Mexican sounds, roots music and migrant narratives.

Bass is tasked with patching fissures in the social contract in a city rocked by racist remarks uttered by a few City Council members and witnessed by a labor leader in a secret recording revealed in October. All have resigned except Kevin De León who, under pressure to vacate his seat, got into a physical confrontation with an activist Thursday that is now under police investigation.

The city's homelessness crisis, both an incubator for street crime and a corollary to skyrocketing housing costs, touches almost every facet of life in L.A., even when it's just a backdrop.

Bass vowed Sunday to attack it head-on by declaring a citywide state of emergency, an idea that had been circulating through City Hall since at least 2015.

The problem, fueled by out-of-reach housing costs caused in part by flipping and speculating and by absentee real estate investors, is bigger than L.A. Squalid encampments can be found from the U.S.-Mexico border north to Sacramento and in every other big city across America.

But Bass, at least, has quickly zeroed in on new housing.

"We know our mission," Bass said. "We must build housing in every neighborhood."

On Sunday, she became the first woman to lead the city and the second Black American, after the 20-year tenure of Tom Bradley in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, to do so.

In November, she beat developer Rick Caruso, known for his successful shopping centers, including the ultrapopular Grove, and his impeccable suits, in a runoff to replace outgoing Democrat Eric Garcetti. Caruso is a former Republican in a heavily Democratic and labor-friendly city. He spent $100 million of his own money on the run.

Vice President Kamala Harris congratulates Karen Bass after she was sworn in as the Mayor of Los Angeles on Dec. 11, 2022.
Vice President Kamala Harris congratulates Karen Bass after she was sworn in as the mayor of Los Angeles on Sunday.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images

Bass, 69, spoke of shared vision Sunday.

"If we come together and focus on solutions rather than jurisdiction and on linking arms rather than pointing fingers, we will save lives in our city," she said in a video address after her inauguration.

"That is my mission as your mayor," she said.

Garcetti, a white man with Mexican, Italian and Jewish heritage, tried to please the city's important interest groups, which include Hollywood, homeowners associations and organizations that represent L.A.'s impossibly vast ethnic enclaves.

Bass is promising a new day and inspiring L.A.'s guardians to forget about the bickering, at least for a moment.

“In our city's 241-year history, we've never witnessed a day like today as Los Angeles came together to celebrate the swearing in of Mayor Karen Bass,” Mark Gonzalez, the chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, said in a statement. 

Amanda Gorman, the country's first National Youth Poet Laureate, explained the moment during Sunday's ceremony and celebration.

"Where there’s will, there’s women," she said. "And where there’s women, there’s forever a way."