Karen Bass was sworn in as the 43rd mayor of Los Angeles on Sunday in a historic inauguration at the Microsoft Theater, becoming the first woman and second Black person to lead the city.
Bass was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, a former California senator and the first woman to serve as the nation’s second-in-command.
Nearly every major city official, along with Gov. Gavin Newsom, attended the ceremony.
“Making history with each of you today is a monumental moment in my life and for Los Angeles,” Bass said in her speech.
Bass addressed what she described as an “inflection point in our history,” with issues including “the pandemic, the rapidly changing economy, the rapidly changing climate, the cost of living, (and) 40,000 people sleeping on the street.”
“I believe that times of inflection require reflection — I believe, it’s time for Angelenos to remind ourselves where we come from and who we are,” she said.
Bass said will declare a state of emergency on homelessness in her first act as mayor on Monday, which drew a standing ovation from many in the audience. The 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.”
“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.
Bass’ plan also includes housing 17,000 homeless people in her first year. She said Los Angeles has earned the “shameful crown” of having some of the most overcrowded neighborhoods in the country and called for residents to “welcome housing to every neighborhood.”
“We know our mission: We must build housing in every neighborhood,” Bass said. “We cannot continue to overcrowd neighborhoods that are already overcrowded.”
On crime, Bass sought a strategy to make neighborhoods safe “that is informed by our communities,” which includes launching an Office of Community Safety.
“Of course, we must stop crimes in progress and hold people accountable,” Bass said. “Some neighborhoods have asked for additional officers, and we will deliver. But what neighborhoods are asking for and what they need is as diverse as our city.”
Sunday’s ceremony was initially scheduled to take place outside City Hall, but rain in the forecast led to a venue shift indoors. Instead, Bass was sworn in on the theater’s stage, with two large “LA” letters in the mold of the LAX sign to her right and a picture of the Spring Street City Hall steps behind the stage.
“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,” said Mark Gonzalez, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, in a statement.
Surprise performers at the inauguration included Stevie Wonder, who sang “Keep Our Love Alive” and “Living for the City,” and Chloe Bailey and Las Cafeteras. Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, who also delivered a poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, said in her reading Sunday that “the time of never before is officially past.”
“For where there’s will, there’s women,” Gorman said. “And where there’s women, there’s forever a way.”
Sunday’s event marked the first mayoral inauguration in Los Angeles in nearly a decade, with outgoing mayor Eric Garcetti holding the post since 2013.
Bass defeated developer Rick Caruso on Nov. 8 in an expensive and at- times contentious race.
She will inherit leadership of a city grappling with a scandal that has embroiled City Hall for the past two months, after three council members and a top county labor official took part in a recorded conversation in October 2021 that included racist comments and attempts to manipulate redistricting.
The fallout has continued to roil City Hall, with Councilman Kevin de León — one of the participants in the conversation — unexpectedly returning to the chamber on Friday, setting off chaos as he continues to defy calls to resign. De León later fought with an activist at a holiday tree lighting event on Friday evening.
City Council President Paul Krekorian, who swore in five new city council members and a new city attorney and city controller at Sunday’s ceremony, said that there is no leader more capable of bringing the city together than Bass.
“This is a time of unprecedented challenges in our city, but today as I look out at this audience and see the people with us, I know that this is also a time of unprecedented opportunity,” Krekorian said.
Krekorian added that Bass will have a “very strong part in the Los Angeles City Council,” a positive sign for Bass — who will need to have the council renew her state of emergency for homelessness every month.
Bass, 69, grew up in the midst of the civil rights movement with three brothers in the Venice and Fairfax neighborhoods. She was drawn to community activism after watching the movement on television, volunteering for Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign when she was 14. Bass said while her parents did not live to see her take elected office, “their love, support and guidance is why I stand before you today.”
Bass’ father fled the Jim Crow south during the great African American migration after World War II and found work as a letter carrier. His paycheck supported Bass and her siblings, and allowed her mother to choose to be a homemaker.
“When I think about the dreams of working people today, I reflect on the fact that my mother and father were able to buy a home in Los Angeles for their family of six with one paycheck,” Bass said.
Bass’ organizing career began in 1990 when she founded Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles social justice group in response to the crack cocaine crisis. In 2004, Bass was the only Black woman in the state Legislature when she was elected to the Assembly. Four years later, she became the first Black woman to lead the chamber. Bass was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and chaired the Congressional Black Caucus in 2019 and 2020.
State Senate President pro-Tempore Toni Atkins said that Bass didn’t run for mayor for “credit or photo-opps.”
“She is here to work,” Atkins said. “She is here because she loves this city, she loves its people. She is here to answer the call to serve. And that is who she is.”
The new mayor called for the city to focus on solutions rather than jurisdiction, to link arms rather than point fingers.
“If we just focus on bringing people inside, comprehensively addressing their needs, and moving them to permanent housing with a way to pay their bills, we will save lives and save our city,” Bass said. “That is my mission as your mayor.”
Bass said her father taught her to be a critical thinker, and to understand the historical context of national and international events.
“My daily conversations with him led me to make a lifetime commitment to do whatever I can to change the world,” she said.
Through the “unaffordability, the difficulty, the struggle working people face today in Los Angeles,” Bass said that Angelenos have “never, ever given up.”
“And our magic, L.A. magic, it’s still here,” she said.