Thomas J. "Tom" Bradley (December 29, 1917 – September 29, 1998) was the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles, California, serving in that office from 1973 to 1993. He was the first and to date only African American mayor of Los Angeles. His 20 years in office mark the longest tenure by any mayor in the city's history before term limits passed by California voters in 1990 came into effect in a voter-approved statewide initiative. His 1973 election made him only the second African American mayor of a major U.S. city. Bradley retired in 1993, after his approval ratings began dropping after the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
Bradley unsuccessfully ran for Governor of California in 1982 and 1986 and was defeated each time by the Republican George Deukmejian. The racial dynamics that appeared to underlie his narrow and unexpected loss in 1982 gave rise to the political term "the Bradley effect."
Bradley, the grandson of a slave, was born on December 29, 1917, to Lee Thomas and Crenner Bradley, "poor sharecroppers who lived in a small log cabin outside Calvert, Texas." He had four siblings — Lawrence, Willa Mae, Ellis (who had cerebral palsy) and Howard. The family moved to Arizona to pick cotton and then in 1924 to the Temple-Alvarado area of Los Angeles, where Lee Crenner was a Santa Fe Railroad porter and Crenner was a maid.
Young Bradley attended Rosemont Elementary School, Lafayette Junior High School and Polytechnic High School, where he was the first black to be elected president of the Boys League and the first to be inducted into the Ephebians national honor society. He was captain of the track team and all-city tackle for the high school football team. He went to UCLA in 1937 on an athletic scholarship and joined Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity. Among the jobs he had while at college was as a photographer for comedian Jimmy Durante.
Bradley left his studies to join the Los Angeles Police Department in 1940. He became one of the "just 400 blacks" among the department's 4,000 officers. He recalled "the downtown department store that refused him credit, although he was a police officer, and the restaurants that would not serve blacks." He told a Times reporter:
When I came on the department, there were literally two assignments for black officers. You either worked Newton Street Division, which has a predominantly black community, or you worked traffic downtown. You could not work with a white officer, and that continued until 1964.
He and Ethel Arnold met at the New Hope Baptist Church and were married May 4, 1941. They had three daughters, Lorraine, Phyllis and a baby who died on the day she was born. He and his wife "needed a white intermediary to buy their first house in Leimert Park, then a virtually all-white section of the city's Crenshaw district."
Bradley was attending Southwestern University Law School while a police officer and began his practice as a lawyer when he quit the department. Upon his leaving the office of mayor in 1993, he joined the law offices of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, specializing in international trade issues.
He was stricken with a heart attack while driving his car in March 1996 and endured a triple bypass operation. Later he suffered a stroke "that left him unable to speak clearly." He died on September 29, 1998, and his body lay at the Los Angeles Convention Center for public viewing. He was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery. Bradley was a Prince Hall Freemason.
His entry into politics came when he decided to become the president of the United Club. The club was part of the California Democratic Council, a liberal, reformist group organized in the 1950s by young Democrats energized by Adlai E. Stevenson's presidential campaigns. It was predominantly white and had many Jewish members, thus marking the beginnings of the coalition, which along with Latinos, that would carry him to electoral victory so many times.
His choice of a Democratic circle also put him at odds with another political force in the African American community, representatives of poor, all-black areas who were associated with the political organization of Jesse M. Unruh, then an up-and-coming state assemblyman. The early stage of Bradley's political career was marked by clashes with African American leaders like onetime California Lieutenant Governor and former U.S. Representative Mervyn Dymally, an Unruh ally.
Bradley applied for the 10th District seat in June 1961, when he was still a police lieutenant living at 3397 Welland Avenue; the post had been vacated by Charles Navarro when he was elected city controller. The City Council, which had the power to fill a vacancy, instead appointed Joe E. Hollingsworth.
He ran against Hollingsworth in April 1963. There were only two candidates, Hollingsworth and Bradley, and also two elections — one for the unexpired term left by Controller Navarro, ending June 30, and one for a full four-year term starting July 1. Bradley won by 17,760 votes to 10,540 in the first election and by 17,552 votes to 10,400 in the second. By then he had retired from the police force, and he was sworn in as a councilman at the age of 45 on April 15, 1963, "the first Negro ever elected to the council."
One of the first votes he made on a controversial subject was his opposition to a proposed study by City Attorney Roger Arnebergh and Police Chief William H. Parker of the Dictionary of American Slang, ordered in an 11-4 vote by the council. Councilman Tom Shepard's motion said the book was "saturated not only with phrases of sexual filth, but wordage defamatory of minority ethnic groups and definitions insulting religions and races."
Bradley told Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Bergholz the next month that he "has been asked why he doesn't participate in public demonstrations. His answer: His power as a councilman can best be used in trying to bring groups together, and that's where his time and energy should be spent." He said he would work to establish a human relations commission in the city.
