RACE FOR MAYOR: YAROSLAVSKY’S DECISION : The Man Who Revived Bradley’s Political Pulse

Times Staff Writer

Within the mayoral suite on the third floor of Los Angeles City Hall, the center of activity Thursday--as on most days--was down the hall from the solemn, wood-paneled office where Mayor Tom Bradley conducts business.

It’s the cluttered, paper-strewn lair of Deputy Mayor Michael Gage, where aides gather when there is some news to chew over, often with shades drawn against the view of City Hall’s south park. At one point Thursday afternoon, almost a dozen people crammed into Gage’s dark cubbyhole, raising such a din with their laughter and congratulations that he could not hear the reports coming in by telephone.

The jubilation was over City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky’s decision to bail out of the race for mayor, despite months of preparation, apparently convinced that Bradley is unbeatable. It was no surprise that the celebration would begin in Gage’s sanctum, for Gage is given much of the credit for reviving Bradley’s political fortunes.

At 43, Gage is an oddity--an environmentalist who smokes heavily and who works for a mayor who until recently was viewed with disdain by many environmental activists.


But since Gage took over as chief of staff in mid-1987, Bradley has quieted the clamor over environmental issues, mostly by offering program after new program thought up by Gage and a staff of young, aggressive political aides in the mayor’s office.

Rick Taylor, a former Yaroslavsky chief deputy in City Hall, has watched the revival of Bradley’s stature over the last year and gives all of the credit to Gage.

“He deserves tremendous . . . credit for bringing back a candidate who had basically self-destructed the last couple of years,” Taylor said. “He turned the old Tom Bradley into a new Tom Bradley.”

Most recently, Gage appeared to guide the mayor successfully through two skirmishes with his chief rival, victories that apparently played a role in Yaroslavsky’s decision to bail out.

In one, Gage minimized the damage dealt to Bradley by revelations that a mayoral appointee to the city Housing Authority, Alvin Greene, had missed six months worth of meetings. Bradley also came out better than Yaroslavsky in a several-day duel over plans to expand the Westside Pavilion shopping center.

“A lot of the credit goes to Gage,” said Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica). “He lives for the taste of battle. He breathes aggressiveness into City Hall.”

“I think Bradley has become more formidable in the last year because of the aggressive approach in City Hall on issues he was acquiescent on before,” Hayden said.

Gage took an odd route to Bradley’s office. A native of Northern California, he served four years as a state assemblyman from Napa, building a reputation as an environmentalist who enjoyed white-water rafting more than the nuances of legislation. But he also liked hardball politics, and Gage spent much of his final year as a lawmaker running the unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign of then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Once out of office he signed on as a river guide with Sobek Expeditions, running some of the world’s hairier white-water streams. Friends call him The Birdman--he says because of a bird-call he has been able to make since his youth--and remember him as a courageous and muscular river rat.

He came back into politics to run campaigns for Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, who was Speaker of the Assembly while Gage was in office. Bradley hired him after losing the 1986 campaign for governor, and Gage took over an office that was going dormant.

“We were working in a fashion to solve the problems of the city,” Gage said cautiously Thursday. “If that preempted Mr. Yaroslavsky, we’re not unhappy with it.”