Former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. said Wednesday that, at the urging of his supporters, he has considered running for mayor of Los Angeles in order to remake city government with strict campaign spending restrictions, political term limits and other reforms.
Although he said he is "not likely" to enter the campaign, Brown declined to rule out the possibility, saying he will at least play the part of vocal observer "to take this election out of politics as usual."
"What I'm really concerned about is that another group of political hacks will come to power and you will see Los Angeles continue to decline," Brown said in a telephone interview. "So I hope someone with some charisma and some independence will run a real grass-roots campaign."
With Mayor Tom Bradley retiring next year, nine prominent officials and 10 other residents have already declared their interest in the mayor's office. The race was thrown wide open Tuesday when the top potential candidate in early polls, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, said she would not run.
"Some people have come to me and said, 'Why don't you run for mayor?' " said Brown. "I said, 'I'll be glad to think about it.' . . . But it is not something I'm inclined to do."
Fresh off a maverick campaign for President, Brown said the entreaties to enter the mayoral race came over the last several weeks from his supporters and associates.
Brown has a permanent home in San Francisco. However, while running for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency, Brown lived for much of the last two years at the Pacific Palisades home of one of his campaign officials.
Brown said he is more likely to attempt to influence the mayor's race by speaking on issues and perhaps using his presidential campaign organization, "We the People."
Members of that organization have been meeting for several weeks with other community activists and politicians--including Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) and urban theorist Mike Davis--to discuss issues they believe should be central in the mayor's race.
"There has been some growth and some fantastic changes in this city," Brown said. "But there has also been deterioration that has become a crisis, with a Third World growing at the bottom at the same time that incredible power and influence is growing at the top."
Brown said developers, lobbyists and the corporate elite have held too much sway at City Hall. "Politics as usual--just raising lots of money and schmoozing with the top 1% of the population--will not work anymore," he said.
Brown said that a few issues have already come to the forefront as he, Hayden and others have discussed issues they might push, including:
* Imposing a $100 campaign contribution limit in city races, such as the voluntary cap Brown adhered to in presidential fund raising. City law currently restricts contributors to $500 donations to City Council candidates and $1,000 to mayoral hopefuls.
* Limiting the terms of the mayor and City Council. Although the city has no such law, several mayoral candidates have proposed one.
* Doubling the size of the 15-member City Council to provide better representation to Los Angeles' diverse communities. Salaries for the officials would be cut in half to ensure that the expansion did not increase costs, Brown said.
The next mayor should be more outspoken in demanding federal and state support for the city, Brown said. He recently sent a letter to President-elect Bill Clinton, published in the New York Times, that urged Clinton to increase aid to cities.
Since cutting off his presidential bid, in which a toll-free 800 number became a focal point, Brown has pledged to make his We the People organization a force for political reform.
He has traveled from Rio de Janeiro, where he attended the Earth Summit, to Washington, D.C., where he campaigned for a successful measure to limit local campaign contributions to $100.
For much of the last week, he has visited a Los Angeles courtroom, where an East Los Angeles gang member he befriended on the campaign trail has been on trial.
Brown, a lawyer, sat at the counsel table Wednesday and offered an occasional observation to the lawyer representing Robert Leon, 22, who is accused of shooting at two off-duty Los Angeles police officers in June.
A month before that, Leon and another gang member had traveled to several campaign stops in what was designed to be a demonstration of the broad-based coalition supporting Brown.
Brown said he believes Leon is the victim of "mistaken identity."
Brown said he knows that some observers would view a campaign for mayor of Los Angeles as a step down for a presidential hopeful. San Francisco columnist Herb Caen recently went so far as to compare Brown to 10-time presidential candidate Harold Stassen.
"That could count as a good reason not to do it," Brown said. "But I think anytime you can serve the people, it's a good thing. Thomas Jefferson said that the highest office he ever held was citizen."
At least two veteran campaign consultants said Brown would be a favorite to become one of two finalists in a June mayoral runoff.
"It's worth a million dollars if you have that high name identification," said Allan Hoffenblum, who runs many Republican campaigns. "Then how he does in the runoff depends on who runs against him. I think he still could be a polarizing force."
Asked if he might enter the race if a candidate of his liking does not emerge, Brown said:
"Ask me in another month; let's not do hypothetical questions."