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In 2004, I volunteered to work on Karen Bass’s first campaign for the California Assembly. I was recruited by another IT guy, also a progressive, who’d known Bass in high school where, he told me, she’d been a social-justice activist who possessed a rare combination of attributes: She was idealistic and could work successfully with disparate groups to get things done. Our contribution to the campaign was installing network cables and then inter-connecting the campaign’s computers.

Bass was elected to the Assembly, then re-elected twice more, serving her final term (2008-10) as Speaker. After those successive—and successful—terms in the Assembly, she was in 2010 elected to multiple terms in Congress, serving with sufficient distinction that she was considered for Speaker of the House and short-listed as a potential Joe Biden pick for Vice President.

I thought it might make interesting reading to chronicle Bass’s current campaign. For one thing, I want to know why she’s following an atypical political path: Usually, a politician moves from local to global, from implementing policy to making policy, from city council to State House to Congress to Governor or Senator; but in seeking the mayoralty, Bass is moving in the other direction, moving from making policy to implementing it, moving from global to local. Another question is why anyone would want to be Mayor of Los Angeles, a notoriously ungovernable city comprised of warring factions so ruthless and vicious that Vladimir Putin considered sending his army to train here before invading Ukraine.

One thing all Angelenos hear as we move around our city is discouragement. We are idealists, but we are suffering idealism-fatigue; we are tired of ideals-absent-practical-results. We are competence-deprived. Frequently repeated is the observation that, “We’ve approved hundreds of millions of dollars to help the homeless, but no one’s actually done anything with all that money to help the homeless.” It’s not that we’re giving up our idealism; it’s that we’re tired of the parade of hot-air balloons we have elevated to the mayoralty over the past 30 years.

Our last competent mayor, Tom Bradley, served five consecutive terms, but he left office in 1993. Since Bradley, our ship of state has been helmed by Richard Riordan, James Hahn (I know I was here then—I have pictures—but I remember nothing about his stint as mayor), Antonio Villaraigosa, and Eric Garcetti, the four of whom, cumulatively, did squat to make this city a better, more-livable place.

To our credit, Los Angeles functions in spite of, rather than because of, its government; it’s only because the vast majority of Angelenos are intelligent and civilized that the city functions at all. But after approving funding measure after funding measure, after having—on faith and somewhat naively—paid the tab for solutions in advance, we’re now craving some—hell, any—concrete results in curing some of our city’s ills.

Recognizing our competence-deprivation, real-estate developer Rick Caruso and his elephant army are trying hard—they are spending almost unimaginable sums—to project an image of simple, core competence (albeit leavened by compassion). Unfortunately for progressives, so starved for competence are predominantly-left-leaning Angelenos that some of us are buying what the Caruso campaign is selling; some of us are buying into a fantasy of selflessness presented by a very wealthy, Johnny-come-lately DINO (Democrat In Name Only) who has—so far—spent $40,000,000.00 of mostly his own moneyHow much does he have?—to buy his/their way into the mayoral election. (Substitute RINO for DINO: Does any part of that playbook sound familiar?) And that $40,000.000.00 is only for the primary.

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Is the prospect of Karen Bass serving as Captain of the Starship Los Angeles so terrifying to Caruso/Republicans/developers/police that it’s worth that kind of money to defeat her? Put another way: How much money are Caruso/Republicans/developers/police thinking they might lose for it to be worth spending that much to keep Bass out of the starship command chair? If he/they spent $40,000,000.00 just in the primary, how much are they willing to spend—double that? triple?—in the general?

The most-recent New York mayoralty race cost north of $100,000,000.00. Expect the Los Angeles race to top that. So what must the potential spoils of winning be? And what are the potential consequences to the Republican/Conservative brand if Bass wins and she—a progressive, Black, female—turns out to be competent? For Caruso and his cadre of red elephants, that must be a frightening prospect.

Not only do their virtually bottomless funding and resources—and their willing to spend them—dwarf what Bass has available, Caruso and cronies have hired some very competent people to project their image of him. (These anti-Bass efforts include rabid, near-psychotically over-the-top—really it should be below the bottom—ads sponsored by police, who are terrified that a Bass administration will trim the police budget.)

Though she lacks Caruso-level financial firepower, Bass has one solid advantage: The people of Los Angeles are, by-and-large, not morons; we are not inclined to fall for the “Yes, I’m a Democrat (today)” ploy. But we’re also, many of us, fatigued, discouraged, disappointed, and worst, mad at ourselves for maybe, after all, having gotten fooled again. This makes us vulnerable to Caruso’s siren song of competence: “I built The Grove, ergo I can solve homelessness.” (For some of us, our compassion for the homeless is fairly shallow; we don’t care so much if the problems of the homeless are actually solved, only that we don’t have to see them; for those people, getting the homeless off the streets is solving homelessness.)

Caruso and his campaign organization recognized early that our idealism-fatigue, our discouragement, makes us vulnerable to being seduced by an image of simple, cut-to-the-core competence (but leavened by compassion). Successfully selling that image is critical to winning this election. Bass, after her terms in the Assembly and Congress, has a long record of competence and compassion, but for a local election and local voters, competence in Sacramento or D. C. doesn’t automatically translate into a sense among voters of a candidate’s fill-the-potholes, pick-up-my-garbage-today competence. Thus the problem of moving from global to local: Successfully making policy doesn’t convince voters that a candidate is ready for the kind of everyday, knives-out street fighting that is the daily reality of running Los Angeles. To win the mayoralty, it is crucial that Bass too to project an image of core competence and compassion.

But because of Caruso’s immense monetary advantage, she must continually project that image between now and November 8th. The problem is, she isn’t. At the moment, there’s radio silence. Dead air.

The other day, with only a bit under five months to go until November 8th, her Los Angeles campaign office was, except for one person, empty, forlorn, chairs and tables stacked against the wall. Beyond that, no one is responding to messages or queries left on the contact-the-campaign information—phone number or email address—posted on her campaign website ( The lone person at the Bass campaign office would not provide a phone number for the campaign’s press people because, she said, “They might not want their number publicly known.” She did provide the correct email address for a press query, an address that is, as of this writing, unavailable on the campaign website. An email sent to that email address garnered no response. (My wife wants to volunteer to respond to emails and phone calls, but there is no one to whom to make that offer.)

This lack of presence may be—likely is—the result of a lack of resources and money; it may be—likely is—that there is no choice but to suspend campaign operations, to conserve resources and money for a big push as November 8th draws nearer. But the failure to have even a minimal presence, along with the failure to respond to queries, projects the opposite of competence. In what is sure to be a close election, this lack of presence, this projected lack of competence, provides an opening for Caruso and his red-elephant army. For those of us who would like to see Bass win, who think she’d make a fine, competent, compassionate mayor, that’s a worrisome prospect.