Tom Bradley (American politician)

Last updated
Tom Bradley
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley meets with Rodolfo Escalera (Crop).jpg
38th Mayor of Los Angeles
In office
July 1, 1973 July 1, 1993
Preceded by Sam Yorty
Succeeded by Richard Riordan
Personal details
Born(1917-12-29)December 29, 1917
Calvert, Texas, U.S.
DiedSeptember 29, 1998(1998-09-29) (aged 80)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Inglewood Park Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Ethel Arnold(m. 1941)
Education University of California, Los Angeles (BA)
Southwestern Law School (JD)

Thomas J. Bradley (December 29, 1917 September 29, 1998) was an American politician and former police officer who served as the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993. He has been the only African American Mayor of Los Angeles, and his 20 years in office mark the longest tenure by any mayor in the city's history; barring any change to the City Charter, no other future mayor of Los Angeles will serve longer than Bradley. His 1973 election made him the second African-American mayor of a major U.S. city. Bradley retired in 1993, after his approval ratings began dropping subsequent to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Bradley unsuccessfully ran for Governor of California in 1982 and 1986 and was defeated each time by the Republican George Deukmejian. The racial dynamics that appeared to underlie his narrow and unexpected loss in 1982 gave rise to the political term "the Bradley effect." In 1985, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. [1]

Mayor of Los Angeles American politician

The Mayor of the City of Los Angeles is the official head and chief executive officer of Los Angeles, California, United States. The officeholder is elected for a four-year term and limited to serving no more than two terms. Under the Constitution of California, all judicial, school, county and city offices, including those of chartered cities, are nonpartisan. Eric Garcetti has been the city's 42nd and current mayor since 2013.

African Americans are an ethnic group of Americans with total or partial ancestry from any of the black racial groups of Africa. The term typically refers to descendants of enslaved black people who are from the United States.

Governor of California head of state and of government of the U.S. state of California

The Governor of California is the head of government of the U.S. state of California. The California Governor is the chief executive of the state government and the commander-in-chief of the California National Guard and the California State Military Reserve.


Early life and education

Bradley, the grandson of a slave, was born on December 29, 1917, to Lee Thomas and Crenner Bradley, poor sharecroppers who lived in a small log cabin outside Calvert, Texas. He had four siblings — Lawrence, Willa Mae, Ellis (who had cerebral palsy) and Howard. The family moved to Arizona to pick cotton and then in 1924 to the Temple-Alvarado area of Los Angeles, where Lee was a Santa Fe Railroad porter and Crenner was a maid. [2] [3]

Calvert, Texas City in Texas, United States

Calvert is a city in Robertson County, Texas, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 1,192. It is located approximately halfway between Waco and Bryan-College Station at the intersection of Texas State Highway 6 and Farm to Market Roads 1644 and 979, on the Southern Pacific line nine miles north of Hearne in west central Robertson County. For the last 35 years, Calvert has enjoyed a relative success as an antique "capital". The town is named for Robert Calvert, an early settler who served in the Texas Legislature representing Robertson and Milam Counties.

Cerebral palsy A group of disorders affecting the development of movement and posture, often accompanied by disturbances of sensation, perception, cognition, and behavior. It results from damage to the fetal or infant brain.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of permanent movement disorders that appear in early childhood. Signs and symptoms vary among people and over time. Often, symptoms include poor coordination, stiff muscles, weak muscles, and tremors. There may be problems with sensation, vision, hearing, swallowing, and speaking. Often, babies with cerebral palsy do not roll over, sit, crawl or walk as early as other children of their age. Other symptoms include seizures and problems with thinking or reasoning, which each occur in about one third of people with CP. While symptoms may get more noticeable over the first few years of life, underlying problems do not worsen over time.

Bradley attended Rosemont Elementary School, Lafayette Junior High School and Polytechnic High School, where he was the first black student to be elected president of the Boys League and the first to be inducted into the Ephebians national honor society. He was captain of the track team and all-city tackle for the high school football team. He went to UCLA in 1937 on an athletic scholarship and joined Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Among the jobs he had while at college was as a photographer for comedian Jimmy Durante. [2] [4] [5]

John H. Francis Polytechnic High School

John H. Francis Polytechnic High School is a secondary school located in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, United States. It serves grades 9 through 12 and is a part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Despite its name, Polytechnic is a comprehensive high school.

