The Times Poll : Bradley: Is He Losing Old Touch?
At 69, Tom Bradley is a far different leader from the man who moved into the Los Angeles mayor’s office in 1973 as an environmentalist, reformer and symbol of reconciliation in the decade after the Watts riot.
He has been reelected easily three times and has said that he will run again in 1989. But today, according to a Los Angeles Times Poll, he is out of step with a city that is fast expanding as a multiracial economic capital, with its attendant problems of ethnic tension, traffic jams and neighborhoods congested from new commercial buildings.
“The vultures are feeling he can be had,” said John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League and a longtime Bradley friend. " . . . I think they are wrong. But clearly, that’s a factor (in city politics).”
A Changing City
Conflicting themes--a constituency in flux and a mayor who keeps his own counsel and is reluctant to respond to signs that the city is changing--dominate an examination of Bradley by The Times Poll and by a reporter who interviewed Bradley, current and past members of his staff, other Bradley advisers, city officials and community leaders.
Today, the poll showed, he is preferred over potential opponents, and if the election were held now, Bradley would be the favorite. However, that finding is considered by polling experts to be a reflection of Bradley’s high name recognition, and not a forecast of an election that is two years away. Those polled gave high marks to the mayor for the way he is doing his job. For example, most approved of some of his major policy decisions, including his support of the Metro Rail commuter project and his decision to clear out homeless sidewalk camps near downtown. But the poll also showed that there is substantial disapproval of the mayor’s position on several other important issues, and doubt about whether he was the man to guide Los Angeles in the future.
For instance, 45% of those polled said Los Angeles was changing faster than the mayor, 31% said he has kept up, and only 8% said he was thinking ahead of the city.
Only a minority of those polled saw him as the best bet to solve some of the city’s emerging big problems. While Bradley won as a strong environmentalist 14 years ago, only three out of 10 residents said he is the best person to solve environmental pollution problems today. Only 17% said they agree with his approval of oil drilling near the beach in Pacific Palisades, a decision that cost him substantial environmentalist support.
And a majority of all kinds of Los Angeles residents--blacks, whites, Latinos, Democrats, Republicans, independents--said the next city administration should not continue on the Bradley path.
In short, the poll findings and the interviews give a picture of a mayor who has failed to meet the public’s hopes in providing solutions for a city where the realities of growth are clashing with the traditional Los Angeles suburban dream of a single family home, complete with yard and a car for each adult in the family.
The concern for quality-of-life problems, while always an undertone in Los Angeles politics, rose to the surface relatively suddenly both here and in other parts of the state, catching many traditional politicians unaware.
It has resulted in a new, informal political movement of “no-growthers” or “slow-growthers,” who are both Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, middle class and above and who, for the most part, are white.
Some of them--conservative Republican suburbanites--were never Bradley people. But in these times of change, he is also losing white liberals, among them Jewish voters who have always been loyal to him, but now say they have lost confidence in his ability to solve traffic, pollution and planning problems.
Shift in Personal Style
Sadly for the mayor, the change in public sentiment has coincided with a change in his style that prevents him from knowing what is going on, according to several past and present staff members.
Once he consulted many people. He was the ultimate grass-roots politician. Today, with new currents sweeping the city, Bradley deals with some of the most complex problems without consulting old aides or young ones who have been trying to sell him on new ideas. Associates said in interviews that Bradley has become out of touch and mistrustful of people who were once close advisers.
“The mayor is more and more into himself,” one said. “He really doesn’t consult anyone. He doesn’t want to.”
One friend, William Robertson, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said that after Bradley’s narrow loss for governor in 1982, “he began relying less on people and more on his own judgment.” Has he lost trust in his advisers? “I guess one could come to that conclusion,” Robertson said. “After doing some soul searching, he has less confidence in the people around him, which is natural.”
That explains, to a large extent, what has been happening in the mayor’s office--the sudden switch in policies, a long period of lethargy following Bradley’s loss in the governor’s race suddenly ending with a burst of energy in the last few weeks, and the departure of key aides.
Bradley, himself, looks unchanged. He has aged well, physically. He was fit enough, for example, to ride the opening lap of a bicycle race in Chico, Calif., last fall, looking trim in tight T-shirt and shorts. Although wrinkles show on his neck, the mayor’s face is still unlined. He has been caught dozing at public events, but was lively through long and grim 1986 campaign days, slow only in the mornings, the prisoner of a biological clock that usually does not turn him on until the approach of noon.
