Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA's black political leaders negotiate shifting demographics 40 years after Tom Bradley's election

Aja Brown

Frank Stoltze

Newly elected Compton Mayor Aja Brown faces changing demographics in her city.

Forty years ago this week, Los Angeles elected its first black mayor, Tom Bradley. He served for two decades – ushering in a new era of African-American political power in Los Angeles. Today, changing demographics mean black leaders must pursue new strategies.

Aja Brown is well aware of that. She is Compton’s newly elected mayor.

Brown, 31, was born in Compton, but grew up in Altadena - her mother moved the family away after her grandmother was murdered. The tragedy didn’t stop Brown from moving back to Compton and going to work as an urban planner for a city undergoing big changes.

“Our community is very diverse,” Brown said recently as she sat outside a Starbucks on Artesia Blvd. “We have our first Latino council member this year.”

Latinos now comprise 60 percent of Compton’s population – a challenge for black political leaders like Brown.  She says the makeup of her family helps her understand the importance of inclusiveness.


40 years later: Remembering the pivotal election of Tom Bradley

Bradley and Ali

Los Angele Public Library Archives

Mayor Tom Bradley pretends to hit boxer Muhammad Ali during the 1984 Olympics.

Tom Bradley

Los Angeles Public Library Archives

Mayor Tom Bradley.

Tom Bradley

Los Angeles Public Library Archives

Tom Bradley campaigns for mayor in 1973.

City Councilman Tom Bradley, 1971.

Tom Bradley and Sam Yorty

Los Angeles Public Library Archives

City Councilman Tom Bradley debates incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty in 1973.

Tom Bradley

Los Angeles Public Library Archives

LAPD Lt. Tom Bradley. The department would not allow African-Americans to rise above the rank of lieutenant in the early 1960s, so Bradley left to practice law. He successfully ran for city council in 1963.

Mayor Tom Bradley at the opening of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He was a college track star at UCLA.

Tom Bradley in his UCLA football uniform.

Eric Garcetti picked up where Antonio Villaraigosa left off, becoming mayor of Los Angeles by assembling a strong multi-ethnic coalition of supporters. But, they weren't the first to do so.

Forty years ago this week, Tom Bradley took office as LA's first African-American mayor after a transformational election. His quest to lead LA began four years earlier in what became a nasty contest against an entrenched incumbent.

The TV news footage from the time is grainy, but the words are clear. It is 1969, and two-term incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty is fighting for his political life against an African-American city councilman seeking to oust him from office.

“Militants are being very quiet right now,” Yorty warned. “They’re kind of lying back and waiting. They don’t want to jeopardize Bradley’s chances.”


UPDATE: Anaheim approves new hybrid model for city council; rejects district elections

Anaheim Leaders

Bear Guerra/KPCC

Anaheim resident, Rabiya Shakil (center), 20, stands with other community members during a July 31, 2012 press conference calling for city leaders to address a lack of Latino and minority representation in City Hall.

UPDATE 9:41 P.M.: After a contentious four-hour meeting, the Anaheim City Council decided by a 3-2 vote to put a “hybrid” election model on the ballot next June. But in another 3-2 vote, it rejected a recommendation from a citizens advisory council – appointed by the city council – to let voters decide on district elections.

The district model was proposed after a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU arguing the city’s at-large voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act. Anaheim’s city council is all-white, while the city is more than 50 percent Latino.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait strongly disagreed with the council’s decision, arguing that the hybrid model won’t change the council’s makeup.

“I happen to believe districts are closer to people,” said Tait.

Under the hybrid model, the city council would still be elected by the whole city, but they have to live in the district they represent.


Mayor Garcetti names first senior appointments of administration — including a former rival

Garcetti Los Angeles Mayor Election

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Eric Garcetti and former mayoral candidate Jan Perry greet the crowd at The Palladium on election night. On Tuesday, the new mayor named her as interim director of the Economic Development Department.

Mayor Eric Garcetti named the first members of his senior team Tuesday, and the roster includes a former mayoral rival. 

Former councilwoman and mayoral candidate Jan Perry will serve as Interim General Manager of the new Economic Development Department. A mayoral spokesman says that once Perry gets the agency up and running, she'll hand it off to a permanent director. 

"I'm excited that Jan Perry and I will be working closely together on getting people back to work and helping businesses open and grown," Garcetti said in a statement. "Jan's work in revitalizing downtown and South Park exemplify the kind of leadership and expertise we need to turn this department into a true economic engine for our city."

Perry ran for mayor after being termed out of the City Council, where she represented South Los Angeles for 12 years. 


State will move inmates from prisons plagued with Valley Fever

The Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga is one of the facilities where inmates have been susceptible to Valley Fever.

California officials say they will transfer thousands of inmates out of Pleasant Valley and Avenal State Prisons to comply with a court order aimed at reducing illnesses and deaths from the fungal infection known as Valley Fever.

Eighteen inmates at the Central Valley prisons have died from the disease since 2012. Hundreds more have suffered from the disease’s flu-like symptoms.  Inmates contract the airborne disease from fungal spores found in the region's soil.

A federal court earlier this year ordered the state to move inmates known to be susceptible to Valley Fever within 90 days. That includes medically high-risk inmates and all African-American and Filipino inmates. The order followed a report last year in which medical experts concluded that efforts to control the spread of the disease by treating the soil on prison grounds had failed.