Courier Exclusive: Karen Bass Makes Her Case in Los Angeles Mayoral Race

Developer Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass are in the final weeks of a hard-fought campaign for Mayor of the City of Angeles. With one month to go before election day, the Courier presents Part Two of its exclusive two-part series on the candidates. Part One, in the Sept. 30 issue, featured Caruso. In this week’s installment, the Courier speaks with Rep. Karen Bass, the former Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who has represented California’s 37th Congressional District since 2011. Bass previously served in the California State Assembly for six years, including a two-year term as speaker. 

BHC: Rising crime is of primary concern across the Southland. Your own home was burglarized a few weeks ago. Your opponent has called for the hiring of 1,500 new officers to help combat rising crime levels. What are your key proposals?

Bass: Of course, we need to hire officers, absolutely. And we need to hire several hundred officers. But they’ve not been able to recruit more than 20, 23 or 24 graduates in a class. Let me say that Rick and I have been friends and we have worked together. He knows he can’t hire 1500 officers. He knows that, and it is disingenuous to tell people that. It’s one of the things that contributes to people being so cynical about elected officials. I think it’s really important to be honest and transparent and tell people the truth, even if it’s something they don’t want to hear.

What solutions do you propose, then? 

If you want to get officers on the beat tomorrow, we need to get them from behind the desk. That is my plan for business areas, commercial areas as well as residential areas that want to see a police presence.

Now, some neighborhoods want to see more community-based programs to prevent crime. I want to fight for funding for those programs. As a matter of fact, that’s one thing that I’ve done in Congress because the majority of time I was in Congress we weren’t allowed to fund specific programs. But beginning last year, we’ve been able to do that. So, I’ve been able to bring home millions of dollars for programs in my congressional district to prevent gang violence, to get kids out of gangs and to prevent crime.

These programs have been researched and tested to be viable, and we really need to invest more resources in those type programs. So, I call for a comprehensive approach to address crime.

Explain what factors go into a comprehensive approach. 

Different neighborhoods are different. Some need to beef up their own protection, like with the use of cameras. As a matter of fact, in my own neighborhood – and I didn’t learn this until after I experienced a break-in – we all pitched in money for cameras. I didn’t realize they were license plate reader cameras, and that’s why they were able to catch those suspects. I was talking to some of the officers afterwards and they said, ‘It works really well when neighborhoods get together and install cameras.’ That’s one thing I’m going to promote now in neighborhoods and try to assist, especially in those neighborhoods where people can’t afford to pitch in. And, the cameras are not owned by the police, they’re owned by the neighbors. 

Los Angeles, and in fact much of the Southland, is experiencing an epidemic of homeless. People are frustrated because they haven’t seen elected officials come up with effective programs to help this situation. What plans do you have?

I believe very strongly that you have got to get people off streets immediately. There are some things you don’t do outside, and sleeping is one of them. All over the city, people now will just pitch a tent anywhere. It is really tragic and outrageous at the same time.

I also believe you need to be honest about this as well.

You can’t just put people in shelters and not address why they wound up in the street. What is the issue? Is it substance abuse, mental illness or a woman facing domestic violence?

People have gotten so angry. They now view homeless as all the same; you know, meth addicts. But you have thousands of little children in those tents, and you actually have people who work eight hours a day. You’ve got to address why they’re unhoused. Otherwise, you’re going to round everyone up, force them to go to shelters, and they will just leave.

Now, some people say, ‘Maybe some folks need to go to jail.’ That can be true if they break the law. But the problem is, you can’t give someone a life sentence for pitching a tent. If you arrest them, they’ll only be in jail for a couple days and then they will be back out on the street. What I believe is that the city and county have continued to address the situation and reduce the situation. But they have never been committed to saying, ‘Whatever it takes is what we’re going to do.’ 

A superficial response is more of what we have seen, and that’s not going to help anyone.

Doesn’t the solution begin with more temporary housing, as your opponent is proposing? 

We’ve done shelters in the past, but we didn’t do anything else. Some folks can’t go from a shelter to an apartment building on their own. If you don’t address what led them to lose their housing, you are putting a Band-Aid on it. Address the illness. Address the situation.

Here is another example. There are a number of teens on the street because they were in the foster care system. They turned 18 or 21, and we just turned the faucet off. You don’t take an 18-year-old and put them into an apartment alone. What middle class people do is we transition our kids to adulthood and independence. It’s called college. If you have teenagers who are unhoused, they need housing, but they need supervision. If you just put them in an apartment, it isn’t going to last very long because they won’t be able to manage.

Your opponent argues that you are not qualified because you have never operated anything and have no business experience. He also points to what he calls a ‘cloud of corruption,’ due to the USC scholarship you received. Can you address those points?

Rick and I have worked together, and he knows this is not true. He was the head of the USC Board of Trustees, and he knew absolutely full well about my scholarship. He led delegations once per year to Congress to advocate for education funding. The board was so impressed with my diligence to go to school while I was a member of Congress that they awarded me an honorary doctorate and made me the commencement speaker. 

Now, there was a cloud over the Dean that gave me the scholarship, as a matter of fact more than a cloud. But that had nothing to do with me.

I did apply for the scholarship. He says I didn’t, but I did and attended every class which is why I was an A student.

In terms of me having no business experience, I managed the world’s fifth largest economy through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression when I was Speaker of the Assembly. I was also a nonprofit executive for a number of years, starting my own organizations. I’ve been very entrepreneurial, built them up and moved on. 

Let me also say that if I had done nothing, the President of the United States and the Vice President would not have endorsed me. I would have never been under consideration to be [Biden’s] Vice President. By the way, if I was ethically compromised do you think I would ever have been asked to participate in that process? They vetted my childhood. I would never have been invited in.  

He is saying those things because he knows I’m doing very well. He’s spent $67 million, and I have spent $4 million. Think about how many people could have been housed with $67 million. His claims are those of a desperate man. He has to be pretty angry to have invested $67 million. He isn’t getting a very good return on that investment. 

I asked your opponent this question about you and now it is your turn. Why is Rick Caruso not the right person to be the next Mayor of Los Angeles?

I think we’re not sure who he is. When one does flip flops back and forth, you’re not sure what that person’s values are. I think the main thing is that Rick has run a corporation for years. He has never had a board. He has never had a shareholder. He has been a one-man show for decades. That is not how government works. It isn’t how a democracy works. Being a commissioner as a volunteer is not the same as being an elected official. 

I have the support of all the elected officials, which he disparages. The thing is, if you disparage all the people, how do you think they’re going to work with you? I systematically got the endorsements of everybody because those are the people who would be voting on everything I would be proposing as Mayor.