News Analysis : Bradley Adopts a Reagan Technique

Times City-County Bureau Chief

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Tom Bradley walked by the office of his press secretary, Bill Chandler. "Mayor," Chandler asked, "have you made a decision?"

Bradley looked at the 25-year-old assistant, who is more than young enough to be his grandson. "Yes," he said.

"So you are comfortable with going ahead today?" Chandler said, in the way a person speaks to a respected elder. "Yes," said the mayor, master of the monosyllabic reply.

With those curt answers, Bradley signalled his intention to go ahead with a daring plan in his defense against conflict-of-interest charges now under investigation. He had decided to take his case directly to the people on television, over the heads of the City Hall press corps he feels have written of his troubles in a misleading and unfair manner.

The plan, sketched out in interviews with Bradley aides and others familiar with the defense effort, was straight out of the Ronald Reagan repertoire. Bradley would make a brief speech to the City Council in less than three hours. His staff knew that every television station in town would cover it. The speech was so short, and so carefully written, that the Bradley message could not be ignored, even in the briefest TV report. In that way, as did former President Reagan in his long and successful career, the mayor would try to overcome weeks of bad publicity.

The changes in the speech--all of them minor--were made. At 8:50 a.m., Phil Depoian, an aide who had started out with Bradley as a young driver and was almost a son to him, called John Ferraro, president of the City Council. "He said Bradley wanted to say something about the inquiry," said Ferraro, who, over the years, has run against the mayor, and mixed with him socially, as is the custom in the tight little society of City Hall. Ferraro agreed.

About an hour and a half later, Bradley was speaking to the council, and to the television cameras, saying that he had erred in accepting paid positions with two financial institutions with business before the city.

It was the latest move in a two-level defense plan designed to save the mayor from a political disaster never imagined by him and his supporters.

Legal and Political

One level is legal: attorneys are preparing a case they believe will show that the mayor did not violate conflict-of-interest law. The second level is political, and just as important. The mayor is trying to rally political support, revive affection among voters, so that if he escapes his legal entanglements, he will be able to reign effectively through a fifth term, that is scheduled to begin July 1. He is acknowledging mistakes, but refusing to comment on specifics of his actions, hoping that the public will support him and that he will not be damaged by what critics may call stonewalling.

Experienced and well-connected lawyers are fighting it out for Bradley on the legal front, putting together a case they believe will clear the mayor in City Atty. James K. Hahn's investigation.

The political fight began in earnest about a week and a half ago, when Deputy Mayor Gage returned from vacation.

Gage, sources said, drafted the statement that would eventually become the speech Bradley delivered before the council. And he proposed a strategy of Bradley partially addressing the charges against him.

Not the specifics of the charges, however. "You can't say nothing," said one member of the Bradley camp. With his own lawyers going through piles of paper work on his business connections, and with Hahn engaged in an investigation that Bradley had encouraged, the mayor and his aides were unwilling to address the details of the charges.

Bradley listened to the advice, often sitting stone-faced. Gage said the mayor sought more advice from old friends, although the deputy mayor said he did not know specifically who they were. But, still, he did not agree to making the statement sought by his staff.

"I don't think this was easy for him," Gage said. "When is it easy to admit you made a mistake? I don't think this whole process has been easy on him. None of us like the allegations, innuendoes and half truths. . . . "

His private attorneys argued against speaking out. They said there should be no public statement. Gage replied that such advice was fine for a private client, but this was a political leader, with obligations to his constituency.

On Tuesday, however, the mayor got an unpleasant taste of reaction to his refusal to say anything.

He had accepted an invitation from Tom Johnson, publisher of The Times, to meet with Johnson, editors and reporters for lunch in the Norman Chandler Pavilion, the paper's sixth-floor dining room, where Presidents, those who have wanted to be President and Bradley himself have dined.

The mayor's staff knew the potential dangers of more than an hour of questioning. At 11 a.m., the day of the lunch, Gage, Chandler and Depoian rehearsed the mayor. They asked him questions about the policy plans he had for the new term. And they rehearsed how he would tell The Times people that he was not going to comment on his case.

After an hour, Bradley, Chandler and the mayor's longtime bodyguard, Bobby Adams, walked across the street and entered the Times lobby. Johnson met them and took them up to the dining room.

The meal of chicken jardiniere prepared by chef Klaus Kopf was served with elegant good manners, but the mood of the editors and reporters was increasingly sharp as the mayor continued to decline to answer questions.

In the early evening, Bradley went into Gage's office, and met with his deputy mayor, Depoian, Chandler and Mark Fabiani, his counsel. Now, Bradley leaned strongly toward the idea. They discussed where the statement should be made. Bradley said he wanted to make it before the council to warn its members about how careless behavior could cause them trouble.

"He said they were public officials and they could fall into the same trap he did," Depoian said.

At the end of the meeting, Depoian said, "we all came together" and the aides left believing that Bradley would give approval in the morning.

Tuesday's statement is just the first shot in the political defense, according to Bradley insiders.

It will be followed by the sight of an active mayor, visiting neighborhoods, pushing his programs of neighborhood improvement, more child-care facilities, and increased efforts to reduce traffic. An effort will be made to bring his plan to limit truck travel on city streets out of a council committee, for example.

Advised to Skip Trips

And, Bradley is being advised to forgo the overseas trips designed to bring more trade to the city that have become an important part of his agenda.

At a point, sources said, the legal and political defenses will mesh.

Legally, the Bradley side does not expect City Atty. Hahn to find that the mayor violated a key provision of the state Political Reform Act. That provision forbids public officials from making decisions or using a public job to influence a government decision which would impact them financially.

Did Bradley, in making a call to City Treasurer Leonard Rittenberg about city deposits in Far East National Bank, which paid the mayor $18,000 in 1988 as an adviser, break that law? No, his defenders say.

That is because, they say, Rittenberg has publicly said that Bradley never asked him to favor the bank. Rittenberg cited City Charter provisions which give him exclusive power over city deposits.

At worst, according to some legal experts friendly to Bradley, Hahn might issue a report criticizing him for making an error in judgment. And Bradley, they pointed out, admitted doing just that in his City Council speech Wednesday.

However, Bradley still faces a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry into his stock purchases.

Even Bradley's strongest supporters said they are not certain about the outcome of all the investigations, although as one put it "the people fundamentally like Bradley. Bradley will be mayor. People won't talk about it (the investigations) any more (after a year). He'll have three years to do his thing."

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