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Bradley Makes Drug Fight the Cornerstone of His Campaign

September 14, 1986|CATHLEEN DECKER | Times Staff Writer

The campaign props have been drawn from Tom Bradley's battered blue athletic bag at appearances across the state, from press conferences at high schools to press conferences at county courthouses--a hot plate, an empty glass coffeepot, an unopened box of baking soda, a small glass pipe and a baggie of white powder.

Literally, they represent the accouterments of a traveling cocaine laboratory, the sort that the Los Angeles mayor believes is destroying generations of California youth.

Figuratively, they form the cornerstone of Bradley's fall drive for the governorship. With increasing regularity, Bradley turns his campaign appearances into all-out attacks on drugs, peppering his pronouncements with allegations that his November opponent, Gov. George Deukmejian, has ignored the problem of drug abuse.

More is at stake than partisan anti-drug strategies. By hammering home his views--and reminding voters of his 21 years on the Los Angeles police force--Bradley hopes to wrestle the tough-on-crime mantle from Deukmejian, who virtually built his political career on law-and-order legislation.

Winning that battle could mean cutting into Deukmejian's lead, which shrank to nine percentage points in a Los Angeles Times Poll taken this month.

"Drugs is the crime issue," Bradley campaign manager Bob Thomson said.

Call for Action

Bradley is hardly the only politician who, hoping to be swept to victory by a rising tide of public concern over drugs, has chosen now as the time to call for action.

Nationally, President Reagan and a host of congressional Democrats are battling for the hearts of voters with competing drug-control plans. Republican Ed Zschau, challenging incumbent Alan Cranston for a seat in the U.S. Senate, has raised the anti-drug banner in some California appearances.

Still, Bradley has made the biggest statewide splash, outlining his battle plans for a war on drugs at repeated appearances in Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento and Monterey.

Engineered for maximum television impact, Bradley's appearances have meshed visual displays--smashing a glass cocaine pipe with a hammer to demonstrate his vehemence--with dramatic warnings about what the mayor refers to as the "scourge" sweeping California.

"We have got to begin to get a hold of this issue," he said at a recent San Diego press conference. "Otherwise we're going to lose a generation of young people. Lose them to drugs. Their lives will be lost. And we shall not be able to provide the kind of manpower and brainpower that we need . . . to remain competitive in the world marketplace."

But Deukmejian is fighting back. He has issued a three-page synopsis of his anti-drug and alcohol record, its items dating back to legislation he authored in 1965 as an assemblyman. On Labor Day, the traditional kick-off for the fall campaign, Deukmejian declared that Bradley's interest in fighting drug abuse was a mere campaign ploy.

On the broader issue of which politician is tougher on crime, Deukmejian twitted his opponent as a man "on a permanent Code 7"--in police parlance, out to lunch.

Despite the longtime prevalence of drug abuse, the matter has never before arisen as a dominant campaign issue, not even in 1982 when the same two men fought for the governorship. But earlier this year, a series of events coincided to force drugs into the public's mind and onto the political agenda.

Jump in Concern

Newspapers and magazines began reporting the advent of a highly potent and relatively cheap derivative of cocaine called "crack" or "rock" cocaine that took over the market in Eastern cities and began to dominate in Los Angeles. Then, in quick succession, came the widely publicized cocaine overdose deaths of Maryland basketball star Len Bias and Cleveland Browns defensive back Don Rogers.

Pollsters observed a startling jump in American concern over drug abuse. In a spring survey, the Gallup Organization found that drug abuse was seen as the most important problem facing the public schools--the first time in the annual survey's 20-year history that something other than discipline had surfaced on top.

A July Gallup survey discovered that Americans considered drug abuse the fourth most-pressing problem facing the country, behind only unemployment, international tensions and the budget deficit and ahead of such traditional concerns as poverty and crime.

"It has grown dramatically as a key domestic concern of the American people," George Gallup Jr. said.

Most Important Issue

Closer to home, a September survey by the Los Angeles Times Poll found that drug use was seen by most Californians as the most important issue in the gubernatorial campaign. Deukmejian, the former attorney general, was favored by four points as the man "who would do the best job of controlling drugs."

The Bradley campaign took notice of the peaking interest in drug abuse when its June statewide poll showed that drugs ranked above most other issues of concern, campaign manager Thomson said.

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