On this day in 1973, Thomas J. “Tom” Bradley was elected mayor of Los Angeles becoming the first African-American to be elected mayor of a city without and African-American majority. It’s a shame that a statesman of Bradley’s caliber is mainly synonymous outside of California with the “Bradley Effect,” because his election as mayor was more remarkable than his losses.
After defeating incumbent Sam Yorty and State Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh in the Democratic primary and runoff (both major heavyweights in California politics), Bradley carried 54 percent of the vote in the general election. At the time, the African-American population of Los Angeles was less than 18 percent. He went on to serve an unprecedented five terms as Mayor.
Bradley also ran for governor of California twice, in 1982 and 1986, losing both times to Republican George Deukmejian. In 1982, Bradley had a narrow lead over Deukmejian heading into election day and many exit polls projected him to be the winner. However, in the end, Bradley ended up losing by about 100,00 votes after all ballots were counted.
This led to the coining of the term, the “Bradley Effect,” a theory stating that in a race between a white candidate and non-white candidate, an impactful number of white voters may say they will vote for the non-white candidate, but would inevitably vote for the white candidate. This theory (and legitimate worry) was heavily prevalent until 2008, when the presidential election of Barack Obama smashed it to smithereens.
In 1986, Bradley was down heading to the polls and lost to Deukmejian by a much wider margin.
During Bradley’s tenure of mayor from 1973 to 1993, Los Angeles became the second-most populous city in the country, hosted the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, and redeveloped many of the city’s business districts. However, as the city became more diverse, it also became a powder keg of racial tension, and Bradley chose not to run again after the 1992 riots.
Bradley died of a heart attack in 1998. To honor the 40th anniversary of his election as mayor, OUR L.A., a non-profit whose mission is to increase public awareness on the stories of Los Angeles through multimedia, is preparing a project on the legacy of Bradley to teach and inspire future generations of young people and leaders. To learn more, go to: http://www.mayortombradley.com.