Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's controversial decision to allow oil drilling in the Pacific Palisades, and rival John Ferraro's aggressive campaign start, have unexpectedly put Bradley on the defensive in the opening days of the mayoral race he is favored to win.
Surprisingly, Ferraro set the agenda in launching his campaign, forcing Bradley to reply to his charges. Among them was the politically potent accusation that the Los Angeles Police Department has declined in size during the mayor's 11 years in office.
Then, on Saturday, Bradley had to deal with what some backers consider a self-inflicted political wound. Going against the advice of some staff members and angering important political supporters, the mayor reversed his previous position and announced he had signed the ordinance authorizing drilling in the Palisades.
"I know there will be some who consider it politically unwise," Bradley said, as he made a strong defense of his decision at a press conference Saturday.
Defends Action "I have not always been right in my actions as a conscientious public servant, but I have always tried to be rigorously honest in my search for the truth and scrupulously fair in my decisions," Bradley said in a letter to the City Council released at the press conference. "My conscience dictates that I act no differently in this case."
Deputy Mayor Tom Houston, who advised Bradley against signing the ordinance, said in an interview: "I do not think it will be a popular decision. I think he knows it."
The immediate political effect will be in the affluent Palisades, a neighborhood on the cliffs overlooking Will Rogers State Beach that became nationally known when its most famous resident, Ronald Reagan, was elected President.
The Reagans, who have subsequently sold their home there, were among the many Republicans in the Palisades, which is the only significant GOP stronghold on Los Angeles' predominantly Democratic Westside.
Helped in 1973 Bradley's opposition to oil drilling helped him carry the Palisades during his first successful mayoral bid in 1973, and, as an opponent of Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s proposal, he also won in the area during his 1977 and 1981 reelection campaigns.
The Palisades comprises about 15% of the 11th District, represented by Councilman Marvin Braude, a Democrat and Bradley backer. The entire district is a target area for the Ferraro campaign, and 1984 election results show why: It is more conservative than the rest of the city.
Oil drilling cannot help Ferraro, though it can hurt Bradley. Ferraro, after all, supported Occidental's application long before Bradley did.
Nor are there enough votes in the Palisades, or the entire 11th District, to win the election for Ferraro. But if he gains elsewhere, and Bradley slips in this area, the underdog Ferraro campaign will be helped.
Braude said Bradley's decision will cost him mayoral votes in the area this time around. "It has to hurt him," said Braude, who has fought drilling for years and was angered by the mayor's decision.
One Westside political leader, who declined to be named, said conservatives in the area who had voted for Bradley because he opposed drilling for oil in their backyards might now switch to the law-and-order Ferraro campaign.
According to this activist, such switches will not hurt the mayor, as long as he runs well ahead of Ferraro. But they could be significant in a close race.
Cindy Miscikowski, Braude's chief deputy, said she thought Bradley could also be hurt if members of anti-development, environmentally oriented homeowner groups in other parts of the Westside--many of whom have fought Palisades drilling--decide to stay at home or even oppose the mayor in April's voting.
The oil drilling decision could also have statewide implications if Bradley runs for governor in 1986, something he says he does not now plan to do.
For the last few months, Bradley has been attacking Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, who defeated him in 1982, on environmental issues, saying Deukmejian favors offshore oil drilling. One Bradley backer said that when news of the Palisades decision spreads through the closely knit California environmental community, "it will be a catastrophe" for the mayor. And, in the week Bradley was approving oil drilling, Deukmejian submitted a budget with more money for some environmental concerns, though he cut funds for the Coastal Commission, a body dear to environmentalists' hearts.
The way Ferraro set the early pace in the current mayoral campaign was a surprise.
In his 18 years on the City Council, Ferraro has built a reputation as an amiable politician who hates to offend anyone or take controversial stands. He usually has supported fellow Democrat Bradley. But friends say that Ferraro has never forgiven Bradley for what he considers the mayor's role in toppling him from a job he loved, City Council president.