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Karen Bass is sworn in as LA mayor as the city grapples with homelessness


For the first time in its 241-year history, Los Angeles' mayor is a Black woman. Karen Bass was sworn in on Sunday by Vice President Kamala Harris.


Her first order of business, this city's homelessness crisis.


KAREN BASS: I will start my first day as mayor at the city's emergency operations centers, where my first act as mayor will be to declare a state of emergency on homelessness.

SCHMITZ: She'll also deal with a scandal-ridden city council as she tries to push her agenda through.

MARTÍNEZ: Benjamin Oreskes is a metro reporter with the LA Times. Benjamin, so Mayor Bass wants to start with a state of emergency on homelessness. Who's on board and what will that do?

BENJAMIN ORESKES: Thanks for having me. The question of who's on board, she has - it's sort of answered by who was at her inauguration. Almost every member of the city council save one - and we're going to talk about him in a minute - was there and was excited to be there and excited to be working with her on this issue. A state of emergency has a sort of political and practical dimension.

The practical one is that it gives her a lot more power, flexibility and freedom to deploy resources, staff and money in various different directions to address this crisis that voters, you know, indicated in any number of ways was the most important in the city. The political part of this is that it, again, tells people this is the most important thing on my plate. And it's all I'm going to be thinking about. So conveying an urgency to Angelinos, who are very angry about the state of their streets.

MARTÍNEZ: And, Benjamin, catch us up on the politics part of Los Angeles because there's a lot of dysfunction happening around the city council. And the last few days have been especially terrible.

ORESKES: They are. The one member of the city council who didn't show up to her inauguration was Kevin de Leon. Kevin was caught on a tape that was recorded last year. And he's on it with two members of the city council and a labor leader. And they're making crude, racist remarks. It's in the context of redistricting. They're talking about that process. But he says and they all say some not-so-nice things about their colleagues, some racist comments about one of their colleague's sons. And two of the members sort of hid. One resigned. One just sort of stayed out of the way. He's now termed out. But Kevin has dug his heels in. He hasn't, though, showed up for city council meetings - he did, though, for the first time in months on Friday.

What also that occurred is that he went to a holiday party. And protesters, who have been dogging him for much longer since this tape came out, got in his face. And he was fed up and sort of attacked one of these protesters. It was a brawl of sorts. All of this takes place under the backdrop of a city where we have a member of the city council who was indicted. We have multiple former members who were indicted. And just a broader sense from Angelinos that the bodies of government in this city are not working for them, it's what propelled the candidacy of Karen Bass' opponent, Rick Caruso. And it's also what a lot of the healing that Karen Bass has talked about needing to do.

MARTÍNEZ: And so how is the new mayor talking about how she'll try to heal some of those divides?

ORESKES: Well, she is someone whose biography is about bringing people together. So this is a community activists, starts - after the civil unrest in 1992, starts a nonprofit called Community Coalition. She then joins the state assembly and then onto Congress. You know, she has been all about meeting with people, listening to their problems and trying, again, to bring people together. And I think you saw during her inauguration a real sense - a real relief even from other elected officials about her ascendance and a desire to work with her to get things done.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Benjamin Oreskes from the LA Times. Benjamin, thanks.

ORESKES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.