After Five Terms, Bradley Says Goodbye to L.A.

ON a smoggy day in downtown Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley looks out his third-floor office at a horizon filled with skyscrapers. Inside, adorning his desk, bookshelves, and walls are dozens of Asian artifacts from Japanese dolls to Chinese vases and Korean artwork.

"The transformation of this city into a center of Pacific Rim trade happened at least a decade before most anticipated," he says. The gifts reflect the constant influx of Asian businessmen and dignitaries; the skyline, the fruits of international investment.

"The century of the Pacific is upon us, and we are the point of access to America and from America," he says. "Understanding that cultural shift will be the test and hallmark of this city through the year 2000."

For 30 years, Mayor Bradley has been a fixture in the modern growth of Los Angeles - as a street cop, lawyer, city councilman, and then five-term mayor. That public career ends today, as his successor, Richard Riordan, takes the oath of office.

"The entire city skyline ... international airport ... harbor ... new housing ... rapid transit ... reflect symbolically what Bradley has meant to this city," says Alan Heslop, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont. "For two decades, he confounded all those ... who feared he couldn't force alliances between blacks, Jews, and business to get it all done."

Despite the poor headlines of the past two years - including riots, increases in crime, drugs, and homelessness - Bradley insists the best days of Los Angeles are yet to come.

"[At] the moment, we are in a downturn in the economy but that won't last.... To those who see doom and gloom, I just disagree."

CRIME, jobs, and immigration are the top problems facing incoming Mayor Richard Riordan, Bradley says. Close are environmental issues from air and water quality to sewage treatment.

"The first three are all related," says the lanky, 6 ft., 4 in. Bradley, sprawled in an easy chair and stroking his chin. "The problem is we have simply not seen the kind of adequate response or acknowledgment from the federal government on immigration."

"We are the ones that have to provide health care, education, police protection. I don't think they do a good enough job at the border keeping them out."

Drug use has exacerbated the crime problem amid a subculture of gangs that new Police Chief Willie Williams says are "like no other in any other US city in sheer numbers, level of violence, and in the manner which they control different areas of the city by fear."

"Eighty percent of our crime is related to drug use," Bradley laments. And that problem is related to education, which in turn is related to funding, which in turn has faced severe budget cuts.

"I just finished cutting $180 million in programs to fill a shortfall in city taxes, and now the state is going to take another $47 or $48 million in property tax revenue," Bradley says. "Riordan will have to start the scramble all over again."

Asked for his greatest achievement, Bradley responds that it was attracting the 1984 Olympics to the city, "not just because of the 16 days of glory but because of the struggle we had to go through as a city to get them here."

Laying the groundwork for mass transit in a city built around the car as transportation is a close second for achievement, he says.

"Mass transit will save this city from gridlock, further air pollution, and other economic circumstances that would be very negative," he says.

Bradley calls his worst moment - "the only real negative in 20 years as mayor" - the 1992 riots.

"We tried to have police ready for every eventuality of that verdict but the spark traveled so fast the police could not respond." Bradley was criticized in the press for allowing his relationship with Police Chief Daryl Gates to deteriorate to the point that during the crisis channels of communication were nearly nonexistent.

But upon his announcement in September that he would step down, even critics remarked that Bradley's tenure here was marked by a competent, comfortable manner that citizens have long taken for granted.

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