Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Councilman John Ferraro alternated between surface friendliness and downright hostility Thursday night in their only debate of the mayoral campaign.
In the evening’s most heated exchange, Ferraro said a major Bradley political contributor made millions from the sale of downtown property to the city. Bradley replied it was merely a good business deal, similar to a transaction in which Ferraro profited by leasing land to the federal government for a post office.
At times angry with each other, at times calling each other by their first names, the two men--City Council colleagues for years--often sounded as if they were back on the council floor arguing over a zoning case.
Afterwards, Ferraro claimed victory in the debate, but not an easy one. “I was against a formidable candidate. He’s been in front of the public for 12 years. I’ve just been a councilman.”
Ferraro told reporters that Bradley was “making up figures” during the debate, but added that he expected the answers the mayor gave.
A buoyant Bradley and his campaign staff also claimed victory as the mayor waded through a crowd of supporters and well-wishers.
“I feel good about it,” Bradley said. “I think we got across the kinds of points we wanted to get across.”
Referring to what he called “unsupported, sometimes rather vicious allegations, distortions and outright lies” by Ferraro, Bradley said: “I think we straightened out some of them tonight. I think we put this campaign into a proper context.”
Meanwhile, members of the audience seemed put off by some of the charges lobbed back and forth between the two candidates, saying they would have preferred a more substantive discussion.
Deborah Savatt, a 26-year-old bank vice president from Brentwood, was typical of several people interviewed. “The insults,” she said, “clouded the issues for me. I would have liked more facts instead of more insults.”
The hour-long debate, broadcast by three radio stations and cable television, produced few new statements. The two traveled over the same paths they have followed since their campaign began early this year.
Clash Over Issues
They clashed over using taxes to enlarge the Police Department, oil drilling in Pacific Palisades, deployment of police officers throughout the city, downtown redevelopment, the Metro Rail subway project, rent control and whether Bradley would run for governor next year.
What was noteworthy was the highly personal tone of the exchange, showing the strains of the contest:
“John, I’ve always liked you and I can’t understand how in the course of this campaign you could change so much,” Bradley said.
Ferraro replied: “I have not changed, you have changed. You’re selling off the city parcel by parcel so you can run for governor.”
That last reference came during a highly personal exchange in which Ferraro blasted Bradley on downtown redevelopment, saying Richard Riordan, a recreation and parks commissioner and a major contributor to Bradley’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1982, made a $3.4 million profit by selling land to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
‘Just Like You’
“He’s a good businessman,” replied Bradley, adding “just like you were” in reference to property Ferraro purchased that is now leased for a post office.”
Bradley was referring to property Ferraro owns in Woodland Hills. After the debate, Ferraro said he bought it as vacant land in the early ‘60s before he was a councilman, built a post office on it and leased it to the federal government. He said he still receives more than $100,000 a year from the federal government.
The mayor also said Riordan’s partner in the downtown land deal was a Ferraro fund raiser.
“Two hundred and fifty dollars--a major fund raiser?” asked Ferraro. “Mr. Bradley, you are a dreamer.”
At another point, when Ferraro was accusing Bradley of taking police officers from the San Fernando Valley for a special detail in South-Central Los Angeles, Bradley replied: “Mr. Ferraro, if you can read, I have a document I want to show you.”
He said it was a request from Police Chief Daryl F. Gates for transfer of the officers.
As they have during the campaign, the two disagreed over major issues, such as expanding the Police Department and rapid transit.
Their argument over the size of the department produced a sharp face-to-face exchange, despite a format that made such fireworks difficult.
Ferraro, who says the department can be enlarged without a tax increase, said that the department had been reduced by 1,200 in the Bradley years.
Disagree on Number
“We haven’t lost 1,200 police officers,” replied Bradley, who has insisted the Ferraro figure includes civilians. Bradley has said the loss is 500, due to cutbacks after the 1978 approval of Proposition 13.
“How many police officers, Mr. Ferraro?” asked the mayor.
“Five hundred,” Ferraro replied.
Bradley said his plan to add 1,000 officers to the department by raising the property tax is a compromise that would avert the budget cuts required by the Ferraro program.
Ferraro replied that the voters will never approve the tax increase.
As expected, Ferraro challenged Bradley again to say he is not intending to run for governor in 1986 as he did in 1982. “The problems of the city of Los Angeles require we need a full-time mayor,” Ferraro said.
“The whole purpose of this statement is to create a gimmick to divert attention from real issues,” replied Bradley. “It is simply a John Ferraro gimmick and I am not going to fall prey to it.”
Bradley again was forced to defend his decision to permit the Occidental Petroleum Corp. to drill for oil in Pacific Palisades.
Explaining that the company’s proposal assured the safety of the region, Bradley said he will continue to fight expansion of oil drilling into nearby Santa Monica Bay.
In his closing statement, Bradley recalled his record, saying that during his 12 years as mayor the city rebuilt Watts, revitalized downtown, expanded the airport and the harbor and hosted the Olympics.
In the two minutes alloted Ferraro for a closing, the councilman recalled what he described as the mayor’s first gesture toward the homeless--turning the sprinklers on the City Hall grass so they could not sit there.
As for Watts, Ferraro said only one shopping center has been built there in the 20 years since the Watts riots. And in reference to downtown redevelopment, Ferraro said, “Long Beach is outbuilding us.’
He said Los Angeles needs a mayor who wants to remain in City Hall, not move to Sacramento as governor and who would put professionals, rather than “cronys,” on commissions.