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A Karen becomes Mayor of LA

Mayor Karen Bass by Victoria Cassinova (

Lately, I have had a twinge of embarrassment at having the name Karen. Doing a Google search, you can understand why as the first thing that comes up is:

"Karen is a pejorative term for a white woman perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal."

Of course, I am not a white woman who uses my privilege to push others out of the way, but still it's a bit uncomfortable to have a name with a negative connotation.

But that changed last month, clearly, as the second entry in the Google search of Karen is the Office of Congresswoman Karen Bass, our new Mayor.

If we were to use her as the definition for "Karen," it would be, a Black woman who uses her power to empower others in the service of making the community better for everyone."

When she got elected, I felt a wave of relief, a small part of which was she represented vindication for us Karens who don't exhibit bad behavior. But of course, the bigger part of my relief was to have a Mayor who shares my values for engaging citizens in the work of community building.

I first met Karen Bass when she was ED of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse and Treatment now simply known as CoCo, and have cheered her on as she has risen to ever higher levels of power. What I've been impressed with is the continuity in her work to make lives better for those who are struggling in society: foster youth, victims of the criminal justice system and those living in poverty. Some of key accomplishments include:

  • As Chair of the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Bass helped pass the FIRST Step Act, a bipartisan law that improves criminal justice outcomes and reduces the size of the federal prison population while also enhancing public safety.

  • She founded and leads the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth – and has enacted a number of laws to expand healthcare for foster youth, provide them with cash assistance and greater educational opportunities building on her work in the State Legislature to extend support for foster youth to age 21.

  • In terms of housing, the issue she will be most focused on as Mayor, Rep. Bass has secured millions of dollars for projects in the community including housing assistance programs, community safety initiatives, drug and addiction treatment centers, and domestic violence prevention systems. She also helped pass the American Rescue Plan, which included billions of dollars for housing and homelessness, including emergency rental assistance, emergency housing vouchers and mortgage relief.

She's been very effective at moving her equity and compassion agenda (my words) forward. And, on top of everything, she sees art and culture as essential in the movement building process.

Recently, I attended an event to celebrate her victory and what moved me so much in listening to her speak about how she plans to address our most challenging crisis - homelessness - was not only her affirmation of her campaign promise to call for a state of emergency on day one but her pleas to the assembled crowd that she can’t do it alone–everyone in the room and beyond needs to be on the team. The campaign was not just about winning the race but, more importantly, about connecting with Angelenos across the city to continue to be part of the work to build the Los Angeles we want to see! Creating Our Next LA together!!!

I know that she will be an effective Mayor as she brings this community organizing approach to the job. She believes, like I do, that you can't solve Los Angeles' problems without involving everyone in the solution–the City is just too big.

I'm excited by the prospect of her growing influence, so that she truly becomes the Google definition for Karen and I can hold my head up high in proud solidarity.

Karen Mack

Executive Director, LA Commons

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