For the first time in his 30-year political career, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley awoke Friday as a lame duck--a role he insists will not make it hard for him to complete a variety of tasks, starting with efforts to ensure that the outcomes of two potentially volatile post-riot trials do not lead to renewed civil unrest.
In a relaxed interview with The Times, Bradley said the fear of losing was not a factor in his decision to forgo a campaign for a sixth term. "I feel confident of that (victory)," he boasted. "That was one of the things I looked at. If I ran again could I win? I think I could."
The mayor also had some words of caution for his successors, reminding them that the job they seek comes with less power than they might imagine.
Bradley said the first order of business is for Police Chief Willie L. Williams to develop a better emergency response plan than the one in place last April. The mayor said he is confident that Williams is doing just that.
"All we had was a piece of paper or a series of pieces of paper that reportedly were a plan," Bradley said. "The new chief looked at it and said, 'That was no plan.'
"This time," Bradley said, "I think the chief will have a plan in place. We will be prepared for the situation."
Although former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates insisted that his officers had quelled the rioting in a relatively short period of time, the department was heavily criticized for a slow and disorganized response. The Police Commission has appointed former FBI and CIA Director William H. Webster and Hubert Williams, head of a Washington-based law enforcement think tank, to examine the department's performance. The Webster commission this week completed its series of seven public meetings on the department's response to the riots.
The mayor is bracing for two cases scheduled to be tried early next year. In one, police officers accused in the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King face civil rights charges in federal court. In the other, three young men charged with beating truck driver Reginald Denny on the first night of the riots last April will be tried in state court.
But Bradley said that his preparations are not a sign that he anticipates trouble, partly because he is confident that, under Williams, the Police Department will have a new, positive image.
"I think what people will be looking for is a performance on the part of our Police Department that is more sensitive and community-oriented," Bradley said. "The chief is not only committed to that, he's had enough experience in it that will give a feeling in the community that this Police Department is a far different one."
Besides preparing an emergency response plan, Bradley and his chief deputy, Mark Fabiani, said City Hall must reach out to those neighborhoods where alienation from the system runs deepest and where rage is most likely to explode a second time.
"A big focus will be to try and reach into the community to prepare for those two trials," Fabiani said, adding that "we had an approach for the first trial and it was clearly not successful.
"These trials are going to be very controversial and people need to feel that no matter what the outcome of the trial, the city is going to react differently. And to do that you have to deal with certain segments of the community that normally are not part of the everyday workings of government."
Those segments, he said, range from gangs to street activists.
Bradley said he did not think that his lame-duck status would make it harder for him to accomplish the remainder of his agenda.
Bradley said he hopes to make progress with his plan to restrict trucks on city streets during peak traffic hours, a proposal that many local businesses have fought.
He said he would push for expansion of the Community Redevelopment Agency's authority to use property tax money for LA's BEST, a program serving 19 schools that provides after-school activities for inner-city youth. Similar attempts to increase the CRA's share of taxes have met with stiff opposition from Los Angeles County officials as well as some members of the City Council.
Bradley has put off announcement of his career plans until next week, although he suggested he might make more time for leisure activities when he leaves the mayor's office.
"There are some things one might call pleasure, like picking up my golf clubs again, seeing more plays or going to more athletic events. Those kinds of pleasures I might take up more with this change of life. I can't assure you of that."
He also had some friendly advice for anyone hoping to succeed him. He spoke of the financial limitations caused by the recession and the City Hall budget crisis, which he said would make it difficult for the next mayor to deliver on many campaign promises.
"It is going to be difficult for any mayor or elected officials to talk about raising taxes," he said. "I think they are going to have to have private sector involvement in many of the things they do."
But even in good times, he said, a mayor of Los Angeles must be resourceful because the City Charter does not give the mayor many of the powers enjoyed by chief executives in other cities.
"The influence you have, the ability to get things done, is not so much a matter of law as it is a matter of your being able to persuade people to join with (you) to do something you set out as a goal. I've done that well.'
Friday afternoon, Bradley invited 30 members of his staff to share cake and memories in his office.
"He said 'I want to thank you all for your support,' " one staff member said.
"Many of us were crying. Others felt lost."