Mayor Tom Bradley, in a dramatic public admission, told a stunned City Council Wednesday that he made "an error in judgment" in creating the appearance of a conflict of interest between his employment by private firms and his simultaneous mayoral actions, but he insisted that he will be exonerated by pending investigations into his conduct.
"I was insensitive not to realize that accepting outside employment could create the perceptions we see today," said Bradley, offering his statement of remorse before a battery of television cameras in the council's ornate chamber.
"In retrospect, my decision to engage in outside employment was a mistake because of the perceptions it created. I now recognize that error, and I will always regret it.
"I am certain," the mayor added, "that the inquiry will conclude that I have violated no laws."
The two-minute public statement, which Bradley aides said the mayor had been mulling for a week but which came on only short notice to the council, was meant to blunt the political damage mounting daily because of a series of investigations surrounding the 71-year-old city executive.
After the speech, council members Robert Farrell, Joel Wachs and Ernani Bernardi rose in a standing ovation as Bradley marched from the council chamber. But many council members criticized his remarks as repetitive and incomplete and said he had failed to address the most pressing questions about his behavior.
"I don't think it was clear enough; I don't think it was convincing enough," said Councilwoman Gloria Molina, a member of the council's Governmental Operations Committee, which is overseeing City Atty. James K. Hahn's probe of the mayor.
Council members, most of whom learned of the pending statement less than half an hour before it was delivered, also said the statement will have no impact on the direction of the Hahn investigation.
"Maybe he asked for forgiveness, but the process has to move forward," Councilwoman Joy Picus said. "I suspect that he thought maybe it would end it, but it couldn't possibly, in reality."
Hahn, for his part, on Wednesday defended his investigation of the mayor as independent and said it was "simply wrong" for council members to consider the appointment of a special counsel in the case. Several council members have privately discussed the appointment of such a counsel, largely because of concerns that Hahn's probe will be narrow and that a conflict could exist on the part of John Emerson, Hahn's chief deputy and a former partner in the law firm representing Bradley.
To allay the concerns, Hahn also announced that Emerson has voluntarily recused himself "effective immediately, from any participation whatsoever in the Bradley investigation." The recusal contradicted earlier statements by the city attorney's office that Emerson was not involved in the probe.
Bradley, elected just last month to an unprecedented fifth term, faces four independent investigations into his financial dealings. Hahn's probe, which is expected to continue for months, centers on Bradley's relationships with two local institutions. The Far East National Bank last year gave Bradley $18,000 to serve as the only paid member of its advisory board. A second firm, Valley Federal Savings & Loan, paid Bradley up to $24,000 a year, dating back to 1978, to serve as a director.
Bradley initially denied knowing that the firms were active with the city, but documents released in recent weeks have indicated that Bradley knew Far East held city accounts. Bradley also approved measures affecting Valley Federal subsidiaries before he left the board earlier this year.
The mayor also faces probes by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is looking into his investments with Drexel Burnham Lambert, and the Fair Political Practices Commission, which has launched two investigations of the mayor.
In his public acknowledgement of error, Bradley specifically apologized for accepting fees from outside firms, a practice that, as the mayor noted, is allowed under the City Charter.
He did not, however, address the central issue of the controversy: allegations that Bradley improperly consulted with city officials regarding the firms and took action benefitting those who paid him fees. Bradley's top aide, Deputy Mayor Mike Gage, said the omission was intentional.
"He considers the taking of outside employment to be his error of judgement . . . because of the perceptions that it creates--not because of any action he's taken," Gage said.
But council members said they found the omission disturbing.
"I don't think he really addressed whether or not he made mistakes overall," Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores said. "There is a lot more to this. I don't know what this is . . . I don't think it accomplished anything as far as I am concerned."
Councilman Michael Woo, who heads the committee overseeing Hahn's report, said the mayor "didn't address the issue of lying, the inconsistencies in his statements."
Bradley's remarks also marked a sharp turnabout from a comment made Tuesday in a luncheon interview with editors and reporters of The Times. Asked then if there was anything "wrong" for a person in public office to take a private job--as he did with the two local firms--the mayor replied:
"I don't see that as being prohibitive or a mistake," he said in the interview. "It's a question of what you do in that position."
Later, Bradley appeared to narrow his answer to indicate that outside jobs were not illegal. He did not, as he did on Wednesday, characterize such jobs as an "error in judgment."
Gage said Bradley's decision to publicly address the matter came after much deliberation, but he said the timing was not prompted by fears of escalating political damage.
"I think any proud person sometimes has difficulty admitting they made an error of judgment," Gage said of the timing.
Bradley's appearance in the council chamber was hastily arranged in an 8:45 a.m. telephone call by a mayoral aide to council President John Ferraro. Bradley entered the chamber shortly after 10:15 a.m., read a prepared statement and left without further comment, refusing to take questions from council members or the swarm of reporters following him to his office.
Council members saw the speech as an attempt by Bradley to court them and, in addition, to reach voters in a format tailored to get his point across with little chance of interference. Bradley spoke to the council from behind the members' horseshoe shaped desk, before a podium bearing the mayoral seal. The podium had been carried to the chamber for the address and was returned to the mayor's offices afterward.
Bradley was clearly seeking the good will of the council members, opening his statement by calling it a compilation of "very personal words" about the controversy. He also cited in his second sentence his 47 years of public service, which date back to his careers as a city police officer and councilman.
Many council members publicly said they were impressed that Bradley chose to speak to them but privately several were sharply critical. Among Bradley's supporters, however, Farrell said he would "not be surprised" if the controversy over Bradley was racially motivated.
He offered no proof, but said he was "very proud" of Bradley.
"I believe Tom Bradley," Farrell said. "And I believe in what he said."
Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Frederick M. Muir and Dean Murphy.