Nadra Nittle, The 19th
For 36 hours in September 1915, Los Angeles Councilmember Estelle Lawton Lindsey served as the city’s acting mayor when the sitting mayor and city council president left town — the first woman to ever do so. One hundred and seven years later, Los Angeles has yet to elect a woman mayor, a streak Rep. Karen Bass hopes to change in a November runoff election.
The nation’s top Democrats — President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton — have endorsed her. With decades of experience in public service, community activism and cross-cultural coalitions, Bass has a double-digit lead in the polls over her challenger, Rick Caruso. Unlike Lindsey, whom male dignitaries snubbed during her mayoral stint, Bass’ gender is not a disadvantage in this race, political experts say. Having served nearly 12 years in Congress, her bid comes at a time when women of color are breaking barriers as city leaders.
“I’m ahead…because people appreciate my message and my understanding of the issues and experience,” Bass told The 19th. “Of course, anytime you break the glass ceiling, it is critically important. But I do not believe that voters are going to go to the polls because I’m a woman.”
Experts note that Bass is running for mayor when the public is laser-focused on reproductive rights because of Roe v. Wade’s reversal in June. That Supreme Court decision prompted California lawmakers to give voters the chance in November to amend the state constitution to include abortion rights. California’s Proposition 1 will likely draw greater numbers of women to the polls, analysts predict. Already, more women than men voted in the June 7 Los Angeles primary. While Caruso led Bass with men by 8 points right before the primary, Bass received more support from voters overall and led her opponent among women by 19 points.
“We will be successful this year, I believe, in passing the ballot proposition that enshrines a woman’s right to choose in our state constitution,” Bass said. “So hopefully that will give comfort to women that our state, if it decided to shift toward the right, we will not have to worry because it will be in our constitution. I think if we learned anything over these last few years, we cannot take anything for granted.”
Because neither Bass nor Caruso won at least 50 percent of the vote, they will face each other again this fall. Bass now has a 12 percent edge over her opponent, a new poll has found, but experts say not to count out Caruso with two months left before the election.
Bass is campaigning for mayor during a period when Black women have won historic mayoral races nationwide. Last year, Black women served as mayors of eight of America’s 100 most populous cities, a record. That number has fallen to seven, but Black women are running New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Charlotte and Durham, North Carolina.
“What we’ve seen over the last decade is incremental gains in the number of Black women running, winning and leading,” said Glynda Carr, president and CEO of the Higher Heights Leadership Fund, which works to increase and support Black women leaders. “In 2014, there was just one Black woman serving as mayor of a top 100 city — that was in Baltimore. And we are now in a place where there are seven Black women running the most populous cities. We have a definitive changing face of leadership.”
This story has been edited for length. Read the full story at The 19th.