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The Life and Legacy of Mayor Tom Bradley

Tom Bradley was the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles, serving 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. His 1973 election made him the second African-American mayor of a major U.S. city. 

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. 

Bradley left his studies to join the Los Angeles Police Department in 1940. He became one of the only 400 African Americans  among the department's 4,000 officers. 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.

His entry into politics came when he decided to become the president of the United Club and was later sworn in as Councilman of the 10th district on April 15, 1963 at the age of 45.

 A 1963 portrait of Councilman Tom Bradley. Photo: Charles Williams

A 1963 portrait of Councilman Tom Bradley. Photo: Charles Williams

 Tom Bradley strikes a playful punch at Muhammad Ali. Photo: Guy Crowder

Tom Bradley strikes a playful punch at Muhammad Ali. Photo: Guy Crowder

In 1969, Bradley first challenged incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty. 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. It would be another four years, in 1973, before Bradley would unseat Yorty. 

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.

 Pope John Paul II greets the Mayor and Mrs Bradley at the Vatican.

Pope John Paul II greets the Mayor and Mrs Bradley at the Vatican.

 President Nelson Mandela receives the Key to the City of Los Angeles.

President Nelson Mandela receives the Key to the City of Los Angeles.

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.

 Mayor Tom Bradley bust at the Los Angeles International Airport. Photo: Andreas Faessler

Mayor Tom Bradley bust at the Los Angeles International Airport. Photo: Andreas Faessler

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.

Tom Bradley passed away in 1998 and left an admirable legacy of coalition building and his life work exemplified Intentional Civility as the method for creating a new Los Angeles and a new citizen. 

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