"I've come home. I've come home. . . ."
The words evoked prolonged cheers from several hundred South-Central Los Angeles residents who gathered to listen to Mayor Tom Bradley. After two days on the road announcing that he is an official candidate for governor, a hoarse Bradley came back to where he started Thursday night.
The rally in effect signaled a determination not to repeat the mistakes of Bradley's 1982 campaign, in which Bradley and local black voters now admit they let each other down.
Democrat Bradley has said his failure to run a "grass-roots" campaign was a factor in his narrow defeat to Republican Gov. George Deukmejian. A leery campaign strategy that avoided associations with the sensitive issue of race steered the mayor clear of heavy campaigning in predominantly black areas.
'Felt So Good'
And black voters, said Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), "felt so good about the polls, so good that we had the best candidate, that we didn't do our job." While those who voted did so overwhelmingly for Bradley, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1978 got a higher turnout from blacks in South-Central Los Angeles than Bradley did four years later.
On Thursday, however, the reception Bradley received at the Brotherhood Crusade building at Slauson Avenue and Main Street was like one for a relative returning glorious from war. Elderly blacks staked out seats early and waited for more than an hour, beads of perspiration forming on their upper lips in the poorly ventilated room; younger blacks maneuvered through the crowd, elbowing for the best position to use their instant cameras.
Home to 'Get Troops'
"If you're going to war, you come home to get your troops," Bradley said. "I've come home. I've come home to where I used to run the streets as a snotty-nosed, shirt-tailed youngster."
But Bradley strategists say they know they need more than Horatio Alger imagery to make the most of the approximately 1.2 million voting-age blacks in the state. This time around, Bradley is directly courting black voters in Northern and Southern California.
"This has got to be not a campaign but a crusade," said Bishop H. H. Brookins of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a longtime Bradley confidant. "There was an expectation of victory before. Now we cannot take that for granted."
Brookins noted that some blacks complain that Bradley's efforts are too little and too late to bring him success in his uphill battle against a well-financed incumbent. "There is still some apathy and indifference among black voters," he said. "But we can turn that around."
Black Areas Targeted
In contrast to 1982, plans are in the works to set up campaign headquarters in the heart of black communities. Voter registration and absentee ballot programs also are high priorities, and Bradley is consulting with black community leaders and politicians this time "to make sure history doesn't repeat itself," said Danny Bakewell, president of the South-Central Los Angeles-based Brotherhood Crusade. Some voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts will be taken up by community organizations, he said, in order to save some money for the Bradley campaign, which now lags far behind the Deukmejian campaign in fund raising.
While Bradley is actively seeking the black vote, he does not sell himself as a "black candidate." "We are not here to elect a black man," he told the South-Central crowd. "This is to elect the best man."