Skip to main content
Select Source:

Bradley, Thomas 1917–1998

Thomas Bradley 19171998

Mayor of Los Angeles

Joined Los Angeles Police Force

Entered Los Angeles Politics

Elected Mayor of Los Angeles

Sought California Governorship

Sources

In the two decades after his election as the first black mayor of Los Angeles, Thomas Bradleys name was virtually synonymous with the city. Serving an unprecedented five terms, Bradley became one of Americas most respected politicians. He worked behind the scenes to transform Los Angeles from the somewhat stagnant city of the 1970s to a dynamic metropolis with an international reputation as the Gateway to the Pacific Rim. Bradley was twice nominated as the democratic candidate for governor of California, both times positioning himself to become the first black governor of the state. Not bad for the son of a Texas sharecropper.

Bradley was born one of seven children on December 29, 1917, in Calvert, Texas. His family moved to Los Angeles when Bradley was seven; his father took on whatever odd jobs he could to support the family. The marriage of Bradleys parents eventually foundered and the boys mother worked as a domestic to support her children. Bradley attributed much of his self-motivation to his mothers constant support and encouragement. For her part, his mother described Bradley as a child who was so studious that he did not have time for friends. Bradley had his first paper route at the age of nine, and fought to educate himself in a disadvantaged school system. He excelled at sports at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, running the 440-yard dash and becoming an all-city football tackle. Bradley won entry to the University of California at Los Angeles in 1937, where he majored in education and became a track star.

Joined Los Angeles Police Force

Bradley left school after three years to join the Los Angeles Police Department. In his 21-year stay at what was supposed to be a temporary job, Bradley served as a juvenile officer, detective, and community-relations officer, and rose to lieutenant, the highest rank held by a black officer at that time. While still on the police force, he began studying law at night, first at Loyola University and then at Southwestern University, both in Los Angeles. In 1956 he received an LL.B. degree from Southwestern; five years later he retired from the police force to open a law practice.

Bradley credits his police experience with teaching him

At a Glance

Born December 29, 1917, in Calvert, TX; died September 29, 1998, in tos Angeles; son of Lee Thomas (a sharecropper, waiter, and railroad porter) and Crenner (Hawkins) Bradley; married Ethel Arnold, May 4, 1941; children: Lorraine, Phyllis. Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles; attended Loyola University; Southwestern University, LL.B., 1956. Politics; Democrat. Religion: Methodist.

Career: Los Angeles Police Department, 194062 private law practice, 196163; Los Angeles district councilman, 196373; mayor of Los Angeles, 19731993; Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, 19931996. Democratic nominee for governor of California, 1982 and 1986; Co-founder and co-director of the Bank of Finance of Los Angeles.

Awards: Thurgood Marshall Award; Sword of the Haga-nah from the State of Israel and David Ben Curion Award for outstanding achievement, both 1974; MEDIC International Humanitarian Award, 1978; Award of Merit, National Council of Negro Women, 1978; John f\ Kennedy Fellowship award from the government of New Zealand, 1978; Magnin Award 1984; NAACP Spingarn Medal 1984; numerous honorary doctorates of law.

Member: National Energy Advisory Council, National League of Cities, NAACP Black Achievers Committee (founding member), California State Bar Association, Southern Califomia Association of Governments, American Cancer Society of the City of Los Angeles, Greater Los Angeles Urban Coalition, Los Angeles World Affairs Council, United Nations Association of Los Angeles, Urban League of Los Angeles.

principles invaluable to his political career. During my years on the police force I learned that hostility breeds hostility. I saw that every man was looking for some kind of warmth, whether he would admit it or not, Bradley related in the New York Times People, all people, are looking for respect, for human dignity. This is something we all nourish. I have faith in this element of human nature, faith that there is an underlying decency in every man.

Entered Los Angeles Politics

Bradley campaigned for a spot on the Los Angeles City Council in 1963. He became the first black elected to the Council and found himself representing the 225,000-member 10th district, which was then one-third black, one-third white, and one-third of other origins. He was re-elected in 1967 and 1971, and gained a reputation as a hard-working, dedicated man.

