LOS ANGELES — THE decision by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to step down in June 1993 after 20 years in office leaves not only a host of crises but also opportunities for the long list of candidates who want his job.
As the first black mayor of a major American city, Mr. Bradley ruled over a significant part of the city's ascent from a relative backwater to a world-class metropolis. He did so, for the most part, in a competent, comfortable manner that even critics now say they took for granted.
But the search for a new chief executive brings with it the fresh realization that Los Angeles's mounting problems are staggering:
* How will the country's most diverse immigrant population - representing 154 nations at last count - assimilate into a recession-mired economy hurt by both defense cuts and overregulation?
* Will the continued growth of a California population that increased by 800,000 people per year during the 1980s buoy or sink the area's faltering infrastructure?
* Will the sprawling anomaly that embraces such cultural opposites as Westwood and Watts become an industrial capital of the Pacific Rim - or a smog-choked, third-world metropolis such as Mexico City?
"Bradley's decision to get out now will allow this city to bring out fresh ideas in a positive campaign that looks forward, not backward," says Joe Cerrell, a local political consultant. "New perspectives and new blood will be healthy for the city, while a bitter campaign for one more term would have focused on all the city's current failings." Bradley's influence hard to overestimate
The son of a Texas sharecropper, Bradley was a star quarter-miler in high school and at the University of California at Los Angeles.
After six years as a Los Angeles police officer, he become the city's first elected black councilman in 1963. Ten years later, he unseated Sam Yorty to became the city's first black mayor. Elected to five terms, all but the last by large margins, his 20-year tenure is the longest in city history.
By most accounts, there is no way to overestimate Bradley's influence on the city's greatest period of growth.
"The entire city skyline ... international airport ... harbor ... new housing, rapid transit ... all reflect symbolically what Bradley has meant to this city," says Alan Heslop, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "He confounded all those in the business community who feared he couldn't forge alliances between blacks, Jews, and business to get it all done."
"He took a very aggressive approach in getting federal funds, hiring minorities and women, and changing the racial compositions of boards and commissions," adds Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley.
Political analysts say the key factor that allowed Bradley to win successive elections by wider and wider margins is his talent for coalition-building - a vital skill because the mayor's office has few powers under the city charter. "His first dozen or so years in office were a textbook lesson in how to get what you want in politics while looking as if all you do is cut ribbons," said a Los Angeles Times editorial the day after Bradley's Sept. 23 announcement that he would not seek an unprecedented sixth
term. Problems mounted in final years
But there are many who felt that after Bradley successfully brought the 1984 Olympics to Los Angeles, his star began to fade. The fallout from California's tax revolt and federal reductions in aid to cities caused a downward slide in L.A.'s health, education, and welfare programs. There was a simultaneous loss of manufacturing jobs at the height of the city's first large immigrant influx.
And Bradley's image was severely tarnished by a three-year controversy after he accepted an $18,000 "advising" fee in 1989 from a bank already doing business with the city. Bradley was only narrowly cleared of ethical improprieties in the case, and the mayor won his fifth and final term in 1989 with just 51.9 percent of the vote.
The Los Angeles riots last spring may have been the logical extension of the city's long-downward slide, some observers say. The riots raised questions not only about race relations, but also about Bradley's almost nonexistent stewardship of the Los Angeles Police Department.
All those problems - combined with the daunting need to rebuild at the beginning of a new decade - led Bradley to decide that new leadership was in order, City Hall insiders say. "The decision ... has been the most difficult of my life," Bradley said in farewell remarks. "I have made it with one thought in mind: what is best for Los Angeles and her people."
At least seven City Council members have announced or are considering running for mayor, including Michael Woo, the first Asian on the council, and Zev Yaroslavsky, a leader of the Westside Jewish community.
"There will be a lot of people running from totally different factions, tribes, and bases. There will be a new flood of candidates and new ideas," Professor Cain says.
But Bradley's ruling coalition of South Central blacks and Westside Jews is a thing of the past, analysts say. "Each of the new players is going to have to vie for what was left over of the Bradley coalition and come up with new ones of their own," says Sherry Jeffe, a political scientist at the Claremont Graduate School.
As a result, L.A. in the 1990s may be more balkanized than it was for much of Bradley's long reign as mayor.