Kappa Alpha Psi historically Black fraternity

Kappa Alpha Psi (ΚΑΨ) is a collegiate Greek-letter fraternity with a predominantly African-American membership. Since the fraternity's founding on January 5, 1911 at Indiana University Bloomington, the fraternity has never limited membership based on color, creed or national origin. The fraternity has over 160,000 members with 721 undergraduate and alumni chapters in every state of the United States, and international chapters in the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, Japan, United States Virgin Islands, Nigeria, South Africa, and The Bahamas.

Fraternities and sororities, or Greek letter organizations (GLOs) are social organizations at colleges and universities. A form of the social fraternity, they are prominent in the United States, with small numbers of mostly non-residential fraternities existing in France, Canada, and the Philippines. Similar organizations exist in other countries as well, including the Studentenverbindungen of German-speaking countries.


Bradley left his studies to join the Los Angeles Police Department in 1940. He became one of the "just 400 blacks" among the department's 4,000 officers. He recalled "the downtown department store that refused him credit, although he was a police officer, and the restaurants that would not serve blacks." [6] He told a Times reporter:

Los Angeles Police Department municipal police department in California

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), officially the City of Los Angeles Police Department, is the police department of Los Angeles, California. With 9,988 officers and 2,869 civilian staff, it is the third-largest municipal police department in the United States, after the Chicago Police Department and the New York City Police Department. The department operates in an area of 498 square miles (1,290 km2) and a population of 4,030,904 people.

When I came on the department, there were literally two assignments for black officers. You either worked Newton Street Division, which has a predominantly black community, or you worked traffic downtown. You could not work with a white officer, and that continued until 1964. [6]

Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California

Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) is the central business district of Los Angeles, California, as well as a diverse residential neighborhood of some 58,000 people. A 2013 study found that the district is home to over 500,000 jobs. It is also part of Central Los Angeles.

Bradley and Ethel Arnold met at the New Hope Baptist Church and were married May 4, 1941. They had three daughters, Lorraine, Phyllis and a baby who died on the day she was born. He and his wife "needed a white intermediary to buy their first house in Leimert Park, then a virtually all-white section of the city's Crenshaw district." [2] [6]

Leimert Park, Los Angeles Neighborhood of Los Angeles in California, United States

Leimert Park is a neighborhood in the South Los Angeles region of Los Angeles, California. Developed in the 1920s as a mainly residential community, it features Spanish Colonial Revival homes and tree-lined streets with a central commercial area and an eponymous park that has remained central to the community. It has become the center of both historical and contemporary African-American art, music, and culture in Los Angeles.

Bradley was attending Southwestern University Law School while a police officer and began his practice as a lawyer when he retired from the police department. [2] [7] Upon his leaving the office of mayor in 1993, he joined the law offices of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, specializing in international trade issues. [8]

Entering politics

His entry into politics came when he decided to become the president of the United Club. The club was part of the California Democratic Council, a liberal, reformist group organized in the 1950s by young Democrats energized by Adlai E. Stevenson's presidential campaigns. It was predominantly white and had many Jewish members, thus marking the beginnings of the coalition, which along with Latinos, that would carry him to electoral victory so many times.

His choice of a Democratic circle also put him at odds with another political force in the African American community, representatives of poor, all-black areas who were associated with the political organization of Jesse M. Unruh, then an up-and-coming state assemblyman. The early stage of Bradley's political career was marked by clashes with African American leaders like onetime California Lieutenant Governor and former U.S. Representative Mervyn Dymally, an Unruh ally.

City Council

Bradley applied for the 10th District seat in June 1961, when he was still a police lieutenant living at 3397 Welland Avenue; the post had been vacated by Charles Navarro when he was elected city controller. [9] The City Council, which had the power to fill a vacancy, instead appointed Joe E. Hollingsworth. [10]

He ran against Hollingsworth in April 1963. There were only two candidates, Hollingsworth and Bradley, and also two elections — one for the unexpired term left by Controller Navarro, ending June 30, and one for a full four-year term starting July 1. Bradley won by 17,760 votes to 10,540 in the first election and by 17,552 votes to 10,400 in the second. [11] By then he had retired from the police force, and he was sworn in as a councilman at the age of 45 on April 15, 1963, "the first Negro ever elected to the council." [12]

One of the first votes he made on a controversial subject was his opposition to a proposed study by City Attorney Roger Arnebergh and Police Chief William H. Parker of the Dictionary of American Slang, [13] ordered in an 11-4 vote by the council. Councilman Tom Shepard's motion said the book was "saturated not only with phrases of sexual filth, but wordage defamatory of minority ethnic groups and definitions insulting religions and races." [14]

Bradley told Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Bergholz the next month that he "has been asked why he doesn't participate in public demonstrations. His answer: His power as a councilman can best be used in trying to bring groups together, and that's where his time and energy should be spent." He said he would work to establish a human relations commission in the city. [15]

Campaign for mayor

Tom Bradley speaking at AIDS Walk LA at the Paramount Studios lot in 1988. Tom Bradley3.jpg
Tom Bradley speaking at AIDS Walk LA at the Paramount Studios lot in 1988.