In April of 1969 Bradley was one of 13 candidates running against incumbent Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty, who was about to complete his third four-year term. Yortyknown as Saigon Sam for his unfailing support of the war in Vietnamwas elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1961. By the end of the decade voters had become increasingly disillusioned with corruption in his administration and with Yortys goodwill tours around the world. The people of Los Angeles were ready for a change; but they were not quite ready for a black mayor in the person of Bradleythen a relative unknownespecially so close on the heels of rioting in the predominantly black Watts section of Los Angeles. The 1969 campaign carried bitter racial overtones, with Yorty playing on voters fears by implying that a vote for Bradley meant a vote for black militancy. Bradley lost the election in the run-off campaign. Not one to let defeat get in his way, however, he immediately began to prepare for the next election. Bradley made himself highly visible to voters and demonstrated that he was committed to the well-being of the cityand anything but militant.

The 1973 election campaign was as acrimonious as the previous one, with Yorty again labeling Bradley a radical black. But by this time voters were familiar with Bradley, and in his campaign he accentuated his concern with larger, more substantive issues than squabbling with Yorty. His opponent, he said, was a slacker mayor who ran a corrupt and wasteful city hall, and neglected the real problems of smog, crime, and the need for a rapid-transit system.

Elected Mayor of Los Angeles

Despite Yortys continued smear tactics, Bradley, with the support of young anti-war and civil-rights liberals, won the election handily, receiving 56 percent of the vote95 percent of the black vote, and nearly half of the city-wide white vote. Faced with this stunning victory, the new mayorsix-foot-four and built like a quarterbackremained modest and soft-spoken, steady and deliberate as a Sherman tank, as he wryly called himself. Once elected Bradley set out to prove himself, both as a black man in a city only 18 percent black, and as a novice mayor. His wife, Ethel, joked about his dedication during the 1969 election campaign, saying in the New York Times, That man went to law school 18 years ago and I havent seen him since.

Bradley entered the mayors office determined to do what he contended his predecessor had notlower the crime rate, complete the rapid-transit system, limit unrestrained urban sprawl, and reduce air and water pollution. Under the Los Angeles City Charter the mayors power is limited, since policy decisions require a two-thirds vote of council. This slightly cumbersome, but doggedly democratic, system suited Bradley, a man who saw his role as mayor as that of an effective team leader. Describing himself as fiscally conservative, but liberal on all other issues, Bradley preferred to keep to the background and rely on a strong and loyal support team to take center stage.

According to most indicators, the status of Los Angeles improved visibly under Bradleys astute management. With a budget that grew from $623 million in 1973 to nearly $4 billion in the early 1990s, the city became an international business community and trading center second only to New York City. It is the main center for Asian trade on the Western seaboard. Its international airport and harbor have been expanded and, after many delays, the first leg of the citys rapid transit system has been completed. Downtown Los Angeles has been revitalized and has expanded to five times its 1973 size. Through Bradleys persistent efforts, Los Angeles made a successful bid for the 1984 Summer Olympics. The event was staged with a smoothness and flair that brought the city world-wide recognition. Bradley also adopted strong environmental programs to cut air and water pollution, slow development, and encourage waste recycling. At the same time he attempted to meet the demands of the Los Angeles business community who, with developers, contribute tax dollars crucial to the health of the city economy, and whose needs are often in opposition with those of environmentalists.

Decreased tax revenues meant serious budget cuts to Los Angeles social and essential services. These included the police and fire departments, housing, and education, which even without such reductions inevitably suffer under a stressed economy. Most of his constituents continued to support him; they attributed many of the citys social ills to forces beyond the control of Bradleys administration. Bradley is unbeatable, claimed Zev Yaroslavsky after quitting the 1989 mayoral election campaign. Yaroslavsky, a committed and vocal environmentalist, was seen as Bradleys most serious opponent at the time. In the months prior to his election, Bradley took swift action to appoint environmentalists to the city board and to formulate strong ecological measures for Los Angeles; thus, Yaroslavskys environmental platform lost its impact. Los Angeless longest-running mayor earned the nickname Teflon Tom after the durable, non-stick frying-pan surface. Indeed, Bradleys greatest asset may have been his ability to weather the ups and downs of political life.

Bradleys mayoral years were not without controversy, however. Inner-city crime, drug abuse, and racial tensions were on the rise in the 1980s and 1990s; the more prosperous of Los Angeles, fearing for their safety, sought reassurance that they would be protected. For some time the Los Angeles police force, under chief Daryl Gates, enforced the law with an efficiency that bordered on paramilitary. Alleged victims of such tactics accused the Los Angeles Police Department of brutality, often unprovoked. These accusations were not taken seriously, however, until the infamous videotaped police beating of Rodney King, a black man suspected of a traffic violation, came to public attention and caused a national furor. Many demanded that Gates be fired. Here Bradley came up against the sometimes frustrating limitations of his power; the most he could do was ask for Gatess resignation. In July of 1991thirteen days after an independent commission urged him to step asideGates announced that he would resign, though he did not plan to leave his post until April of the following year, and then only if an adequate replacement could be found. In 1992, the acquittal of the police officers involved in the King case set off massive riots in Los Angeles which resulted in millions of dollars in damage to the city not to mention a serious loss of life which shocked the rest of the nation. Bradley faced the formidable task of calming down boiling racial tensions and of beginning the restoration project.

