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Bradley Returns to His Roots Amid Financial Inquiry

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley spent Saturday in the comfort of the neighborhood where his political career began, talking with children and knocking on old friends’ doors. But he refused to answer questions about an investigation into city involvement with a bank that hired him as an adviser.

“When the inquiry is over, we will have the facts we need,” he told a reporter who interviewed him in the Crenshaw District, which he represented in the City Council from 1963 until he was elected mayor in 1973.

Facing political crisis, Bradley went back to his roots. After praising corporations that are financing a tree planting project on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Southwestern Los Angeles, Bradley headed down the street.

‘The City Still Works’

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He stopped at two or three houses of old political supporters, knocked on the doors and chatted with the residents, just as he did when he first ran for the council. His aides, after weeks of damage control, drew comfort from the signs of the mayor’s popularity. “It still works, the city still works,” said one of the aides, who, for the most part, are men and women in their 20s and 30s, thrust into a crisis they had not envisioned when they signed on the Bradley team. Deputy Mayor Mike Gage, Bradley’s main adviser, has been out of the country on vacation.

Meanwhile, city officials--and Bradley’s lawyers--prepared for the first City Council committee hearing Wednesday on his connection with Far East National Bank and his tenure on the board of directors of Valley Federal Savings & Loan Assn., for which he was paid up to $24,000 a year. Valley Federal had zoning matters before the city while Bradley was on the board.

Sources in the office of City Atty. James K. Hahn, who is in charge of the inquiry, said investigators are interviewing some city officials as many as eight times for the details of Bradley’s relationship with Far East National Bank.

In coming weeks, sources said, the investigation will broaden to include the mayor’s involvement with Valley Federal and the Task Force for Africa/Los Angeles Relations. That city task force, formed to improve business and cultural ties between Los Angeles and Africa, is headed by Juanita St. John, with whom Bradley has real estate investments.

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In addition, Bradley’s daughter, Phyllis, worked for the task force as a secretary for almost 10 months in 1985 and 1986, according to mayoral press aide Bill Chandler.

The furor has erupted around a mayor who has prided himself on never having been involved in scandal in a public career that began when he joined the Los Angeles Police Department. And it is happening to a man who has always insisted on as much privacy as possible about his financial affairs.

Public Records Law Invoked

That shield of privacy was broken Friday when Bradley’s staff, faced with newspaper requests under the California Public Records Act, released documents that spelled out Far East National Bank’s relations with the city while Bradley was serving as a paid adviser.

As the furor developed, Bradley gave back to the bank his $18,000 payment in March. He said he had resigned as an adviser in December but had not realized until March that the city did business with the bank, so he returned the payment to bank Chairman Henry Hwang, with a letter saying he had not realized the city had a relationship with the bank.

But the documents appeared to indicate otherwise. They show that Bradley’s office made inquiries last year to the city treasurer’s office and to the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency on behalf of Far East, during the time Bradley was being paid by the bank. The documents also indicate that Bradley knew the city was doing business with the bank.

Some of the documents, and interviews with city officials, also show that actions taken by Bradley’s office prompted the city treasurer to work more closely with the bank.

In addition to returning Far East its money, Bradley also resigned from Valley Federal’s board of directors. He also created a commission to write a stronger ethics code for the city and, on Wednesday, said he was putting his substantial stock portfolio and real estate investments in a blind trust.

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In an interview in his office this week, Bradley seemed to show the strain of having to put his private affairs on public display.

Although his face was impassive, as usual, his voice was so low that it was sometimes difficult to hear his response to questions. He managed a joke. When he was asked if he liked to play the stock market, he said, “Next thing you’ll want to know is do I play the horses.”

But when he was asked the extent of the holdings to be placed in the blind trust, the mayor said, “I couldn’t give you any idea, I don’t know.”

He answered many questions with a single syllable reply.

It seemed clear that the decision to create a blind trust was not an easy one. “It took some time for it to be settled in my mind about whether or not to do it,” he said.

But he said “we are living in new and different times. At the local level, nobody ever thought of the need for a blind trust. I just think in light of the times, the question of ethics has been raised all over the world. We in this city need to take actions which will reinforce the confidence of people in their elected leadership and I think this is one way of doing it. It removes all speculation about whether you, by your actions, may influence the success or failure of a business you may have invested in.”


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