In 1969, Bradley first challenged incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty, a conservative Democrat (later Republican) though the election was nonpartisan. Armed with key endorsements (including the Los Angeles Times ), Bradley held a substantial lead over Yorty in the primary, but was a few percentage points shy of winning the race outright. However, in the runoff, to the dismay of supporters such as Abigail Folger and Los Angeles area Congressman Alphonzo Bell, Yorty pulled an amazing come from behind victory to win reelection primarily because he played racial politics. Yorty questioned Bradley's credibility in fighting crime and painted a picture of Bradley, his fellow Democrat, as a threat to Los Angeles because he would supposedly open up the city to feared Black Nationalists. Bradley did not use his record as a police officer in the election. With the racial factor, even many liberal white voters became hesitant to support Bradley. It would be another four years, in 1973, before Bradley would unseat Yorty. [16]

Mayor of Los Angeles

Powerful downtown business interests at first opposed him. But with passage of the 1974 redevelopment plan and the inclusion of business leaders on influential committees, corporate chiefs moved comfortably in behind him. A significant feature of this plan was the development and building of numerous skyscrapers in the Bunker Hill financial district.[ citation needed ]

During Bradley's tenure as mayor, Los Angeles saw the 1974 shootout with the Symbionese Liberation Army, Kiss' footprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre on February 20, 1976, Bradley's handprints there the following year on May 18, 1977, the Hillside Stranglers crime sprees from October, 1977-February, 1978, the end in 1978 of Edward M. Davis's career as one of the Los Angeles Police Department's controversially outspoken police chiefs and, after Assistant Chief Robert F. Rock's brief interim term, the rise of Daryl Gates as their longer-lasting-and also controversial-successor in 1978, Jimmy Carter's 1978 first and 1979 second presidential visits, Bradley's signing of the city's first homosexual rights bill in 1979, the city's bicentennial and the city as the first U.S. one where the discovery of symptoms of what would later be called AIDS was reported in, both in 1981, President Reagan's and Queen Elizabeth II's 1980's visits, ex. both heads of states' debuts were in 1983, the hosting of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, Los Angeles surpassing Chicago as the second most populous city in the country, Bradley's signing the city's-and maybe the U.S.'s-first anti-AIDS-discrimination bill in 1985, since Los Angeles was/is one of the original top 3 highest reporting cities for it along with New York and San Francisco as well as the first city where its symptoms were discovered in and reported from before the term was coined, increased homelessness, crack cocaine and related gangs during the later 1980s and early 1990's, as well as road rage freeway shootings in the late 1980's when the term was first coined, and welcoming Pope John Paul II in 1987. The Rodney King videotaped incident in 1991 and 1992 Los Angeles riots — in which some critics said Bradley might have "actually made the already tense situation that much worse" [17] — and the formation of the Christopher Commission also occurred on his watch as did the city-held federal trials in 1993 of the four LAPD officers charged in Rodney King's beating and federal convictions of two of them-Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell-that April 16.

Bradley helped contribute to the financial success of the city by helping develop the satellite business hubs at Century City and Warner Center. Bradley was a driving force behind the construction of Los Angeles' light rail network. He also pushed for expansion of Los Angeles International Airport and development of the terminals which are in use today. The Tom Bradley International Terminal is named in his honor.

Bust at Los Angeles International Airport Tom bradley lax.jpg
Bust at Los Angeles International Airport

Bradley served for twenty years as mayor of Los Angeles, surpassing Fletcher Bowron with the longest tenure in that office. Bradley was offered a cabinet-level position in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, which he turned down. In 1984, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale considered Bradley as a finalist for the vice presidential nomination, which eventually went to U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro of Queens, New York. [18]

Bradley introduced President Carter at the May 5, 1979 dedication ceremony for the Los Angeles Placita de Dolores. [19]

Although Bradley was a political liberal, he believed that business prosperity was good for the entire city and would generate jobs, an outlook not unlike that of his successor, Riordan. For most of Bradley's long administration, the city appeared to agree with him. But in his fourth term, with traffic congestion, air pollution and the condition of Santa Monica Bay worsening, and with residential neighborhoods threatened by commercial development, the tide began to turn. In 1989, he was elected to a fifth term, but the ability of opponent Nate Holden to attract one-third of the vote, [20] despite being a neophyte to the Los Angeles City Council and a very late entrant to the mayoral race, signaled that Bradley's era was drawing to a close.

