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Commentary

His Power Stemmed From Including All

Bradley: His legacy is the lasting effect of his commitment to equality of opportunity for women and minorities.

October 01, 1998|JOHN W. MURRAY JR. | John W. Murray Jr. is chairman of the Los Angeles Unified School District Personnel Commission

Tom Bradley made a difference because he knew firsthand the deep and lasting effect that equality of opportunity would make on generations to come. He spoke for those without voice; he moved with equal grace and purpose between the power elite and those in need, and he brought the interest of each together for the benefit of all.

When he was first elected as a city councilman in 1963 and even later when he was elected mayor in 1973, city government and the "old boy" managers who ruled it did not rush to make available management opportunities for minority men and women. In fact, minorities were all but absent above clerical and lower to midlevel positions throughout city service. Before Bradley, minority employees could work their entire careers, purchase homes, raise and educate their children and retire without ever believing it was possible for a nonwhite man or woman to become a supervisor, much less a department head.

Bradley implemented an affirmative action program requiring the hiring or promotion of candidates from among the three highest test scores, not based on whom they knew or what they looked like. This has a lasting benefit--if a mother and father can make those dreams come true, so can their sons and daughters. Heightened self-esteem for many minority men and women as a result of being able to compete for advancement without regard to color or sex became a hallmark of the Bradley years. The pride felt by us all when we think of Bradley is in large measure because he personified our right to compete and excel when artificial barriers are removed and when someone of strength, vision and dedication, by his presence and policies, stands four-square to protect that right.

While a city commissioner of public works, I worked with the African American Engineers and Architects Assn., a group of city employees. Only months before the end of Bradley's final term as mayor, at our December 1992 meeting, Bradley was the speaker and honored guest. There were more than 100 members present. As he stood before the gathering, he paused and in a moment of reflection and pride as he noted that when he was first elected mayor there were probably no more than a dozen black engineers and architects working for the city. He was clearly moved to see a further manifestation of his leadership, and it was a moment of sheer joy for me to experience the respect, affection and mutual admiration shared among all present.

Bradley's commitment to opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses was equally strong. There are many businesses today that were bolstered by Bradley's vision and dedication to Los Angeles being a city of opportunity for all. Construction, engineering, insurance, public finance, public relations and trucking are but a few. This was equally true of his influence on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (later the MTA) as it was for city government.

Bradley never forgot his humble beginnings nor his belief that every black, Latino and Asian man, woman and child has within himself or herself the seeds of talent and accomplishment--if given the tools and a chance. He brought a city together by bringing its people together.

Bradley's leadership is missed more today than we realize. His ability to form coalitions across racial, religious and ideological lines was the essence of leadership. His ability to work with the City Council, to meet with citizen groups from the San Fernando Valley to the Harbor area, from South Los Angeles to the Westside, is at the heart of what a mayor and leader must do. The cry today for neighborhood councils, a stronger mayor and a weaker City Council were not so loud under Bradley's stewardship. From his humble origins and rise from voicelessness to leadership, he knew the value of inclusion, which is what leadership is really about.

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