Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley started strong and finished weak, at least in the eyes of his critics, during a daylong tour of the Westside this week.
The strong part came as Bradley kicked off his visit by assuring Venice community leaders that the Venice Pavilion will not be used as a shelter for the homeless.
The weak part came when a weary-looking Bradley, nearing the end of a 13-hour day, squared off with hostile slow-growth advocates from Mar Vista.
In between the mayor fielded pointed questions from Westchester High School students, had a touching meeting with needy children in Mar Vista, exercised with Japanese senior citizens in Venice, addressed business leaders in Westchester, toured a youth center and spoke at a poolside meeting of condominium owners.
The appearances came as Bradley, who has been roundly criticized by some Westsiders for his policies on growth, prepares for the 1989 mayoral race.
He identified himself as a "candidate for mayor" at several stops and made constant references to his political achievements. In two instances he even gave highly personal accounts of his battles against poverty and racism.
"Nobody had it harder than I did," Bradley said at one point during the tour. "But I was determined I was never going to let anything stop me."
By all accounts, the mayor was at his best during the beginning of Monday's schedule when he attended a meeting of the Venice Action Committee, a group of artists, businessmen and developers devoted to upgrading the community.
As Bradley strolled into the old Venice City Hall at 8 a.m., he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of about 100 people. The mayor told the group that he remembered visiting Venice as a child.
"Venice has always been the playground for Los Angeles," Bradley said. "And it could be made great . . . again."
Committee members told Bradley that Venice is far from great today because of severe neglect and an overwhelming influx of homeless people who have set up encampments along the beach.
Bradley said he will inspect the area in the near future. He also allayed some people's fears with his pledge that the homeless will not be housed at the Venice Pavilion.
"One thing I am absolutely opposed to is using the pavilion as a center for the homeless," Bradley said to applause. "If you begin creating a homeless center in Venice, people will come here from all parts of the city."
Bradley also offered to appoint a committee to study new ways to use the pavilion, a beachfront facility that has fallen into decay in recent years.
To the surprise of many, Bradley even encouraged Venice Action Committee members to convey their concerns to him by letter. Michael L. Dieden, the group's founder, said he was impressed by the mayor's visit.
"It's very positive that Mayor Bradley is paying special attention to Venice," Dieden said. "The meeting was extremely productive. The mayor is a very astute politician. He obviously came prepared for the meeting and was willing to roll up his sleeves and do some work. It was a working meeting."
By 9:30 a.m., Bradley's entourage was en route to Westchester High School's senior class assembly. Nearly 500 students awaited Bradley inside a cavernous auditorium, and uniformed volunteers from the Reserve Officers Training Corps were stationed outside.
Principal Jim Davis was reminding the students about school pride when Bradley walked in, waving. The mayor, dressed in a cream-colored suit with a brown tie, gave an extemporaneous talk on the U. S. Constitution as a "living, breathing document," spoke of the days of segregation and encouraged the racially mixed student body to fight for their rights and to protect other people's rights.
The students then asked him some surprisingly astute questions. One wanted to know what Bradley thought about Black Muslim Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has been accused of anti-Semitism. "Anyone who preaches a message of hate is unwelcome in this city," Bradley said.
Another asked if Bradley supports the Rev. Jesse Jackson's bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. "I have not endorsed anyone," Bradley replied.
A third student asked if Bradley would run for higher office. "I am taking it one step at a time," he said. "I have not at all decided what my next step after mayor will be."
From Westchester, Bradley traveled to the Mar Vista Family Center, a publicly funded child-care facility in the heart of a poor, graffiti-ridden residential neighborhood. Children at the center, which serves 34 families, had painted a rainbow sign in watercolors with the words "Welcome Mayor Bradley."
After Bradley walked in, he immediately crouched down beside several children sitting at a miniature table, cutting pictures out of magazines. Later, the children and their mothers presented Bradley a poster containing each of their names and handprints and formed a circle on the floor as Bradley spoke.