His constituents believe him to be healthy and strong. Most of those polled said he was as vigorous, or more, as ever. Only 22% said they believe that he has grown less vigorous since becoming mayor.
But his manner, and the style with which his office is run and decisions are made, give credence to those who say the mayor is out of sync with the city and slow to pick up the new currents in the community.
His manner in a recent interview was friendly but formal. Reporters are not among Bradley’s friends. His face, as always, was expressionless. True to the tradition of the Los Angeles Police Department, where he spent 20 years, visitors’ questions, arguments, compliments, excuses or outrage seldom dent the poker-face exterior.
He is a remote man, self-contained, not seeking support from others, forbidding, especially to younger staff members, which partially explains why he has been slow to sense change.
“The people in the campaign (for governor) were younger than his own children,” said former campaign manager Mary Nichols. “I think he enjoyed being around young people but on the other hand, it is like dealing with your father. You have to be respectful. You want the mayor’s approval.”
Even an old friend feels that way. That was evident in May when, late on the night of the city primary election, the mayor stopped in at the campaign headquarters of his choice in the 10th City Council District race, Homer Broome, a friend for years.
By 11 p.m., Broome had edged into the runoff and he wanted to appear on television before the Channel 2 crew left. Broome is a big man with a military bearing, a former cop who once commanded the city’s toughest area, South-Central. But he would say nothing until Bradley gave permission.
Most deferentially, Broome walked up to Bradley, who was standing alone, and said. “Mr. Mayor, my staff thinks I should make a statement.” Bradley, who had been refusing to comment to the press all evening, at first said nothing but finally nodded his approval. Only then did Broome speak to reporters.
The inner workings of the mayor’s office provide further evidence that he is operating as a loner, frequently keeping himself and others in the dark. One staff member said that Bradley treats his office like “a wheel, with the mayor at the center and spokes going out.”
Bradley deals with each spoke individually, many times not telling anyone else, even his beleaguered chief of staff, of his discussions and decisions.
The present chief of staff is a former liberal Democratic assemblyman from the Northern California wine country. He is Michael Gage, a free spirit who quit the Legislature as an assemblyman to become a political adviser to then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. He ran a river rafting outfit, managed Bradley’s 1985 reelection campaign and worked as an executive for Albert Gersten Jr., a developer and Democratic activist and contributor, before joining the Bradley staff.
Working with the chief of staff--but not necessarily under him--are a disparate group, several of whom have as much or more influence with the mayor than he does, and are able to walk in to see Bradley whenever they want, without telling the chief of staff.
One is Philip Depoian, the staff’s remarkable survivor, who started out as a driver for Bradley in the losing 1969 mayoral campaign, developed a relationship that approaches father-and-son and came back from the oblivion to which rival staff members had sentenced him after the close but losing 1982 gubernatorial campaign, which Depoian managed.
Knives have been out for Depoian for years. But one staff member said, “Phil is extremely close to the mayor. Oftentimes, if you want the mayor’s ear, it is good to get Phil’s ear. Most people on the staff will tell you that to persuade Phil goes a long way toward persuading the mayor.”
Another staff member with walk-in privileges is Grace Montanez Davis, the other deputy mayor. Davis, deputy mayor since 1975, is in charge of obtaining federal grants, a major source of city funds before President Reagan’s election. She also supervises liaison with the Latino community and several city departments, including those that have responsibility for the Skid Row homeless people.
Anton Calleia, an aide since the early 1960s, when Bradley was on the City Council, also has direct access to Bradley. He is in charge of the budget and is a City Council lobbyist.
The circumstances of Gage getting the job are an example of the tension and scrapping in the mayoral suite on the third floor of City Hall.
Gage’s predecessor was another Brown Administration veteran, Tom Houston, who was brought in in 1984 at the urging of a few longtime Bradley lieutenants. They were part of an inner circle that included Frances Savitch, City Council lobbyist and liaison with downtown business interests and parts of the Jewish community, who has just resigned to go to work for a public relations firm; Maureen Kindel, president of the Board of Public Works, famous as a Bradley fund-raiser; Robertson, the labor leader; Sam Williams, former president of the State Bar and the most influential black attorney in the city’s predominantly white Establishment legal community, and Maury Weiner, former deputy mayor and still a close adviser.
