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LA's Tom Bradley: cool, inscrutable, a quiet politician

By Sara TerryStaff corespondent of the Christian Science Monitor / October 10, 1980

Los Angeles

Some politicians give big speeches and make big headlines. Others rocket to embarrassing notoriety by placing one foot, or sometimes two, in their political mouths.

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But Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who has just announced his bid for a third term in office, is said to win voters and influence friends by taking a tack somewhat uncharacteristic of his profession: He keeps quiet.

In 7 1/2 years in office, Los Angeles's first black mayor has grown widely popular and increasingly powerful both here and on the national scene. And he has become known more for what he doesn't say -- publicly, at least -- than for what he does say.

It's not, of course, that Mr. Bradley doesn't talk, or even give an occasional opinion or two. He does, and often with great articulateness. But rarely does this former police lieutenant and city councilman say anything that places him on the fringes, let alone in the middle, of a hot political issue.

He has been likened to a sphinx, cool and inscrutable. However, it is precisely this withdrawal, this ability to avoid public controversy, that many observers say is the key to the mayor's tremendous political success.

Locally, Bradley enjoys the respect and election support of a broad cross section of the city, including the business community, blacks, liberals, and the news media -- most notably the Los Angeles Times, which does not have a reputation for aggressive coverage of Bradley.

On a state level, a recent California poll found the mayor enjoys a high name recognition and favorable rating among voters -- a finding which may bode well for what many see as Bradley's aspirations to a 1982 gubernatorial bid.

And nationally, he has gained wide visibility as a member of three presidential commissions, including the nine-member FBI Director Search Committee, and as chairman of a fourth presidential group. In addition, when nominating speeches were made at last August's Democratic convention, Bradley -- an early Carter endorser -- landed a plum spot, putting in his party pitch for Vice-President Walter Mondale.

The low-key approach apparently has worked. During Bradley's two terms as mayor, Los Angeles has maintained a relatively stable racial calm: "It is a city at peace with itself," says Bradley.

Businessmen have done well, and the local economy has remained fairly healthy during the nation's economic crunch.

In addition, this fall's introduction of court-ordered busing in public schools, while cluttered with a series of last-minute court appeals, at least was begun without incident.

In a city government which by charter accords greater power to the 15-member City Council than to the mayor. Bradley is considered to be particularly masterful in unifying the city's diverse factions. He is known for bringing together sharply divided groups and helping them to reconcile their differences.

"He's a defuser, not a confrontationist," sums up one California political strategist. "He's never involved in a controversy."

"You have to be a conciliatory, mediating force, first of all, to be able to keep a sense of peace and harmony that permits you to get things done," Mr. Bradley said in an interview with the Monitor shortly before his announcement, a move which reverses his long standing campaign promise to serve only two terms.

"That lack of flamboyance, the low-key style, is something that people find strange or different," he continued. "Some don't understand."