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Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass endorses Rep. Barbara Lee in Senate race

LA Times logo LA Times 3/2/2023 Benjamin Oreskes
L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, left, with Rep. Barbara Lee, front, in 2016, when they served together in the House. (Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press) © (Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press) L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, left, with Rep. Barbara Lee, front, in 2016, when they served together in the House. (Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

A little over a week after entering California's U.S. Senate race, Rep. Barbara Lee on Wednesday picked up the support of Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, leader of the California's largest city and one of the state's most prominent and influential politicians.

Bass served in Congress with Lee for more than a decade, and endorsed her former colleague and friend to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who in February announced that she would retire at the end of her current term, in January 2025. Bass said that Lee's experience as a "progressive fighter" in Washington is what the state needs right now.

"I’ve seen her leadership firsthand," Bass said in a tweet. "Her work in a divided government to secure billions of dollars in COVID relief for underserved communities is just one example of the type of principled and tenacious leadership she will bring to California as our next United States Senator."

Bass' decision on whom to support in what is expected to be a hotly contested Senate race was being watched closely following her victory in L.A.'s race for mayor last year, which elevated her to national prominence as the city's first female mayor.

In 2020, Bass joined activists and other politicians in urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a Black woman to replace Vice President Kamala Harris, who vacated her California seat in the Senate after her election as President Biden's running mate. In an interview with Los Angeles' Fox 11 affiliate at the time, Bass noted that with Harris' departure, "there will be one African American Democrat, one African American Republican, no African American women” in the Senate.

“I will tell you that I do believe that there should be an African American woman in the Congress,” Bass said. "I feel bad for the governor. He's in a heck of a spot. It's a tough decision to make."

Newsom instead selected then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the post, making him the first Latino politician to represent California in the Senate, but the governor promised to appoint a black woman if another Senate vacancy opened up.

Feinstein plans to remain in office through the end of her term, however, putting the decision on who should succeed her in the hands of California voters instead of the governor.

When Bass later ran for mayor, Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, were a regular presence on the campaign trail. After Bass won, Harris swore the former congresswoman in as the city's first female mayor and only its second Black mayor.

Earlier this month, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who is close to Bass — endorsed Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) in the Senate race. Schiff endorsed Bass last year and campaigned by her side in the final days before November's election.

Lee trailed Schiff and another congressional colleague in the Senate race, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine), in a recent UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. The survey was conducted after had Lee discussed her intent to run but before she officially announced her bid.

Schiff had the support of 22% of the registered voters surveyed, compared with 20% who backed Porter and 6% who supported Lee. A majority of voters said they hadn’t made up their minds on a candidate, so the race still has plenty of room to shift before the March 2024 primary.

Lee said that she was grateful to have Bass' support and was excited to work with her to help people living on the edge.

“Mayor Bass’s work to serve Californians — as an Assemblywoman and Congresswoman, and now as Mayor — and to break monumental barriers while doing so, has been an inspiration to me and so many others. I’m honored to have her support of my campaign,” Lee said.

Lee stopped by Los Angeles City Hall last Thursday for the ceremonial swearing-in of new State Controller Malia Cohen. Standing in the rotunda lobby, she was asked about the prospects of her candidacy.

“I just launched my campaign two days ago,” Lee said, adding that she felt “fine” about the race.

She noted that she's an alumni of San Fernando High School and said that she'd be campaigning for votes across the state over the next year.

“I’m going for votes everywhere,” Lee said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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