But Houston’s blunt manner offended City Hall and state politicians and he was passed over when it came time for Bradley to choose a 1986 gubernatorial campaign chairman. He was part of the campaign advisory committee, which also consisted of campaign chairman Tom Quinn, Williams, Weiner, Savitch and Kindel.
By Election Day, the old Bradleyites had turned against Houston, and younger staff members were in revolt. “I think the Bradley staff deteriorated tremendously under Houston,” one said. “I don’t think he can be trusted. He is not a man of his word. That’s why he wasn’t named campaign chairman. I thought he talked too much.”
And Houston fought with one of his patrons, Kindel, during the campaign for governor, a source said. He told Kindel, in charge of a city sewage system that was leaking waste into Santa Monica Bay, that she should either raise money for the campaign or work full-time on the sewage problem, but not do both.
She did not comply. Furthermore, she resisted a proposal by Quinn and Houston, both unhappy with the pace of sewer system improvements, to appoint an executive officer for the Board of Public Works, according to aides.
Tired, wanting to earn more money to support his family, Houston, a lawyer, left the mayor’s office last month and got a job in a Los Angeles law firm. But before leaving, sources said, he executed a coup. Without Kindel, Savitch or anyone else knowing about it, Houston suggested to the mayor that he hire Gage, who shared Houston’s strong environmental views. Bradley agreed. Houston felt it was important to install a new deputy mayor not beholden to the old Bradleyites such as Kindel and Savitch.
By the time of Houston’s departure, staff morale had been worsening for some time. Proposals by staff members for the mayor to deal with controversies over growth, planning and traffic were stalled on the mayor’s desk. Houston’s assistant, Mark Fabiani, the mayoral counsel who had drafted important legislation on divestiture of South African holdings and to stop discrimination in private clubs, was ready to quit.
Morale had dipped further over the mayor’s refusal to consult the staff on the sweeps of the Skid Row homeless last February and on another issue--his decision to submit a hold-the-line budget with no increase in the number of police officers. Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, planning to run against Bradley in 1989, had jumped on the issue, proposing new taxes, some cuts and some fund shifts to pay for 250 more officers. Bradley was forced to support the plan.
The most controversial action was to send big garbage trucks and sanitation workers, protected by police, into Skid Row in February to demolish the sidewalk shantytowns set up by the homeless. The mayor was attacked in newspaper editorials and even criticized by political friends for meeting the complex social problem of the homeless with brute force.
Chief of Staff Houston was not consulted on the sweeps, nor was Kindel, even though equipment from her department was used. Both protested--after the fact.
The homeless sweeps came in response to Bradley’s personal disgust with the filth and from cleanup demands from the police and from a newly organized group of merchants in the Skid Row area, the Central City East Assn., composed largely of owners of fish processing and wholesale toy stores and by Little Tokyo property owners.
Modest in appearance, the businesses had become a valuable economic resource for the city, providing thousands of low-skilled, regular jobs. One of their strong supporters was labor leader Jim Wood, a rising power in the Bradley Administration as chairman of the Community Redevelopment Agency, a favorite of the mayor’s because of the way it pushed through the building of downtown’s high-rises.
The firms had complained that encampments of the homeless on Skid Row sidewalks, filthy with garbage and human waste, frightened and offended employees and customers. In addition, the county Health Department had warned of the presence of fleas and a non-lethal form of typhus around the encampments.
On Feb. 6, the Police Department outlined its plan at a meeting of merchants, social service providers, government officials and others concerned with Skid Row. Deputy Mayor Davis represented Bradley at the meeting.
After Davis briefed the mayor that afternoon on the plan to clear the homeless from the streets, he approved. “I thought it was necessary,” Bradley said. “There was a condition of filth and obstruction on the sidewalks . . . that nobody would tolerate in their neighborhood, the rodent infestation, and the human excrement that was dumped on the sidewalk, the mattresses that were filthy, and they are health hazards. All that stuff had to be dealt with.”
Despite the furor and the criticism, Bradley said he has no regrets that he did not consult staff members who might have warned him of the backlash. Those at the meeting where the Police Department presented its plan, he said, were a diverse group, “so there was no need, in my judgment, to run this by some other staff. . . " Bradley said. “I have enough experience as a former police officer, as a lawyer, about the rights of people and about the need to clean out an unhealthy, unsanitary condition and when this was laid out to me, I had no problem reaching the conclusion that it was the appropriate thing.