Sought California Governorship

Not content to limit himself to municipal politics, Bradley twice entered the state political scene, running for governor of California. In 1982 and 1986 he ran against Republican George Deukmajian. Although he was narrowly defeated both times, the attempt in itself was remarkable as Bradley was the first black candidate to receive the primarily white state-wide support of the Democratic party. Had he been elected in 1982, Bradley would have been the first black governor in the United States.

As his campaigns for Californias highest office indicate, Thomas Bradley believed strongly that individuals must work within the democratic system to effect change; his own track record serves as evidence that it can be done. In a speech to a predominantly black school in Los Angeles, reprinted in the New York Times, Bradley said: The only thing that can stop you is you. Dream big dreams, work hard, study hard and listen to your teachers. Above all, get along with each other. You can be anything your heart wants you to be.

Bradley retired in 1993 and joined the law offices of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, specializing in international trade issues. In March of 1996, he suffered a heart attack while driving his car, and a stroke shortly after undergoing surgery left him unable to speak clearly. On September 29, 1998, he died of a heart attack at the age of 80. Hailed as a builder of bridges in his obituary in U.S. News & World Report, he will be remembered as an effective mayor who left an important legacy to the city of Los Angeles.

Sources

Ebony, July 1973.

Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1991; July 7, 1991; July 21, 1991.

New Yorker, April 24, 1989.

New York Times, April 3, 1977; April 28, 1981; July 23, 1991.

Time, June 15, 1981; June 7, 1982.

U.S. News & World Report, October 12, 1998.

Heather Paterson Rhodes

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bradley, Thomas 1917–1998." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bradley, Thomas 1917–1998." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/bradley-thomas-1917-1998

"Bradley, Thomas 1917–1998." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/bradley-thomas-1917-1998

Bradley, Thomas 1917–

Thomas Bradley 1917

Mayor of Los Angeles

At a Glance

Elected Mayor of Los Angeles

Sought California Governorship

Sources

In the nearly two decades since he was elected the first black mayor of Los Angeles, Thomas Bradleys name has been virtually synonymous with the city. Serving an unprecedented five terms, Bradley is one of Americas most respected politicians. He has worked behind the scenes to transform Los Angeles from the somewhat stagnant city of the 1970s to a dynamic metropolis with an international reputation as the Gateway to the Pacific Rim. Bradley has twice been nominated democratic candidate for governor of California, both times positioning himself to become the first black governor of the state. Not bad for the son of a Texas sharecropper.

Bradley was born one of seven children on December 29, 1917, in Calvert, Texas. His family moved to Los Angeles when Bradley was seven; his father took on whatever odd jobs he could to support the family. The marriage of Bradleys parents eventually foundered and the boys mother worked as a domestic to support her children. Bradley attributes much of his self-motivation to his mothers constant support and encouragement. For her part, his mother has described Bradley as a child who was so studious that he hadnt time for friends.

Bradley had his first paper route at the age of nine, and fought to educate himself in a disadvantaged school system. He excelled at sports at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, running the 440-yard dash and becoming an all-city football tackle. Bradley won entry to the University of California at Los Angeles in 1937, where he majored in education and became a track star.

Bradley left school after three years to join the Los Angeles Police Department. In his 21-year stay at what was supposed to be a temporary job, Bradley served as a juvenile officer, detective, and community-relations officer, and rose to lieutenant, the highest rank held by a black officer until that time. While still on the police force, he began studying law at night, first at Loyola University and then at Southwestern University, both in Los Angeles. In 1956 he received an LL.B. degree from Southwestern; five years later he retired from the police force to open a law practice.

Bradley credits his police experience with teaching him principles invaluable to his political career. During my years on the police force I learned that hostility breeds hostility. I saw that every man was looking for some kind

At a Glance

Born December 29, 1917, in Calvert, TX: son of Lee Thomas (a sharecropper, waiter, and railroad porter) and Crenner (Hawkins) Bradley; married Ethel Arnold, May 4, 1941; children: Lorraine, Phyllis. Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles; attended Loyola University; Southwestern University, LL.B., 1956. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Methodist.

