With his wife, Barbara, by his side, City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky on Friday explained his abrupt departure from the Los Angeles mayoral race by saying he is convinced "a special rapport" with the people makes Mayor Tom Bradley invincible to political attack for his shortcomings.
Bradley enjoys so much personal respect that voters do not hold him responsible for violent street gangs, for traffic or smog, or for the various other problems brought on by the city's rising population, Yaroslavsky said.
"An uphill fight is not something I shrink from but this was more than an uphill fight, it was from my point of view virtually impossible," Yaroslavsky said. "I think he's a very popular and entrenched incumbent, and I think that he is going to be reelected."
With Yaroslavsky out of the race, the path is clear for Bradley to make more history as the first Los Angeles mayor elected to five terms. The first black man to serve in citywide office here, his nearly 16 years in office is already the longest tenure of a Los Angeles mayor.
Bradley faces only token opposition so far in the April 11 primary. City Councilman Nate Holden said Friday that he was considering a run against the mayor, but no other serious challengers are expected to arise in the short time before papers must be filed next week.
Appearing relieved and at ease, Yaroslavsky said Friday that his now-defunct campaign left a lasting impact on the city by forcing Bradley to tackle pressing problems.
"I hope I don't sound too vain, but I believe this: I've made him a better mayor," Yaroslavsky said, citing Bradley initiatives on Santa Monica Bay sewage, traffic, managed growth and adding more police. "Tom Bradley has embraced my vision of the city more than the other way around."
Pleased With News
Speaking to reporters later in City Hall, Bradley said he was pleased with the news, which he learned in a telephone conversation with Yaroslavsky about 11 o'clock Thursday night.
He accepted the notion of a special rapport with Los Angeles residents and said the prospect of a fifth term would hardly have seemed possible in 1973, when he became mayor.
"I go out and do my job . . . and the results have been pretty clear over these last several campaigns," Bradley said. "The people of the city have given me great tribute over the 15 1/2 years I've been in office. . . . I still have the fire, the energy, the vision and the willingness to work hard at my job."
The mayor rejected Yaroslavsky's contention that the pressure of a potentially tough campaign has stimulated the Bradley Administration to adopt new positions and try new ideas.
'Matter of Conscience'
"It's been a matter of conscience, a matter of doing what I think is right," Bradley said. "I've never had to be stimulated. When you get up at 5:40 in the morning, roll out of bed and go to work, I don't think you need any special stimulation."
Neither Bradley nor Yaroslavsky offered an endorsement to the other. Yaroslavsky faces challenges from at least three candidates in his 5th Council District.
Yaroslavsky said Friday that he understood that some of his supporters might feel cheated by his decision, especially those former Bradley supporters who risked alienating the mayor's allies to help Yaroslavsky. But he said they should believe that they forced changes in the way Bradley governs the city.
"I will be eternally grateful to them because they did take a risk," Yaroslavsky said. "They showed great courage in doing so. They have made a difference. . . . If there is any flattery in imitation, I think we should feel very flattered."
'I Took a Chance'
Steve Afriat, a City Hall lobbyist and former chief deputy to Yaroslavsky, said that in backing the councilman, "I took a chance, and the mayor probably is not too crazy about me. Zev was my friend, my former boss. I went with my friend. Once the dust settles, I hope they (Bradley allies) would admire that decision."
"I don't feel hung out to dry," attorney Arlen Andelson said. "Zev is a very young, bright, rising star. This isn't the end of Zev. This is a part of progression, really. The mayor is just very strong."
Louise Frankel, a Tarzana homeowner activist who was on Yaroslavsky's steering committee, said she held no hard feelings about the decision. "He raised the consciousness of the mayor's office, that was an accomplishment," she said.
Yaroslavsky said Friday than in recent weeks, faced with an imminent decision that could force him out of public life, he began re-evaluating whether he should run. He consulted friends and colleagues and commissioned a poll on how Los Angeles residents view him and the mayor.
In a Dec. 23 memo, obtained Friday by The Times, pollster Arnold Steinberg responded with bleak news when Yaroslavsky asked for the bottom line.
While Yaroslavsky was viewed by most voters as on the popular side of issues such as growth, police strength and oil drilling--and Bradley on the less-popular side--Steinberg said it would not matter. People were willing to excuse Bradley his mistakes and knew little about Yaroslavsky.
"He (Bradley) still retains his personal popularity and is not being held accountable," Yaroslavsky was told. "His nice-guy image makes him difficult to attack. . . . Most of the public is unaware of the problems in the Bradley Administration. . . . Ambiguity will hardly benefit you, since voters will go for the known commodity--Bradley."
Steinberg, a veteran political adviser to Rep. Robert Dornan, former Rep. Bobbi Fiedler and other Republicans, would not comment Friday on specific poll numbers, but said he could not recommend that Yaroslavsky enter the race.
'He Would Lose'
"We rarely use words like hopeless," Steinberg said. "I did not foreclose the possibility for victory but given everything we talked about, certainly it was more likely he would lose than win. Everything would have to go right to win and if a few things went wrong, he would lose."
The poll also found that Yaroslavsky was not significantly aided by his sponsorship of two successful ballot measures--Proposition U, which in 1986 cut the density of new high-rise development in Los Angeles, and Proposition O, which last Nov. 8 overrode City Council authorization for oil drilling in Pacific Palisades.
Voters were pleased that Yaroslavsky took the stands, Steinberg said, but they did not strongly associate him with the slow-growth or anti-drilling causes.
Yaroslavsky said Friday that he held a final meeting with political consultant Michael Berman on Dec. 30, then a final session with Steinberg the night of Jan. 1. The next afternoon, Yaroslavsky and campaign adviser Ann Hollister attended the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena to mull over the possibilities. When they got back to his home in the Beverly-La Brea area, Yaroslavsky recalled Friday, he made up his mind.
'Putting Wheels in Motion'
"It was half-time at the Orange Bowl," he said. "I said the decision was no . . . then we started putting the wheels in motion to disengage."
Encino attorney Ben Reznik, a key organizer in the San Fernando Valley, said that other leading supporters were not angry when they heard the news from Yaroslavsky by telephone Thursday night.
"The reaction was one of disappointment, sadness, a feeling of helplessness as we turn over another four years (to Bradley) without a challenge," Reznik said. "But political realities set in--why engage in a losing campaign?"
The most complicated part of canceling the campaign will be returning about $1.5 million in contributions, a requirement of new political reform laws. After deducting a share for expenses already incurred, aides will pay back contributors at a rate of about 80 cents on the dollar, spokeswoman Karin Caves said.
Yaroslavsky acknowledged Friday that Berman has served continuously as an adviser despite the controversy last summer over advice memos written by Berman and his partner in BAD Campaigns Inc., Carl D'Agostino. The memos questioned Bradley's intelligence and suggested that racial politics would figure prominently in the campaign. When the memos became public, Yaroslavsky vowed not to use Berman and D'Agostino in the mayor's race.
Sources close to Yaroslavsky said Friday that the decision had already been made to retract the vow and retain Berman and D'Agostino if the campaign for mayor materialized.
But Yaroslavsky said Friday that the controversy over the BAD Campaigns memos did not play a factor in his decision.
"The BAD memos played absolutely no role," he said. "The fear of a divisive campaign played no role on my part. This campaign, if there was going to be a campaign, would not have been about race or should not have been about race."
Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this story.
Yaroslavsky faces fight in reelection bid. Metro Page 1.