Tom Bradley Mayor: His 20-year tenure as Los Angeles' chief was marked by that city's tremendous growth.

October 02, 1998

AS METAPHOR, Tom Bradley's career as cop and mayor of Los Angeles was the stuff of Hollywood:

Impoverished Texas background, born on cotton plantation, grandson of slaves, migration west; low-key, soft-spoken, stoic; stately demeanor wins over overwhelmingly white metropolis in bid to become L.A.'s first black mayor; in a final public scene near the end of his tenure, he loses his cool in reacting to the Rodney King saga.

Mr. Bradley, who died Tuesday at the age of 80, was mayor for 20 years, overseeing tremendous growth, sprawl, gridlock and air pollution that have long been synonymous with the city.

His career at beginning and end was defined by racial disturbances. He was defeated for mayor in 1969 by incumbent Sam Yorty, who, in the wake of the 1960s riots, called Mr. Bradley a black radical (at the same time, black nationalists saw him quite differently). Twenty-four years later, the 1992 Rodney King riots "tore at my heart," he said. He opted against running for a sixth term.

The Tinseltown glitter was there when he took over, but the sheen seemed greater with Tom Bradley in charge. Despite a Soviet-bloc boycott, the 1984 Olympics were the first to be privately funded and profitable. The city's port and airport became world class. Downtown was redeveloped. A long-delayed subway system was begun.

Mr. Bradley lost two attempts at the governor's office. His clean reputation suffered blemishes in business and personal financial dealings. Finally came the rioting that followed the acquittal of four white police officers accused of beating Mr. King.

In the aftermath of the King incident, the normally placid, nonconfrontational Mr. Bradley expressed bitterness and disappointment. He did not seem to comprehend the disturbances. His uncharacteristic outrage, anger and comments shocked supporters and opponents alike.

To many, that last bit of emotion exposed the Tom Bradley beneath the public shield. It also showed the human side of a man who led his city during a time of its greatest achievements.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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