Los Angeles Police Department, 1940-62; private law practice, 1961-63; Los Angeles district councilman, 1963-73; mayor of Los Angeles, 1973. Democratic nominee for governor of California, 1982 and 1986. Co-founder and co-director of the Bank of Finance of Los Angeles.

Awards: Thurgood Marshall Award; Sword of the Haganah from the State of Israel and David Ben Gurion Award for outstanding achievement, both 1974; MEDIC International Humanitarian Award, 1978; Award of Merit, National Council of Negro Women, 1978; John F. Kennedy Fellowship award from the government of New Zealand, 1978; Magnin Award 1984; NAACP Spingarn Medal 1984; numerous honorary doctorates of law.

Member: National Energy Advisory Council, National League of Cities, NAACP Black Achievers Committee (founding member), California State Bar Association, Southern California Association of Governments, American Cancer Society of the City of Los Angeles, Greater Los Angeles Urban Coalition, Los Angeles World Affairs Council, United Nations Association of Los Angeles, Urban League of Los Angeles.

Addresses: Office City of Los Angeles, 200 North Spring St., City Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

of warmth, whether he would admit it or not, Bradley related in the New York Times. People, all people, are looking for respect, for human dignity. This is something we all nourish. I have faith in this element of human nature, faith that there is an underlying decency in every man.

Bradley campaigned for a spot on the Los Angeles City Council in 1963. He became the first black elected to the Council and found himself representing the 225,000-member 10th district, which was then one-third black, one-third white, and one-third of other origins. He was re-elected in 1967 and 1971, and had gained a reputation as a hard-working, dedicated man.

In April of 1969 Bradley was one of 13 candidates running against incumbent Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty, who was about to complete his third four-year term. Yortyknown as Saigon Sam for his unfailing support of the war in Vietnamwas elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1961. By the end of the decade voters had become increasingly disillusioned with corruption in his administration and with Yortys goodwill tours around the world. The people of Los Angeles were ready for a change; but they werent quite ready for a black mayor in the person of Bradleythen a relative unknownespecially so close on the heels of rioting in the predominantly black Watts section of Los Angeles. The 1969 campaign carried bitter racial overtones, with Yorty playing on voters fears by implying that a vote for Bradley meant a vote for black militancy. Bradley lost the election in the run-off campaign. Not one to let defeat get in his way, however, he immediately began to prepare for the next election. Bradley made himself highly visible to voters and demonstrated that he was committed to the well-being of the cityand anything but militant.

The 1973 election campaign was as acrimonious as the previous one, with Yorty again labeling Bradley a radical black. But by this time voters were familiar with Bradley, and in his campaign he accentuated his concern with larger, more substantive issues than squabbling with Yorty. His opponent, he said, was a slacker mayor who ran a corrupt and wasteful city hall, and neglected the real problems of smog, crime, and the need for a rapid-transit system.

Elected Mayor of Los Angeles

Despite Yortys continued smear tactics, Bradley, with the support of young anti-war and civil-rights liberals, won the election handily, receiving 56 percent of the vote95 percent of the black vote, and nearly half of the city-wide white vote. Faced with this stunning victory, the new mayorsix-foot-four and built like a quarterbackremained modest and soft-spoken, steady and deliberate as a Sherman tank, as he has wryly called himself. Once elected Bradley set out to prove himself, both as a black man in a city only 18 percent black, and as a novice mayor. His wife, Ethel, joked about his dedication during the 1969 election campaign, saying in the New York Times, That man went to law school 18 years ago and I havent seen him since.

Bradley entered the mayors office determined to do what he contended his predecessor had notlower the crime rate, complete the rapid-transit system, limit unrestrained urban sprawl, and reduce air and water pollution. Under the Los Angeles City Charter the mayors power is limited, since policy decisions require a two-thirds vote of council. This slightly cumbersome, but doggedly democratic system suited Bradley, a man who sees his role as mayor as that of an effective team leader. Describing himself as fiscally conservative, but liberal on all other issues, Bradley prefers to keep to the background and rely on a strong and loyal support team to take center stage.