“In reflection, the only thing that might have been changed that would have avoided some of the publicity was some advance notice to (homeless) people and some means of assuring that their property would be (taken care of).”
The Bradley tendency to make policy on his own, ignoring counsel, led to a decision that, as it turned out, may have been his most politically damaging one: approving oil drilling at a seaside site in Pacific Palisades in 1985 after winning huge support in his 1973 election by promising to prevent it.
The political toll is clear. Citywide, the Times Poll showed, those surveyed disapproved 39% to 17% of the drilling proposal, a hot issue that was a forerunner to the series of similar concerns over protection of the environment that was soon to dominate city politics.
The loss of support that the drilling issue cost Bradley was worse among those most likely to vote, the affluent whites and that liberal segment of the white population most loyal to Bradley, the Jews. Whites opposed drilling 48% to 21%, with the figure among Jews 67% to 13% against it. Disagreement by economic class rose from 29% among the poorest to 50% among the richest.
Worse yet, the poll showed the faultiness of the main rationale for the decision cited by Bradley and outgoing Los Angeles City Council President Pat Russell, his chief ally. That was the fairness argument: Oil drilling has occurred in minority areas, and it would be unfair to stop it in affluent neighborhoods.
The poll showed that 42% of blacks were unaware of the issue, and those who knew about it disapproved of oil drilling 24% to 17%. Of Latinos, 49% were unaware, and the rest opposed drilling 30% to 13%.
The Palisades decision came as quality of life was emerging as a major political issue. While the poll did not show whether that specific decision influenced voters’ overall view on Bradley on that issue, it did show that voters who tend to be part of the slow-growth movement now disapprove of Bradley on a range of issues. Most higher income white voters, for example, think he is not the best person to deal with traffic, the environment and growth.
Geographically, there has been a severe loss for Bradley on quality-of-life issues, particularly on the Westside, his traditional bastion of white liberal support. The majority of those surveyed on the Westside and in the highly suburbanized San Fernando Valley did not think him the best man to solve the problems.
During the 1986 campaign for governor, two decisions that stood out in polls as harmful were made without consultation.
Bradley spurned the advice of every aide and remained neutral in the controversy over the confirmation of then-California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird. “He didn’t ask for a vote,” campaign chairman Tom Quinn said. “As a matter of fact, he joked it was like Abraham Lincoln at a Cabinet meeting one time when he went around and everybody expressed their view and Lincoln was supposed to have said, ‘Well, 11 to 1, I win.”’
Without consulting a single adviser, Bradley, who favored an anti-handgun initiative in 1982, shifted his position four years later. The inconsistency cost him among those polled at the time.
Bradley was asked about his decision-making process in an interview recently. To the question of why he no longer listens to his advisers, he replied, “Absolutely ridiculous. There has been no change in my pattern of seeking advice from people.”
“I try to get input, but ultimately I have to make the decision,” he said. “The fact that I seek input doesn’t necessarily mean I will follow it. There have been many issues where people disagreed with me, with my judgment, but my convictions have led me to do ultimately what I did.”
There were findings in the poll to support his confidence.
He is better known and more popular than potential opponents, running ahead of Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, City Atty. James K. Hahn, City Councilmen Zev Yaroslavsky and Joel Wachs and former Rep. Bobbi Fiedler. Most of those polled, by 51% to 39%, said he should run in 1989.
Those polled gave him a higher job rating than Gates, the best known of his potential rivals.
A total of 65% approved of the job Bradley is doing as mayor, compared to 46% who approved of the job that Gates is doing as chief. Bradley beat Gates in this category among every ethnic group--64% to 37% among Latinos, 62% to 54% among all whites, 66% to 46% among Jews, 72% to 46% among Democrats, 66% to 48% among independents. Only among Republicans did Gates lead Democrat Bradley in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, 72% to 60%.
Some of the policies that have drawn heavy criticism in the press and among other politicians are approved by the public.
One graphic example of that was the homeless sweeps. Those responding to the poll agreed 66% to 14% with Bradley’s approval of the Police Department cleanup of Skid Row, and support came about equally from every ethnic group. Another was the Metro Rail transit line, on which subway excavations have begun. A total of 51% agreed with Bradley that it should be built, while 24% disagreed.
Still, the changeable policies, plus the fact that he has been on the job so long, has raised doubts among supporters.
Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Council in Los Angeles, who is one of the younger leaders in the black community, praised Bradley for keeping “a city afloat through a period when municipalities have had financial problems around the nation. . . . He is probably one of the most efficient managers the city could have had. I think that is his strongest suit.”
But, when asked what Bradley should do, Ridley-Thomas replied, “It is a matter of timing and one has to sense when it is time to explore a new position is mutually rewarding to one’s self and to those whom one serves. In an elected office, it is best to decide that yourself, rather than be told that in election results.”
In the last couple of weeks, the atmosphere around the mayor’s office seems changed. Under Gage, the lethargy has gone. A new traffic initiative was unveiled in June and Bradley ordered an audit of the General Services Department, headed by the imperious Sylvia Cunliffe, who has been criticized for hiring relatives and for mismanagement and who has long been an embarrassment to the mayor.
But there are other problems to deal with, many of them impossible to solve, all of them revolving around the impact of constant changes on a crowded, multiracial metropolis. Those questions involve conflict between the races, the very problem that confronted Bradley 14 years ago. But now, he admits, they are more complicated. They threaten the breakup of the peaceful racial coalition that Bradley brought together, and the end to years of relative racial harmony.
That danger was dramatically illustrated late in 1985 when the mayor delayed denouncing a man whose racist views represented everything Bradley has fought against in his lifetime, Louis Farrakhan.
HOW BRADLEY IS FARING AGAINST THE COMPETITION The Los Angeles Times Poll asked, “If the mayoral election were being held today, would you be inclined to vote for” each of the listed candidates. There were 923 responses from within the City of Los Angeles:
TOM IRA DARYL JAMES ZEV JOEL BRADLEY REINER GATES HAHN YAROSLAVSKY WACHS Citywide No Opinion 30% 49% 39% 58% 66% 69% Inclined 44% 25% 24% 23% 21% 15% Not Inclined 26% 26% 37% 19% 13% 19% Whites No Opinion 23% 39% 29% 52% 54% 54% Inclined 42% 27% 27% 23% 32% 23% Not Inclined 35% 34% 44% 25% 14% 23% Blacks No Opinion 21% 43% 27% 45% 69% 71% Inclined 64% 30% 23% 41% 14% 11% Not Inclined 15% 27% 50% 14% 17% 18% Latinos No Opinion 45% 70% 62% 74% 79% 84% Inclined 37% 16% 18% 14% 8% 4% Not Inclined 18% 14% 20% 12% 13% 12% Jews No Opinion 22% 27% 26% 42% 28% 38% Inclined 47% 34% 13% 29% 57% 37% Not Inclined 31% 39% 61% 29% 15% 25% Westside No Opinion 34% 39% 36% 51% 46% 61% Inclined 36% 30% 24% 18% 41% 21% Not Inclined 30% 31% 40% 31% 13% 18% S.F. Valley No Opinion 26% 46% 33% 53% 68% 57% Inclined 38% 22% 25% 26% 20% 20% Not Inclined 36% 32% 42% 21% 12% 23% Central No Opinion 32% 54% 43% 68% 65% 70% Inclined 45% 28% 23% 16% 20% 11% Not Inclined 23% 18% 34% 16% 15% 19% South No Opinion 29% 56% 41% 56% 76% 75% Inclined 54% 20% 23% 31% 12% 12% Not Inclined 17% 24% 36% 13% 12% 13%
BOBBI FIEDLER Citywide No Opinion 52% Inclined 10% Not Inclined 38% Whites No Opinion 39% Inclined 13% Not Inclined 48% Blacks No Opinion 49% Inclined 7% Not Inclined 44% Latinos No Opinion 77% Inclined 5% Not Inclined 18% Jews No Opinion 24% Inclined 11% Not Inclined 65% Westside No Opinion 46% Inclined 10% Not Inclined 44% S.F. Valley No Opinion 43% Inclined 15% Not Inclined 42% Central No Opinion 59% Inclined 6% Not Inclined 35% South No Opinion 59% Inclined 7% Not Inclined 34%
‘OUT OF STEP’ Blacks, more than any other racial group, believe that Mayor Bradley is “out of step” with the City of Los Angeles, according to responses to the Los Angeles Times Poll.
TOTAL BLACKS WHITES LATINOS CITY Bradley has changed more than the city. 6% 6% 15% 8% Bradley and the city are “in step.” 28% 31% 30% 31% Bradley has changed less than the city 57% 44% 41% 45%