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Welcome Back, Mayor

In the old days, we made fun of former Mayor Sam Yorty for traveling so much.

In fact, Mayor Sam was known in the press as “Travelin’ Sam.” Asia, Europe, even the more pleasant parts of the United States were among his destinations. You name the continent and Sam was either headed there or had just returned.

Then, in 1973, City Councilman Tom Bradley knocked Mayor Sam out of City Hall. A major reason was a heavy attack on Yorty’s traveling. Bradley promised to stay at home, punching in at City Hall every day.

Well, here we are, 17 years later. Look who’s just come back from 19 days in Italy, Germany and Monaco, just a few months after a jaunt to Saudi Arabia. Welcome home, Travelin’ Tom.

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The Travelin’ Sam nickname fit Yorty perfectly; it reflected the delightfully roguish quality of the man. I covered some of Yorty’s travels and I remember drinking and engaging in wicked gossip with him as we flew across the country. He knew the dirt on everyone important in town. There was more to travels with Sam than gossip. He gloried in the outrageous, like when he ran for President in 1972 and rode through New Hampshire in the “Yortymobile,” a Winnebago van equipped with a back porch for his speeches.

But times changed. The problems of the L.A. Basin became heavy, requiring strong government intervention. Los Angeles had outgrown the captain of the “Yortymobile” and turned to the more serious Bradley.

At first, Bradley stayed in City Hall. But the siren call of travel eventually reached him. Just as had happened with Yorty, Bradley got cabin fever and hit the road.

Now, Bradley’s aides defend him vigorously, just as Yorty’s aides once defended Traveling Sam. Take the most recent trip, which was sponsored by the Department of Airports as an effort to bring more business though Los Angeles International Airport. Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani said, “the mayor is the one person in the city who realizes that the world is changing fast and Los Angeles is not always going to remain at the world’s economic center.”

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His point is that mayoral traveling helps the Southland’s economy.

Many of these trips are arranged by officials of the city’s harbor and airport to persuade foreign companies to ship their goods through Los Angeles, rather than the other highly competitive West Coast ports. City officials tell me that having the mayor along improves the delegation’s access to top government and company officials. And his presence brings in publicity through newspaper, television and radio interviews.

The harbor is busy, with its trade putting money in pockets from San Pedro to the Inland Empire. Cargo and passengers coming through Los Angeles International Airport put $28 million a year into the Southland economy. And that, argue city officials, means more jobs from San Pedro to the Inland Empire.

But does it require 19 days of the mayor’s time? That’s a long stretch for him to be away. It could be seen as creating the appearance of neglect, even disinterest, at City Hall. This impression was even more vivid this month when City Council President John Ferraro joined Bradley in Europe. With Bradley and Ferraro on the road, the council simply gave up. Unable to scratch up a quorum, the council won’t meet until next week.

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There’ve been no riots, earthquakes, fires or even worst-case gridlock during Bradley’s latest sojourn. The mayor, as a matter of fact, had a hometown triumph even though he was away. The Raiders decided to stay and the mayor, who worked the phones from Europe, has been given credit for that one.

But there have been events, tragically commonplace, where the mayor’s presence could have helped. These are the reports, coming almost nightly, of gang shootings. Young men are firing away at each other, killing themselves and innocent adults and children, as well.

No, the mayor isn’t expected to heal single-handedly this gaping wound on the city. But he’s supposed to do what Mayor Yorty, in the end, failed to accomplish--to lead. If Bradley wants to travel, let’s see him walk through the housing projects, talking to the gang members, setting an example. He might visit the churches, playgrounds or community meetings, giving support to the ministers, youth workers and neighborhood leaders who are trying to stop the killing. What about a tour of the emergency wards at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center and County-USC Medical Center, where overworked staff try to stop the bleeding? Let’s see the mayor, with his power to attract press, focus public attention on the murders.

That’s tough work, much tougher than traveling in Europe. But it offers a greater legacy than being remembered as Travelin’ Tom.

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