According to most indicators, the status of Los Angeles has improved visibly under Bradleys astute management. With a budget that has grown from $623 million in 1973 to nearly $4 billion in the early 1990s, the city has become an international business community and trading center second only to New York City. It is the main center for Asian trade on the Western seaboard. Its international airport and harbor have been expanded and, after many delays, the first leg of the citys rapid transit system has been completed. Downtown Los Angeles has been revitalized and has expanded to five times its 1973 size. Through Bradleys persistent efforts, Los Angeles made a successful bid for the 1984 Summer Olympics. The event was staged with a smoothness and flair that brought the city world-wide recognition. Bradley has also adopted strong environmental programs to cut air and water pollution, slow development, and encourage waste recycling. At the same time he has attempted to meet the demands of the Los Angeles business community, which, with developers, contributes tax dollars crucial to the health of the city economy, but has needs that are often in opposition with environmentalists.

Like most mayors of major American cities in the nineties, Bradley has an increasingly difficult and complex task to fulfill. Los Angeles, with a population second only to New York City, is primarily an affluent city with a high standard of living. But with federal cutbacks to social and economic programs, and a growing scarcity of blue-collar jobs, poverty and unemployment have given rise to increased crime and drug problems; the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening fast. An evenhanded politician who tries to meet the needs of all of Los Angeless residents, Bradley is nonetheless faced with reconciling the citys increasingly urgent conflicts of divergent social and economic classes.

Another struggle for Bradley occurs in the area of law enforcement. Inner-city crime, drug abuse, and racial tensions are on the rise; the more prosperous of Los Angeles, fearing for their safety, seek reassurance that they will be protected. For some time the Los Angeles police force, under chief Daryl Gates, enforced the law with an efficiency that bordered on paramilitary. Alleged victims of such tactics accused the Los Angeles Police Department of brutality, often unprovoked. These accusations were not taken seriously, however, until the infamous videotaped police beating of Rodney King, a black man suspected of a traffic violation, came to public attention and caused a national furor. Many demanded that Gates be fired. Here Bradley came up against the sometimes frustrating limitations of his power; the most he could do was ask for Gatess resignation. In July of 1991thirteen days after an independent commission urged him to step asideGates announced that he would resign, though he did not plan to leave his post until April of the following year, and then only if an adequate replacement could be found. The incidentthen the most serious challenge to Bradleys authoritywas useful in calling into question police methods in other American cities such as New York and Boston.

Decreased tax revenues have meant serious budget cuts to Los Angeles social and essential services. These include the police and fire departments, housing, and education, which even without such reductions inevitably suffer under a stressed economy. The years ahead will be more challenging than ever for a mayor of Bradleys fiscal conservatism. Most of his constituents continue to support him; they attribute many of the citys social ills to forces beyond the control of Bradleys administration. Bradley is unbeatable, claimed Zev Yaroslavsky after quitting the 1989 mayoral election campaign. Yaroslavsky, a committed and vocal environmentalist, was seen as Bradleys most serious opponent to date. In the months prior to his election, Bradley took swift action to appoint environmentalists to the city board and to formulate strong ecological measures for Los Angeles; thus, Yaroslavskys environmental platform lost its impact. Los Angeless longest-running mayor has earned the nickname Teflon Tom after the durable, non-stick frying-pan surface. Indeed, Bradleys greatest asset may be his ability to weather the ups and downs of political life.

Sought California Governorship

Not content to limit himself to municipal politics, Bradley has twice entered the state political scene, running for governor of California. In 1982 and 1986 he ran against Republican George Deukmajian. Although he was narrowly defeated both times, the attempt in itself was remarkable as Bradley was the first black candidate to receive the primarily white state-wide support of the Democratic party. Had he been elected in 1982, Bradley would have been the first black governor in the U.S.

As his campaigns for Californias highest office indicate, Thomas Bradley believes strongly that individuals must work within the democratic system to effect change; his own track record is evidence that it can be done. In a speech to a largely black school in Los Angeles, reprinted in the New York Times, Bradley said: The only thing that can stop you is you. Dream big dreams, work hard, study hard and listen to your teachers. Above all, get along with each other. You can be anything your heart wants you to be.

Sources

Ebony, July 1973.

Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1991; July 7, 1991; July 21, 1991.

New Yorker, April 24, 1989.

New York Times, April 3, 1977; April 28, 1981; July 23, 1991.

Time, June 15, 1981; June 7, 1982.

Heather Paterson Rhodes

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bradley, Thomas 1917–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bradley, Thomas 1917–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/bradley-thomas-1917

"Bradley, Thomas 1917–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/bradley-thomas-1917