L.A.'s Bradley: Civil, Not Criminal, Charges

LOS ANGELES Mayor Tom Bradley has taken a step toward surviving the biggest challenge of his political career but remains a long way from putting all his troubles behind him. This week's release of an ethics probe, which found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the mayor but resulted in civil charges being filed against him, removes an important legal obstacle.

But the dean of America's big-city mayors still faces several other inquiries into his financial dealings and the formidable task of regaining his political standing.

``He is not out of the woods yet,'' says Stephen Teichner, a pollster. ``What this report does is set up a great deal of pressure to see if he can regain control of the city's agenda.''

Even if the 16-year Democratic mayor is exonerated in the other probes, analysts say it will take vigorous efforts by him to fulfill an ambitious fifth term and reestablish his image as being as clean as a cotton glove.

``The question will be whether he can regroup if nothing else comes out,'' says Larry Berg, a political scientist at the University of Southern California. ``He can say after this probe he hasn't been indicted but that doesn't mean he retains his power.''

No evidence of criminal malfeasance was revealed by the 1,600-page report released Wednesday. It capped a six-month investigation into the mayor's personal finances and professional conduct by the city attorney's office.

But City Attorney James Hahn did file a six-count civil suit against Mr. Bradley for alleged violations of state financial-disclosure laws. Penalties for the infractions could run as high as $2 million, though most observers expect there will be an out-of-court settlement for much less.

The investigation was prompted by conflict-of-interest questions about the mayor's role as a paid adviser to two banks that did business with the city, the Far East National Bank and Valley Federal Savings and Loan Association.

A central issue was whether Bradley tried to steer the deposit of city funds to one of the institutions while he was a paid consultant to it.

``Either no evidence exists, or insufficient evidence exists, depending on the particular transaction or interest involved, to prove actual violations of law by the mayor,'' the city attorney concluded.

Investigators said they found no evidence of ``intent'' by the mayor to influence transactions. Despite this, Mr. Hahn strongly chided Bradley for his ethical conduct.

``While the mayor's employment by Far East National Bank may in and of itself been legal, it nevertheless served to diminish the prestige of his office. The mayor should be answerable only to the citizens of the city and to no other employer,'' Hahn said.

Bradley was paid $18,000 as a consultant to the Far East bank but returned the money when news media attention fell on the case.

The mayor welcomed the findings, contending his exoneration of criminal wrongdoing proved what he had been saying all along. Nevertheless, in a rare televised address, he admitted the last six months ``have been the most difficult of my life'' and repeated that it was wrong to have taken outside employment.

The mayor is trying to put the issue aside. But can he? Federal authorities are still looking into his stock dealings, including his financial relationship with indicted junk-bond wizard Michael Milken.

For now, talk of the recall or resignation has subsided around City Hall. But everyone is still wondering how the final chapter of the mayor's place in history will read.

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