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NEWS ANALYSIS : Gates Affair Stirs Nostalgia for 'Elites'

June 02, 1991|FRANK CLIFFORD | TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

Riordan readily admits that his behind-the-scenes attempt at compromise failed. His plan would have allowed Gates to stay on and would have given the city Police Commission funds to conduct an investigation of the chief's responsibility for the King beating.

Attorney Dan Garcia, whose ties to the mayor and talent for high-level negotiation made him a natural intervener in the crisis, resigned from the Police Commission convinced that no one--the mayor, the police chief or the City Council--was willing to compromise.

"When a political trouble-shooter like Dan Garcia throws up his hands, it makes you wonder just how successful the private sector can be anymore in Los Angeles," said historian Kevin Starr.

For the better part of the Bradley era, business leaders have found a sympathetic ear at City Hall when it came to the issues they cared most about, such as taxation, transportation and environmental regulation. After he was elected mayor, Bradley quickly made the business Establishment a partner in the unusual coalition of organized labor, Southside blacks and Westside liberals that supported the mayor for so long.

Over the last few years, however, disaffection with the mayor has been growing downtown.

Many businessmen regard the campaign to remove Gates as only the latest sign of a tilt by the mayor's office away from the centrist position that Bradley carefully cultivated during his first decade in office.

"Bradley's strength has been that of a mediator and a conciliator between various parties," said Xandra Kayden, a political scientist who chaired a special city commission on ethics in local government. "It is harder to play that role now that he is seen as a partisan."

Because they believe the political middle ground has been abandoned at City Hall, some business leaders think there may be a place for a group that could be more representative than the Committee of 25, but just as powerful.

"Somebody has to stand in for the old Tom Bradley, the fellow that got us all together in the first place," said one executive.

BACKGROUND

Los Angeles city leaders have been polarized and paralyzed by the March 3 beating of black motorist Rodney King by white police officers. Mayor Tom Bradley responded to the beating by calling for an independent commission to investigate police brutality while his chief deputy orchestrated a behind-the-scenes effort to force out Chief Daryl Gates. Amid mounting public controversy, most City Council members refused to take a position on whether Gates should quit or stay.

When Gates adamantly refused to quit, Bradley openly called for his resignation. Then, the Bradley-appointed police commission put the chief on paid administrative leave. Outraged, the City Council voted to reinstate Gates. A Superior Court judge upheld the council and Gates remains in office. But the commission has appealed.

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