After 241 years, the nation’s second-largest city has its first female mayor.
Karen Bass was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris as Los Angeles’ 43rd mayor Sunday afternoon, with thousands of Angelenos cheering inside downtown’s Microsoft Theater during a jubilant ceremony packed with musical acts.
The crowd exploded into applause after Harris said the words “Madame mayor,” and remained on their feet as Bass walked to the podium.
Bass used her history-making moment to emphasize her place within a constellation of barrier-breaking California women. The first Black woman elected mayor of Los Angeles was joined by the first female vice president, the first woman to lead the California Senate and California’s first female lieutenant governor.
Harris is also the first Black or Asian American vice president, and Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins is also the first openly LGBT person to lead the statehouse’s upper chamber.
In remarks prepared for delivery, Bass honored Harris, Atkins and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, saying, “Making history with each of you today is a monumental moment in my life and for Los Angeles. The four of us — Californians, leaders, women.”
“And let’s not forget our all-female county Board of Supervisors! We are all going to make so much history together in a state that has enshrined in our constitution a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body!” Bass said.
Bass’ remarks described the moment as an “inflection point” in the history of a city battered by the pandemic, a rapidly changing economy and high cost of living, climate change and the homelessness crisis. But, she said, “our magic, L.A. magic, it’s still here.”
She planned to issue an urgent call to Angelenos “to welcome housing in every neighborhood,” and detail her Day One focus on homelessness.
The mayor’s oath of office was preceded by musical performances from Mary Mary, Chloe Bailey and Las Cafeteras and remarks from Atkins and UCLA Labor Center director Kent Wong.
Amanda Gorman, who made history as the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration in 2021, read an original poem.
The event is ceremonial. Bass was privately sworn in Saturday by Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott and won’t officially succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti until 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Sunday’s ceremony was was originally scheduled for the steps of City Hall, but a storm system scuttled those plans, necessitating the move indoors. Bass, City Council members and other dignitaries sat in rows on the theater’s stage, with a massive screen displaying an image of the exterior of City Hall behind them.
Incoming City Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez, Katy Young Yaroslavsky, Traci Park, Hugo Soto-Martínez and Tim McOsker also took oaths of office onstage, as did incoming City Controller Kenneth Mejia and incoming City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto.
People swarmed around Gov. Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom seeking selfies as the pair weaved through the crowd before the ceremony. The governor told The Times that “optimism, dual opportunity, and partnership” were behind his decision to attend Bass’ swearing in.
“At the end of the day, it’s pretty clear the magnitude of some of the challenges we face require working at another level of collaboration and cooperation,” Newsom said. “So it’s in that spirit that brings me down.”
Developer Rick Caruso outspent Bass more than 11 to 1 during the nationally watched race that preceded her victory, but the six-term congresswoman ultimately triumphed with a nearly 10-point lead over Caruso.
That mandate will be helpful as she takes control of a city in crisis, where tens of thousands of residents lack permanent shelter and confidence in local government is at a nadir.
Less than 48 hours before the inauguration, embattled Councilmember Kevin de León drew national headlines for a physical altercation with an activist at a holiday celebration for local children.
The melee followed months of scandal at City Hall, where business was upended in early October after The Times reported on a leaked audio recording of De León and other city leaders making racist and derogatory comments about a host of groups.
Bass takes office after a campaign that focused intensely on one issue above all else — homelessness and how to help the thousands of people who sleep on city streets or in shelters every night.
She long promised to declare a state of emergency and in her remarks she said that move will come Monday. It will need to be reauthorized by the City Council every 30 days.
Bass said she plans to start her day Monday the city’s Emergency Operations Center.
“My emergency declaration will recognize the severity of our crisis and break new ground to maximize our ability to urgently move people inside, and do so for good,” she said in her prepared remarks.
“It will create the structure necessary for us to have a true, unified and citywide strategy to set us on the path to solve homelessness.”
Bass said that to properly address the crisis, the city “must have a single strategy to unite our city and county and engage the state, the federal government, the private sector and every other stakeholder.”
During her truncated transition, Bass made preparations for this emergency declaration a priority. It included multiple meetings with people who are experts in various facets of the homelessness crisis and on her transition advisory team.
Last week she appointed Mercedes Márquez, a former local and federal housing official, as her chief of housing and homelessness solutions.
Bass advisors have been asking city agencies, nonprofits and council offices for the locations where encampments have sprouted up and are populated with people who are desperately in need of help.
They have been examining where these people could go at least on a temporary basis — contemplating more hotel conversions, master-leasing of buildings and extending the homeless housing operation of the nearly 500-room L.A. Grand Hotel downtown.
The goal of the emergency order will be to speed up and centralize the process of deploying resources to help get money appropriated and resources redirected to addressing the homelessness crisis.
She gestured at the innumerable elected local state and federal officials present and said they’d be hearing from her. Working with the state and federal government will be essential.
“Vice President Harris, Gov. Newsom — my colleagues in Congress here today — look for me on your caller ID,” Bass said.
The event began with interfaith invocations from the Rev. Norman Johnson, Bass’ pastor and pastor of First New Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR, IMAN Cultural Center executive director Dr. Sadegh Namazikhah and Iglesia Restauración co-founder Pastor Rene Molina.
There were also performances by the chamber choir from Bass’ alma mater, Hamilton High School, and a poem read by Los Angeles poet Sophie Szew.
The event is being paid for with private funds raised by the Bass campaign, administered through the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles — a nonprofit started by Garcetti that pays for civic programs and raises money from corporations, foundations and individuals. No preexisting Mayor’s Fund dollars are being used for the event, according to Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl.
Bass’ team has yet to disclose any of the donors for the event or the estimated costs.