Campaign for mayor
In 1969, Bradley first challenged incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty, a conservative Democrat (later Republican) though the election was nonpartisan. Armed with key endorsements (including the Los Angeles Times), Bradley held a substantial lead over Yorty in the primary, but was a few percentage points shy of winning the race outright. However, in the runoff, to the dismay of supporters such as Abigail Folger and Los Angeles area Congressman Alphonzo Bell, Yorty pulled an amazing come from behind victory to win reelection primarily because he played racial politics. Yorty questioned Bradley's credibility in fighting crime and painted a picture of Bradley, his fellow Democrat, as a threat to Los Angeles because he would supposedly open up the city to feared Black Nationalists. Bradley did not use his record as a police officer in the election. With the racial factor, even many liberal white voters became hesitant to support Bradley.
It would be another four years, in 1973, before Bradley would unseat Yorty.
Mayor of Los Angeles
Powerful downtown business interests at first opposed him. But with passage of the 1974 redevelopment plan and the inclusion of business leaders on influential committees, corporate chiefs moved comfortably in behind him. A significant feature of this plan was the development and building of numerous skyscrapers in the Bunker Hill financial district.
During Bradley's tenure as mayor, Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Summer Olympic Games and passed Chicago to become the second most populous city in the country. The 1992 Los Angeles riots — in which some critics said Bradley might have "actually made the already tense situation that much worse" — and the formation of the Christopher Commission also occurred on his watch.
Bradley helped contribute to the financial success of the city by helping develop the satellite business hubs at Century City and Warner Center. Bradley was a driving force behind the construction of Los Angeles' light rail network. He also pushed for expansion of Los Angeles International Airport and development of the terminals which are in use today. The Tom Bradley International Terminal is named in his honor.
Bradley served for twenty years as mayor of Los Angeles, surpassing Fletcher Bowron with the longest tenure in that office. Bradley was offered a cabinet-level position in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, which he turned down. In 1984, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale considered Bradley as a finalist for the vice presidential nomination, which eventually went to U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro of Queens, New York.
Although Bradley was a political liberal, he believed that business prosperity was good for the entire city and would generate jobs, an outlook not unlike that of his successor, Riordan. For most of Bradley's long administration, the city appeared to agree with him. But in his fourth term, with traffic congestion, air pollution and the condition of Santa Monica Bay worsening, and with residential neighborhoods threatened by commercial development, the tide began to turn. In 1989, he was elected to a fifth term, but the ability of opponent Nate Holden to attract one-third of the vote, despite being a neophyte to the Los Angeles City Council and a very late entrant to the mayoral race, signaled that Bradley's era was drawing to a close.
Other factors in the waning of his political strength were his decision to reverse himself and support a controversial oil drilling project near the Pacific Palisades and his reluctance to condemn Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim minister who made speeches in Los Angeles and elsewhere that many considered anti-Semitic. Further, some key Bradley supporters lost their City Council reelection bids, among them veteran Westside Councilwoman Pat Russell. Bradley chose to leave office, rather than seek election to a sixth term in 1993.
Bradley ran for Governor of California twice, in 1982 and 1986, but lost both times to Republican George Deukmejian. He was the first African American to head a gubernatorial ticket in California.
In 1982, the election was extremely close. Bradley led in the polls going into Election Day, and in the initial hours after the polls closed, some news organizations projected him as the winner. Ultimately, Bradley lost the election by about 100,000 votes, about 1.2% of the 7.5 million votes cast.
Tom Bradley speaking at AIDS Walk LA at the Paramount Studios lot in 1988. These circumstances gave rise to the term the "Bradley effect" which refers to a tendency of voters to tell interviewers or pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, but then actually vote for his white opponent. In 1986, Bradley lost the governorship to Deukmejian by a margin of 61-37 percent.
1.^ Jane Fritsch, "Tom Bradley, Mayor in Era of Los Angeles Growth, Dies," New York Times, September 30, 1998
2.^ Jean Merl and Bill Boyarsky, "Mayor Who Reshaped L.A. Dies," Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 5
3.^ Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 6
4.^ Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 7
5.^ Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 8
6.^ Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 10
7.^ Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 11
9.^ Gray, David (2012). The History of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio FM-AM 1971 – 2011: The Fabric of Freemasonry. Columbus, Ohio: Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio FM-AM. pp. 414. ISBN 978-0615632957.
10.^ "12 Apply for Navarro City Council seat," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1961, page 21 Library card required
11.^ "New Councilman," Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1961, page 13 Library card required
12.^ "Complete Returns," Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1963, page 2 Library card required
13.^ "First Negro Elected to City Council Sworn In," Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1963, page A-2 Library card required
14.^ Library of Congress reference
15.^ "Council Asks Dictionary of Slang Study," Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1963, page A-1 Library card required
16.^ Richard Bergholz, "Tough Job Confronts Negro Councilman," Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1963, page A-4 Library card required
18.^ Trying to Win the Peace
19.^ Rick Orlov, "L.A.'S `GENTLE GIANT' REMEMBERED." Daily News, found at The Free Library website. Accessed September 15, 2009.
20.^ Fighting the Last War - TIME