FRESNO — Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley confronted the racial question Saturday, saying, "I want to assure the people of California that the color of my skin has nothing whatsoever to do with the kind of governor I will be."
"It should therefore not be an issue, a hidden issue, in this campaign," the Democratic gubernatorial candidate said as he addressed fears that he will lose votes because he is black.
His audience, members of the state Democratic Party, greeted that statement with a standing ovation and shouts of "Bradley, Bradley."
Rarely, if ever, in his political career has the mayor so directly confronted the question of his race in a speech.
Afterward, he told reporters that he decided to do it because he has come to believe that some voters were uncertain whether to vote for him because of his race.
He made it clear in the speech that he did not believe his Republican opponent, Gov. George Deukmejian, has raised or will raise the issue in the campaign.
"I don't believe George Deukmejian has raised the issue of race and I don't believe he will," he said. "I don't believe Californians should decide this election on racial questions and I don't think they will."
But the mayor also indicated that he believes the issue will be a factor, no matter what Deukmejian does.
Recalling a controversial moment of his 1982 campaign against Deukmejian, Bradley said:
"Four years ago at about this time (in the campaign) George Deukmejian's campaign manager looked at the polls and said his candidate was actually better off than the polls indicated because of what he called the hidden race factor."
After then-Deukmejian campaign manager William Roberts made that remark to reporters, Deukmejian fired him and disavowed the sentiment.
Mentioned in Article
In this campaign, Bradley said, the racial question already has come up. "Earlier this week, a Los Angeles Times reporter quoted an unnamed Northern California official as saying: 'The race factor is very real in the inland counties, in the agricultural areas.' "
In a speech carefully prepared by the mayor and his aides, Bradley spelled out the reasons that, he said, his race should not matter.
"The question is whether California will prosper and lead the nation as we approach the 21st Century or whether we will drift toward mediocrity," he said.
"But because I have black skin and no black has ever been elected governor of California or any state, those real issues--in the minds of some--may not be what determines the outcome of the election.
"Particularly as I campaign far from Los Angeles, some people, perhaps quite understandably, tend to think of me as the black mayor of Los Angeles, not as the mayor of Los Angeles who happens to be black."
Recalls Kennedy Bid
He said: "I do not expect or want any black man or woman to vote for me because I am black. I hope that no white person will vote against me because of the color of my skin."
Bradley spoke about how another candidate, John F. Kennedy, confronted the issue of his Roman Catholic religion in a famous appearance before a ministers' group in Houston.
"Similar concerns were raised 26 years ago when the Democratic Party nominated an exciting, vigorous candidate for President--who just happened to be a Catholic," he said. "In the history of our nation we had never elected a Catholic President and there were those who felt uncomfortable with the idea."
Bradley said "the election of John F. Kennedy put the so-called Catholic issue to rest."
Bradley said: "I will act as governor as I have as mayor. I will represent--fairly--all the people of California, showing favoritism toward no group or individual, but I shall work for the good of all citizens."
Comments by Supporters
Bradley said later in an interview that the example of Kennedy was on his mind as he began to think more about the race question, a process he said was stimulated by articles in The Times on racism in politics and on comments about his race made by supporters during a trip through Northern California rural areas.
He said that this week he decided to address the subject in a speech. The first draft was written by campaign chairman Tom Quinn, with Bradley preparing a final version, aides said. So important was the speech considered that it was put on a TelePrompTer and the mayor read it in a style that is unusual for Bradley, who likes to speak informally.
In the interview, the mayor continued to say he did not expect Deukmejian to bring up the subject of race. But he criticized a Deukmejian commercial that shows a white police officer talking about crime.
"I have not seen that ad, but that is part of the stereotype that if you are black you are automatically associated with not being as tough on crime as a white candidate."