Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley conceded Sunday that his efforts to moderate black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Jewish rhetoric fell short of success and that the minister’s speech here “contained strong, dangerous currents of anti-Semitism.”
“I repeat again today that I repudiate racism, hatred, violence and bigotry wherever it occurs and by whoever utters or practices it against any race, religion, group or individual. I make no exception,” he said. “This includes Minister Farrakhan.”
But Bradley, under heavy criticism from Jewish community leaders who had been among his most loyal supporters, told a City Hall press conference that he would handle Farrakhan the same way, if the situation came up again. “Absolutely,” he said, “that was the best way to do it.”
The press conference came after two tense weeks for the mayor, in which he was pressured by Jewish supporters to denounce Farrakhan before the minister’s speech, and by blacks to wait until Farrakhan had spoken.
His staff, many of whom watched the press conference, were also divided over how to handle the affair, which could badly damage the political future of a black politician who has always successfully merged black and Jewish support. The mood in the room was tense. Some black community leaders watched from the sidelines, as did a few Farrakhan supporters, but had no comment.
Bradley claimed full credit for negotiations between Los Angeles black leaders and Farrakhan representatives aimed at persuading the Muslim leader to refrain from making anti-Semitic statements similar to those he made in Washington in July.
Those negotiations angered Jewish leaders and threatened to cost Bradley financial and voting support in the Jewish community if he runs for governor next year.
Bradley said that “if I simply joined the voices of those who all week long attacked Farrakhan before he spoke,” Farrakhan would be “encouraged to use . . . inflammatory remarks. If, on the other hand, I tried an appeal for restraint--and it worked, it would be a great victory for Los Angeles.”
While condemning Farrakhan’s anti-Jewish statements, Bradley said: “I am sure there are many people who agree with much of what he said last night. He talked about economic development.” Bradley said his “strategy was a partial success” that resulted in the cancellation of Farrakhan television and radio appearances in Los Angeles.
But a spokesman for the Muslim leader said the appearances were canceled because the broadcast stations never confirmed them. Farrakhan “normally never has media appearances prior to a major speech,” said Dr. Khallid Muhammad, a local Farrakhan spokesman.
However, Bradley said his negotiations had some impact on how Farrakhan spoke Saturday night. “The harsh language of Farrakhan’s Washington, D.C., speech and the tone of hatred were not used. He toned down his words, but the sad truth is that there were passages that contained strong, dangerous undercurrents of anti-Semitism. There have been statements which clearly demonstrate that Minister Farrakhan and I are poles apart on our beliefs.”
In his speech Saturday night, Farrakhan referred to the Holocaust by saying “don’t push your six million down our throats when we lost 100 million to slavery. We weep for Jews but who weeps for us?” He also called Israel a “wicked hypocrisy.”
The problem of how to handle the Farrakhan controversy threw the Bradley staff into a crisis, as various factions lobbied for the course they wanted the mayor to take to minimize the political damage.
Three Options Studied
According to sources close to Bradley, three basic options were considered: denounce Farrakhan before he spoke, issue a statement that would not attack Farrakhan but decry anti-Semitism, or say nothing until after he spoke.
The mayor “felt he was being jammed by both sides, and he doesn’t like to be jammed,” said a highly placed Bradley source. “He knew the black leaders were going to meet with Farrakhan’s people and hoped to get an agreement that he would not make inflammatory statements.”
While black leaders did meet with the Muslim leader’s representatives last week and their concerns “were listened to and taken very seriously,” there was never a formal agreement that Farrakhan would moderate his remarks, according to Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and one of those who attended the meeting.
Some senior members of Bradley’s staff, including special assistant Frances Savitch, who is Jewish and has longtime ties to the Jewish and black political communities, reportedly fought hard for the quick repudiation.
Concerns of Staff
Others on the staff felt time had passed Bradley by and denouncing Farrakhan after it had been made a major issue by Jewish leaders and Republican critics would make Bradley appear that he was succumbing to Jewish community and political pressure.
This group offered the middle-of-the-road suggestion that he condemn anti-Semitism in general and criticize Farrakhan in a statement similar to one Bradley made last year after Farrakhan said Judaism was a “dirty religion.” But that option, many agreed, would satisfy no one.
Others, like Bradley special assistant Bill Elkins, who is black, wanted Bradley to refrain from speaking until after Farrakhan had given his address. Elkins, a member of the group of black leaders who met with Bradley, was one of those who convinced the mayor that to delay a statement and work behind the scenes in the meantime to cool Farrakhan’s rhetoric was the best course.
Several black community leaders who supported the mayor’s final course of action attended Sunday’s press conference but did not speak out.
“Mayor Bradley speaks for us today,” said Raymond Johnson, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. The others were Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles); John Mack, president of the local Urban League; Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Danny Bakewell of the Brotherhood Crusade.
As evidence of the tension the affair has produced, Bradley, in the press conference, got into a sharp exchange with Herb Brin, editor of the Heritage, a local Jewish newspaper.
‘Compact With Devil’
Brin said Bradley’s decision to delay speaking out on Farrakhan until after the minister’s speech was a “compact with the devil.” He said Bradley had “chickened out” and was in danger of losing Jewish votes.
“I tried to do what I thought was right,” said the mayor. He added that the only time he had ever “physically” thrown a man out of his office was when the visitor “demanded” that the mayor take a position in return for a vote.
“You don’t have to throw me out,” said Brin, leaving the room.