Related topics

L.A. Mourns Ex-Mayor Bradley

September 30, 1998

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ In 1940, when Tom Bradley became a Los Angeles police officer, he wasn’t allowed to ride in the same patrol car as his white colleague.

Thirty-three years later, the quiet Texas sharecropper’s son shattered racial barriers, becoming the first black mayor of Los Angeles and launching a 20-year tenure as its symbol of maturation into a world-class city.

Bradley, who suffered a stroke two years ago, died Tuesday after a heart attack at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 80.

A man of quiet determination, Bradley spent a lifetime bridging racial barriers, opening city government to minorities and women, expanding social services to the urban poor and spurring economic growth.

``He was the one who dreamed impossible dreams when others didn’t believe,″ said John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League.

Bradley called racism ``America’s greatest evil,″ but his hatred of it was global. He was a hero to South Africans shackled by apartheid and a role model to would-be politicians across America. In 1985, he wrote Pieter Botha, then president of South Africa: ``Do away with apartheid or surely it will do away with you.″

Elected the first black mayor of a major U.S. city in 1973, Bradley proved that minority politicians could win office with white votes.

After taking office, Bradley changed the face of city government by appointing minorities and women.

``If you went to City Hall in the old days, there was no black person other than the janitor until Tom Bradley was elected,″ said Appeals Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt. ``It was like a foreign country for blacks.″

A soft-spoken man, Bradley governed quietly during his five terms by building coalitions instead of using the bully pulpit. His long hours and energy, even into his 70s, were legendary.

The son of a sharecropper, Bradley was born Dec. 29, 1917 in Calvert, Texas. His parents later moved west. At the University of California, Los Angeles, Bradley was a track star.

While a police officer, he earned a law degree at Southwestern University. When he left the police department, he had become its first black lieutenant.

In 1963, Bradley won a City Council seat. Six years later, he ran for mayor but lost to white candidate Sam Yorty after a bitter, racially tinged campaign. Bradley waited and ran again, winning with 56 percent of the vote in 1973.

As mayor, Bradley’s appointments were not without controversy. General Services director Sylvia Cunliffe, who headed the city’s biggest department, was driven from office in the late 1980s amid nepotism and sexual harassment accusations.

Yet under his stewardship, the 1984 Olympics, despite predictions of economic doom and traffic gridlock, were an unprecedented success. The economic ruin and traffic gridlock many feared never materialized.

``He was a builder, bringing a remarkably successful Olympic Games to Los Angeles, encouraging a thriving downtown and improving mass transit,″ President Clinton said in a statement.

In a 1993 interview with The Associated Press, Bradley said: ``The Olympic Games were the major event of my life.″

Bradley would twice see racial hatred ignite Los Angeles _ as a city councilman during the 1965 Watts riots, and as mayor during the 1992 uprising following acquittals in the Rodney King state trial.

Bradley appealed for calm, but some said his angry denunciation of the verdicts may have provoked violence. He would later describe the violence that left 55 people dead as his most painful experience.

In the end, after a political scandal in 1989, the King beating in 1991 and the riots a year later, his political supporters left him, inner-city leaders felt abandoned by him, and the voters felt it was time _ perhaps past time _ for him to retire. He twice mounted failed bids for governor in the 1980s.

In 1993, the 75-year-old Bradley announced his retirement, avoiding an election he probably couldn’t have won. Richard Riordan, a white conservative Republican, succeeded him as mayor.

Bradley joined a downtown law firm, but suffered a heart attack and stroke in 1996 from which he never recovered.

Bradley is survived by his wife, Ethel, and two daughters. Memorial services were planned for next week at First AME Church in South Central Los Angeles.

Update hourly