Other factors in the waning of his political strength were his decision to reverse himself and support a controversial oil drilling project near the Pacific Palisades and his reluctance to condemn Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim minister who made speeches in Los Angeles and elsewhere that many considered anti-Semitic. Further, some key Bradley supporters lost their City Council reelection bids, among them veteran Westside Councilwoman Pat Russell. Bradley chose to leave office, rather than seek election to a sixth term in 1993.

Gubernatorial campaigns

Bradley conducting a whistle stop appearance during his 1986 campaign Wod-o-Pics-3 0067 - Kodalux Processing Services NOV. 89 P - Bradley for Gov campaign whistle-stop 1986 (9501733131).jpg
Bradley conducting a whistle stop appearance during his 1986 campaign

Bradley ran for Governor of California twice, in 1982 and 1986, but lost both times to Republican George Deukmejian. He was the first African American to head a gubernatorial ticket in California.[ citation needed ]

In 1982, the election was extremely close. Bradley led in the polls going into Election Day, and in the initial hours after the polls closed, some news organizations projected him as the winner. [21] Ultimately, Bradley lost the election by about 100,000 votes, about 1.2% of the 7.5 million votes cast. [22]

These circumstances gave rise to the term the "Bradley effect" which refers to a tendency of voters to tell interviewers or pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, but then actually vote for his white opponent. In 1986, Bradley lost the governorship to Deukmejian by a margin of 61-37 percent. [23]


Bradley was stricken with a heart attack while driving his car in March 1996 and endured a triple bypass operation. Later, he suffered a stroke "that left him unable to speak clearly." He died on September 29, 1998, aged 80, and his body lay at the Los Angeles Convention Center for public viewing. He was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery. [2] [24] [25] Bradley was a Prince Hall Freemason. [26] [27]

See also

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  1. NAACP Spingarn Medal Archived 2014-05-05 at WebCite
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Jane Fritsch, "Tom Bradley, Mayor in Era of Los Angeles Growth, Dies," New York Times, September 30, 1998
  3. Jean Merl and Bill Boyarsky, "Mayor Who Reshaped L.A. Dies," Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 5
  4. Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 6
  5. "May 1972 - Tom Bradley Elected L.A. Mayor; 1st Black Mayor of a Major U.S. City," KCET, undated
  6. 1 2 3 Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 7
  7. Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 8
  8. Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 10
  9. "12 Apply for Navarro City Council seat," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1961, page 21 Library card required
  10. "New Councilman," Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1961, page 13 Library card required
  11. "Complete Returns," Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1963, page 2 Library card required
  12. "First Negro Elected to City Council Sworn In," Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1963, page A-2 Library card required
  13. Library of Congress reference
  14. "Council Asks Dictionary of Slang Study," Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1963, page A-1 Library card required
  15. Richard Bergholz, "Tough Job Confronts Negro Councilman," Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1963, page A-4 Library card required
  16. Boyarksy, Jean Merl, Bill. "From the Archives: Mayor Who Reshaped L.A. Dies". Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  17. Template:Cite eb
  18. Trying to Win the Peace
  19. Carter, Jimmy (May 5, 1979). "Los Angeles, California Remarks at Dedication Ceremonies for La Placita de Dolores de Los Angeles". American Presidency Project.
  20. Rick Orlov, "L.A.'S `GENTLE GIANT' REMEMBERED." Daily News, found at The Free Library website. Accessed September 15, 2009.
  21. Fighting the Last War - TIME
  22. "11-02-1982 Election". JoinCalifornia. 1982-11-02. Retrieved 2017-04-29.
  23. "11-04-1986 Election". JoinCalifornia. 1986-11-04. Retrieved 2017-04-29.
  24. Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998, screen 11
  26. Gray, David (2012). The History of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM 1971 – 2011: The Fabric of Freemasonry. Columbus, Ohio: Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM. p. 414. ISBN   978-0615632957.
  27. Blume, Howard, "The Mayor Who Made L.A. Big", LA Weekly, Dec. 11, 2003
Political offices
Preceded by
Joe E. Hollingsworth
Member of the Los Angeles City Council
from the 10th district

Succeeded by
David S. Cunningham Jr.
Preceded by
Sam Yorty
Mayor of Los Angeles
Succeeded by
Richard Riordan
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jerry Brown
Democratic nominee for Governor of California
1982, 1986
Succeeded by
Dianne Feinstein