Delay of Bird Statement Defended : Regrets Lack of Clarity on Gun Control, Bradley Says

Times City-County Bureau Chief

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, frankly assessing a rocky campaign, says he wishes he had expressed himself more clearly on gun control instead of making an off-the-cuff comment that left him open to Gov. George Deukmejian's charges of flip-flopping. But, in an exclusive interview, he said he has no regrets about his delay in deciding to remain neutral in California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird's November confirmation election.

And, even though he has fallen far behind Deukmejian in public opinion polls, the mayor said he is happy with his campaign and the performance of its leaders, campaign chairman Tom Quinn and manager Mary Nichols.

Bradley says he is so intent on beating Deukmejian in this year's gubernatorial election that he has given no thought to his future if he loses. "I'm still going to be mayor," he said, but added, "I don't look at that negative possibility (of defeat). I'm an upbeat, confident person. When I go into a contest, I go in with the idea that I am going to win."

If defeated, would Bradley run for mayor again? "I haven't thought about it," he said.

In the interview, the Democratic mayor discussed the two events that, in the view of some supporters and critics, badly damaged his campaign just as it started--his statements on Bird and gun control.

Bradley has been attacked by Deukmejian for remaining neutral on whether Bird should be confirmed in the November election. Bradley has replied that he wants to keep politics out of the court election. In addition, Bradley has been privately criticized by some of his own backers for waiting weeks before announcing his decision.

"I wish the press, in particular, had realized that we had not started a campaign, I wasn't an announced candidate when they began asking that I give them an answer now, when we were a year away from the election," said Bradley, who actively conducted an unannounced campaign for the governorship months before his formal announcement.

No Reason for Haste

"I didn't feel any particular reason for haste in making that decision. I had many other things to do. I fitted it into my timetable and my schedule as I saw the need. That's the way I've always functioned. I go to bed satisfied that I did the best I could each day and every day with the issues that were before me. I feel the same way about this decision and the timetable for it. Nobody could set that timetable for me. I had to do it according to my own time."

The flap over gun control occurred early in the campaign when, in a television interview, Bradley volunteered that he would not support a gun control initiative like the one voters overwhelmingly defeated in 1982 if one were now proposed for the state ballot.

"I don't believe that, in the face of that overwhelming (1982) vote, it ought to be brought up again, and if it is, I will oppose it," said Bradley in the television interview.

Afterward, he was criticized in newspaper editorials and by Deukmejian for "flip-flopping," a phrase that came to dominate the first weeks of his campaign. Deukmejian's aides said they considered the incident an unexpected bonus, giving the governor a chance to attack the mayor on the leadership issue, a point on which the mayor had not been considered vulnerable.

Bradley considers the overwhelming defeat of the 1982 initiative, which he supported, to be one reason for his narrow loss to Deukmejian in the governor's race that year.

In his interview with The Times, Bradley did not rule out any new gun control laws but declined to specify precisely what he favors.

"I've said that (his opposition to a ballot initiative) doesn't mean that we have done all we can with regard to the issue of how we control the use of guns, the violence they create in this country because I still think we have to do something about that," Bradley said.

Bradley was asked if he wished he had expressed himself more clearly in the controversial television interview.

"Yes," he replied. "In fact, I couldn't understand what the furor was about because I knew what I had in my head, I thought I had said it, and it wasn't until I looked at one of the tapes that had been recorded, that I realized that I had not made it clear. So I am at fault on the confusion that developed."

Bradley said he approved of the job being done by campaign chairman Quinn and manager Nichols.

The choice of Quinn and Nichols to run Bradley's campaign was quickly attacked by the Deukmejian side. Hoping to capitalize on what they perceived as a residue of unhappiness with former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., Deukmejian forces repeatedly brought up Quinn's long years with Brown as political adviser and chairman of the Air Resources Board and Nichols' term as chairman of that regulatory body. (Nichols was never especially close to Brown and left Sacramento at the end of his administration unhappy that he did not appoint her to a judgeship.)

More Aggressive Style

Since then, Quinn has adopted a slashing, attack style for Bradley's campaign, unlike the mayor's 1982 effort, where he carefully avoided making any waves.

"Tom Quinn is one of the brightest people that I've ever come across in the field of politics," Bradley said. "I am very pleased with the way he functions. Mary Nichols has not had any experience but she has been very impressive in the day-to-day management of the campaign in spite of that lack of political experience."

Bradley conceded that an aspect of his own performance--speeches and press conferences--is sometimes uneven. Some of his speeches have been eloquent, but others have been rambling, as have press conferences, most notably a Sacramento appearance where some members of the Capitol press corps panned him in print after a vague explanation of his water plan.

Bradley said that, "depending on the electricity in the air" and his "reaction to the crowd," he "may be more articulate on some issues than I may have been earlier or later in the day. . . . I'm aware that there are times when there just isn't that kind of emotion that drives me and that is based on certain circumstances at that location, in that room and at that time."

Plenty of Energy

Was that because of his age, 68? "Do you feel the years creeping up on you?" he was asked.

"I feel like I could do today anything and everything I could do 20 years ago," Bradley replied in an energetic manner, obviously not happy with any suggestion he was growing old. "I don't want to put that to a test. But that's the way I feel. I feel very energetic. I feel I can outwork anyone on my staff."

If elected, what would he do first as governor?

"I think the most important thing is setting up a certain vision for the state, setting certain goals for the state and outlining them to the people, then working toward those goals," Bradley said.

Asked to be more specific, Bradley said, "My agenda will be included in the various statements I will be making during the course of this campaign. . . . After the election is over, they would be framed in concrete ways, detailed and identifiable statements . . . that would sort of chart the course for the state and myself."

Could he single out one area where "something isn't being done right now?"

Cites Educational Need

Bradley mentioned education.

"I'm alarmed by the cycle of failure in our educational system, where 34% of our young people are dropping out of school before they graduate from high school," Bradley said. "They are going to be crippled for life. They will not be able to get or hold a job . . . I think we need to experiment with innovative ways that we can break this cycle of failure."

Bradley, as he has in the past, discussed what he considers an important part of his candidacy--election of a black governor to provide a role model to minority youngsters and others. He said that black children in his youth lacked strong black role models.

"I do consider myself a role model for young people of all races, creeds and colors," he said. "I try to conduct myself, try to perform my job in a way that they can look to me and seek to emulate my performance. I think it is important for the young people in particular to have role models, to be able to point to someone and saying that I'd like to be like that. It is a very strong motivating force, it sometimes is an inspirational force."

His models were Joe Louis, the former heavyweight boxing champion, and Jesse Owens, the great track star.

How did he feel the night Louis won the championship?

"I was so excited and so stimulated by it that I left my living room, ran out into the street and there found hundreds of others on the street just congratulating each other and expressing such joy that Joe Louis had won the championship," Bradley said. "It was a feeling of ecstasy."

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