Bradley wasn’t even on speaking terms with Daryl Gates, the civil-service-protected Anglo police chief, when the city erupted in riots following the 1992 acquittals of officers charged with beating Rodney King. Bradley’s own psyche seemed wounded; every arson fire and every hurled stone seemed to injure him personally, even as it tormented the city itself. His legacy, when he left office in 1993, loomed too large and positive to go up in flames, but the conflagration illuminated the city’s untended business in gang-plagued, job-poor and drug-ridden neighborhoods, and in its battered, overcrowded schools.
Rachlis cites several Weekly scribes for distinction in chronicling events of the late Bradley period, including Harold Meyerson, “who understood and continues to understand L.A. politics better than anybody else.”
Of course, Bradley rarely had any use for reporters. A typical encounter with the post-mayoral Bradley was his 1995 arrival at the election-night gathering of Stan Sanders, who’d just lost his bid for City Council despite Bradley’s endorsement. Bradley swept into the room, took one look at the approaching reporter’s notebook and shook his head. “No interviews tonight,” he said, with a wave of his hand, as though shooing a fly. The awed crowd parted before him as though an invisible red carpet had unrolled. There was no argument about the interview, and a dozen admirers would have happily tossed any reporter who persisted.
This personal magnetism did not extend to an ongoing political influence, as Sanders’ loss demonstrated — although Bradley nurtured many future leaders, including City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and former state Controller Kathleen Connell. And to this day, aspiring politicians claim Bradley’s endorsement — insisting that he gave them the royal nod before he died, or that he would have if he could have.
“I consider Bradley to have been one of the very few great people I’ve met,” said Haefele. “Bradley was something bigger than mayor of Los Angeles, at least during the first two-thirds of his tenure. He should have been a national leader or at least a state leader. And I don’t think he could have failed to be one had he not been black. But on the other hand, he wouldn’t have been Tom Bradley if he hadn’t been black.”
A stroke took away Bradley’s power to speak in 1996. For his last two years, he became a kind of living statue, still moving around the city, his presence wordlessly and graciously reminding people of his stature. Bradley always retained a patrician’s demeanor, which wasn’t a put-on and was usually not off-putting. The regal quality did not offend, because it ran soul deep, rooted firmly in strength of character.