Master coalition builder. Unapologetic progressive with a highly pragmatic streak. Smart leader with integrity. Trustworthy. History maker.
Those were just some of the descriptions applied to Assembly Speaker Karen Bass yesterday when she announced that she was throwing her hat into the ring in a bid to take over the 33rd Congressional seat, when incumbent Diane Watson steps down at the end of the year.
Watson announced last week that she would not seek re-election for the seat she has occupied for five-terms.
The Congresswoman was by Bass's side, during the announcement and said she endorsed the Los Angeles activist "three hundred" percent.
She called Bass a legislator much like Julian Dixon, who held the 33rd District (then the 32nd District) seat for decades before his untimely death in 2000 of a heart attack at age 66.
"Julian Dixon was so well loved. He headed the ethics committee, and was trusted on all sides. We need more people like that to make public policy, and I will say that the next person that inherits that seat is a history maker," added Watson, describing Bass.
The Assembly Speaker credited Watson as the mentor who helped guide her though several of the most turbulent years in her political career. She also said the long-time politician was actually one of those who first encouraged her to run for assembly in 2004.
"I was dismissive about the idea, then I got a call from the Congresswoman, and I didn't even know she knew me . . . when the Congresswoman talks, you sit up and listen," Bass said with a laugh.
Since the nomination period opened Tuesday, five candidates, including three Republicans and two Democrats have already taken out nomination papers to run for Watson's seat in the June 8 primary. The final date to submit all forms and fees is March 12.
Whatever Democrat wins in the June primary will then face off against the winner of the Republican primary in November, and the winner of that race takes office in January 2011.
At the announcement of her candidacy, Bass was surrounded by a small but powerful cross-section of political and community leaders, labor representatives and grassroots organizers. These included Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Gruel, Supervisor Mark Ridlely-Thomas; as well as Kent Wong director of the UCLA Labor Center and Vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.
Many noted they have known Bass for at least three decades, and each and everyone described her ability to build bridges between people as one of her key assets.
". . . We are at a critical time in the country; a time for change, hope, vision and the capacity of leadership like Karen Bass," said Wong. "She will lift up the many voices that are not being heard today. She will stand up for labor."
Reflecting the descriptions tossed around about her, Bass said she will kick off her campaign on Feb. 27 with a grassroots launch.
"I want to build a broad base and go to people and talk about the issues and what they have concerns about. The key is to involve as many people as possible," added Bass, who said she has been able to keep in touch with her constituents in the 47th Assembly District because of the People's Council she formed. This constant contact enables them to understand the complexities of Sacramento, added the South Los Angeles politician, who described campaigning for political office as a way to get people involved and talking about issues.
If elected to Congress, among the issues Bass intends to address are foster care, health care, education, the environment and jobs.
Bass's ascent to the point of running for Congress has been a decades-long climb that began 20 years ago with the founding of a grassroots organization called the Community Coalition (CoCo). The Cal State Dominguez Hills graduate formed this social justice organization, after years working as a physician's assistant in the community. In that position, she saw how many of the health concerns she treated were connected to the quality of life in South Los Angeles.
One of the short-term goals of CoCo was to impact public policy on concerns such as drugs by changing how the issues were viewed and treated.
This multicultural, mulit-generational organization focused on improving the quality of life for residents in South Los Angeles, and among the battles they have helped fight and win are reducing the number of liquor stores allowed to open in the community, and insuring that students in South L.A. have the right to take college-preparatory classes called A to G.
But what was even more critical, was Bass decided to insure that CoCo was able to become an institution that could survive her departure.
That is another one of the positive attributes her supporters pointed out about her leadership capabilities at the press conference.
After advocating for community-level changes through CoCo, in 2004, Ridley-Thomas and Watson were among the people who urged Bass to run from Assembly.
She did, won and took office in 2005, and quickly began moving up the leadership ranks.
During her first term, she served as Majority Whip, and in the second term, she became the first woman and second African American to hold the post of Majority Floor Leader. In 2008, Bass made history again, with her election as speaker of the assembly.
This feat made her the first female African American speaker of the California State Assembly and the first Black woman in America to serve in such a powerful state legislative role.
As head of the assembly, Bass has repeatedly traveled to Washington, D.C., which she believes has been instrumental in helping her forge the types of relationships that will enable her to hit the ground running, if elected.
The 33rd District is a diverse region that includes a portion of central Los Angeles, all of Culver City as well as parts of unincorporated L.A. County. It also encompasses the communities of Korea town, Hancock Park, the Wilshire corridor, the "Miracle Mile" district, Little Armenia, Hollywood, Los Feliz and Silver Lake as well as the neighborhoods of Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights, View Park and Windsor Hills.
African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans account for more than 75% of the population, but the 33rd District has no single ethnic majority, although Latinos now represent the largest sector of the population.
Economically, the district is described as predominantly and solidly middle class, with a pocket of wealthier individuals in areas like Hancock Park, and low-income areas in South Los Angeles.
This makes understanding and knowing how to address the unique needs of each community vitally important, noted Congresswoman Watson. She said it means constantly being out in the community and talking with and listening to people to see what they want and need.
It also means learning how to carefully balance their sometimes conflicting concerns.
Karen Bass timeline
1990 Bass founded Community Coalition as a non-profit organization to provide preventative community-centered solutions to the drug problem, particularly the 1980's crack cocaine epidemic that devastated South LA.
2002Founding member, 8th District Empowerment Congress
2004Elected to the California State Assembly representing the 47th District. Takes office in 2005.
2005Selected as Majority Whip.
2005Created the 47th Assembly District People's Council, which is made up of four commissions--
education, environment, small business and health--that engage people in issues that affect
their families and communities.
2006Helped carve out $82 million in the 2006-2007 state budget for foster care reform.
2007 Elevated to Majority Floor Leader, making her the first woman to hold the post and the second African American to serve in the position.
2008 Becomes the 67th speaker of the California Assembly and the first female African American to win that position. She was also the first Black woman to hold such a high-ranking state post in America.
Served as a California co-chair of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.