Yaroslavsky Won’t Oppose Bradley for Mayor’s Office

Times Staff Writer

In a move that stunned friends and political supporters, Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky has decided not to oppose Tom Bradley in this year’s mayoral election, sources close to the councilman said Thursday.

The decision clears the way for the 71-year-old Bradley to run for an unprecedented fifth term without any known serious opposition at a point three months before the primary election. No other major candidate has appeared in opposition to the mayor.

Yaroslavsky, who spent Thursday calling a close circle of friends, would not “confirm or deny anything,” a campaign spokeswoman said. He has scheduled a City Hall press conference for this morning to announce his decision.

But sources told The Times that the Westside councilman had concluded within the last week that “he can’t win,” after a poll commissioned by Yaroslavsky showed voters overwhelmingly favoring Bradley.


“He spent a year and a half trying to make something here,” said a former top Yaroslavsky aide. “In the last few weeks evaluating what you have or don’t have, he’s come to the conclusion that he doesn’t have it.”

Yaroslavsky, who turned 40 last month, intends to run again for his 5th District City Council seat, the sources said. He ran unopposed in 1985 and 1981 and won convincingly in 1977 in his Westside district. He was first elected in 1975.

The decision surprised Yaroslavsky’s political supporters and his allies on the City Council because he had led them to believe over the last several months that he would challenge Bradley. John Barbieri, a Yaroslavsky supporter and former president of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, said last month that Yaroslavsky told him that he would declare his candidacy for mayor in early January.

Si Frumkin, one of Yaroslavsky’s closest friends, said, “I’m very surprised and saddened because I felt he was determined to run, and I felt he had a very good chance to make it. He worked very hard. . . . I think he would be a hell of a good mayor.”

Councilman Michael Woo also was startled when told that Yaroslavsky had decided to drop out. “He’s been maintaining a steadfast position that it’s up or out for him and he intends to go ahead,” Woo said.

For the last year, Yaroslavsky had been positioning himself to run for mayor by hiring a full-time campaign staff, raising more than $1 million in political contributions and attacking Bradley for growing stale and sluggish in dealing with gang violence, traffic and environmental problems. Yaroslavsky also assembled a campaign steering committee that included several former Bradley supporters and major figures in the entertainment industry, including Ed Sanders, a prominent Los Angeles attorney; Barry Diller, chairman of 20th Century Fox, and Walter Mirisch, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Suffers a Setback

But Yaroslavsky suffered a serious setback in August when two controversial memos that were used to help formulate his campaign strategy were leaked to The Times. The memos, which were written by political consultants Michael Berman and Carl D’Agostino and kept in Yaroslavsky’s City Hall office, mocked Bradley’s intelligence and implored the councilman to focus his fund-raising efforts exclusively on “wealthy” Jews who live on the city’s Westside.

With Yaroslavsky out of the race, the concern among several community leaders that a confrontation would develop between blacks and Jews in the coming election seems moot.

At the time the memos were released, Yaroslavsky said they contained “offensive, contemptuous and insulting” language and vowed not to hire close friends Berman and D’Agostino to run his mayoral campaign. But after BAD, the Berman-D’Agostino firm, successfully ran the anti-oil drilling initiative campaign in November, Yaroslavsky began hinting in recent weeks that he might again hire the firm.

This admission hurt Yaroslavsky politically at a time when he had not yet recovered from the Berman-D’Agostino memo debacle, said one City Council ally who asked not to be identified. Nevertheless, Yaroslavsky indicated that he was “extremely determined to make this race and to make it as formidable as possible” in discussions with a number of friends, the council source said.

Began to Fall Apart

The council ally said that the Yaroslavsky campaign for mayor also began to fall apart in recent weeks.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of rumors about morale not being good in his campaign office,” the ally said. “There was a problem with disorganization. There was a perception that the campaign doesn’t seem well organized at this point.”

Councilman Marvin Braude, who co-sponsored the anti-drilling measure, refused to speculate on Yaroslavsky’s intentions but indicated that he felt that his colleague would have faced an extremely tough fight.

“I think Bradley always had strengths and I think a lot of other people thought that Bradley, except for one or two matters, has been a very fine mayor,” Braude said.

But Yaroslavsky still believed that he could defeat Bradley until last week, following the results of a poll on various issues affecting the city, said a source close to the Yaroslavsky campaign. The poll, conducted citywide several weeks ago, focused on Bradley’s popularity and how he may be perceived as vulnerable on issues such as the environment, growth management and crime.

Bradley’s Popularity

To Yaroslavsky’s surprise, the poll showed that Bradley’s personal popularity transcended all issues, the source said. Yaroslavsky determined that the mayor was so well liked that any effort to attack him on the issues would backfire. This was the only poll that Yaroslavsky had taken in preparation of his mayoral race. He had it commissioned to determine what sort of message he could present to the voters in the spring campaign.

The source said that although Yaroslavsky told close friends of his decision during the last week, he waited until today to make a public announcement because he was still reassessing his chances and the poll data.

Yaroslavsky also was confronted with the reality that he would give up his $58,592-a-year council salary if he ran for mayor. His wife, Barbara Yaroslavsky, expressed concern during an interview last month that her family might have trouble paying bills if her husband lost the mayoral election.

So Yaroslavsky, who for the last decade has made no secret of his hopes to run for mayor, decided to wait at least another four years.

“Zev was very subdued,” said one friend who was notified. “It was a gut-wrenching decision for him.”

Reassessing Position

One prospective candidate who had hoped to succeed Yaroslavsky on the City Council was Laura Lake, a slow-growth advocate who has been at odds with Yaroslavsky on some development issues. She said that if Yaroslavsky indeed decides to seek reelection, “I’d have to reassess things.”

Another possible council candidate, Lisa Specht, could not be reached for comment, but it is considered unlikely that she would run against Yaroslavsky.

Times staff writers Ted Vollmer, Richard Simon, Alan Miller and Kevin Roderick contributed to this article.