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Delay of Bird Statement Defended : Regrets Lack of Clarity on Gun Control, Bradley Says

April 15, 1986|BILL BOYARSKY | Times City-County Bureau Chief

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, frankly assessing a rocky campaign, says he wishes he had expressed himself more clearly on gun control instead of making an off-the-cuff comment that left him open to Gov. George Deukmejian's charges of flip-flopping. But, in an exclusive interview, he said he has no regrets about his delay in deciding to remain neutral in California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird's November confirmation election.

And, even though he has fallen far behind Deukmejian in public opinion polls, the mayor said he is happy with his campaign and the performance of its leaders, campaign chairman Tom Quinn and manager Mary Nichols.

Bradley says he is so intent on beating Deukmejian in this year's gubernatorial election that he has given no thought to his future if he loses. "I'm still going to be mayor," he said, but added, "I don't look at that negative possibility (of defeat). I'm an upbeat, confident person. When I go into a contest, I go in with the idea that I am going to win."

If defeated, would Bradley run for mayor again? "I haven't thought about it," he said.

In the interview, the Democratic mayor discussed the two events that, in the view of some supporters and critics, badly damaged his campaign just as it started--his statements on Bird and gun control.

Bradley has been attacked by Deukmejian for remaining neutral on whether Bird should be confirmed in the November election. Bradley has replied that he wants to keep politics out of the court election. In addition, Bradley has been privately criticized by some of his own backers for waiting weeks before announcing his decision.

"I wish the press, in particular, had realized that we had not started a campaign, I wasn't an announced candidate when they began asking that I give them an answer now, when we were a year away from the election," said Bradley, who actively conducted an unannounced campaign for the governorship months before his formal announcement.

No Reason for Haste

"I didn't feel any particular reason for haste in making that decision. I had many other things to do. I fitted it into my timetable and my schedule as I saw the need. That's the way I've always functioned. I go to bed satisfied that I did the best I could each day and every day with the issues that were before me. I feel the same way about this decision and the timetable for it. Nobody could set that timetable for me. I had to do it according to my own time."

The flap over gun control occurred early in the campaign when, in a television interview, Bradley volunteered that he would not support a gun control initiative like the one voters overwhelmingly defeated in 1982 if one were now proposed for the state ballot.

"I don't believe that, in the face of that overwhelming (1982) vote, it ought to be brought up again, and if it is, I will oppose it," said Bradley in the television interview.

Afterward, he was criticized in newspaper editorials and by Deukmejian for "flip-flopping," a phrase that came to dominate the first weeks of his campaign. Deukmejian's aides said they considered the incident an unexpected bonus, giving the governor a chance to attack the mayor on the leadership issue, a point on which the mayor had not been considered vulnerable.

Bradley considers the overwhelming defeat of the 1982 initiative, which he supported, to be one reason for his narrow loss to Deukmejian in the governor's race that year.

In his interview with The Times, Bradley did not rule out any new gun control laws but declined to specify precisely what he favors.

"I've said that (his opposition to a ballot initiative) doesn't mean that we have done all we can with regard to the issue of how we control the use of guns, the violence they create in this country because I still think we have to do something about that," Bradley said.

Bradley was asked if he wished he had expressed himself more clearly in the controversial television interview.

"Yes," he replied. "In fact, I couldn't understand what the furor was about because I knew what I had in my head, I thought I had said it, and it wasn't until I looked at one of the tapes that had been recorded, that I realized that I had not made it clear. So I am at fault on the confusion that developed."

Bradley said he approved of the job being done by campaign chairman Quinn and manager Nichols.

The choice of Quinn and Nichols to run Bradley's campaign was quickly attacked by the Deukmejian side. Hoping to capitalize on what they perceived as a residue of unhappiness with former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., Deukmejian forces repeatedly brought up Quinn's long years with Brown as political adviser and chairman of the Air Resources Board and Nichols' term as chairman of that regulatory body. (Nichols was never especially close to Brown and left Sacramento at the end of his administration unhappy that he did not appoint her to a judgeship.)

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