CORRECTION: A previous version of this segment page said that Werner Cohn was mayor of Los Angeles. The correct name is Bernard Cohn. Apologies for the mistake.
Today is election day, the day to cast your vote for who will be the next mayor of our fair city. As elections go, this one's been a pretty tame so far, with no high profile scandals, no Berman-Sherman style fisticuffs, and no hanging chads.
But as KPCC's Patt Morrison reminds us, the legacy of L.A. mayors is filled with racy stories and characters seemingly plucked from the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel.
They got away with up to, and maybe including, murder when they were mayors. In the 1850s we had a mayor named Stephen Foster. This was a man who used chain gangs for public works, because there were no public pension problems there!
The City of L.A. didn't really have a police department, it had volunteers, and so at one point the Mayor Stephen Foster resigned his mayorship to lead a lynch mob, and then voters put him back in office.
We had lots of multicultural mayors, we had Mexican mayors, we had French Canadian mayors. One of them was Damien Marchessault. He thought California should be split into two states. He ran for mayor and served as mayor for a couple years, as most of them did then, but then he became the water overseer, which was a much more important job than mayor and it earned about 50 percent more than mayor. But he couldn't do that job, the city streets turned into a sinkhole, he was a gambling man, he messed around and so he killed himself in the council chambers.
This was in the '20s and '30s when there was a resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan across the country and in Southern California. For a while the KKK ran the Anaheim city council and there were conclaves in Los Angeles. This man John Porter was very puritanical in many ways. He wouldn't drink alcohol even in France because there was prohibition in the United States, and yet he was a leader in the KKK.
Charles Sebastian was a police chief who crusaded against vice int he city, but he had his own particular vices. It turns out that he was having an affair on the side with a woman he gave a pink silk bathrobe to, a woman he took on joyrides in a police car, and finally his wife turned him in. Went to the newspapers with a letter he'd written to his paramour when he was on an out of town trip with his wife. One line was "I wish you could have been along instead of the old hay bag."
Bernard Cohn was appointed to fill the term of a mayor who had died in office, and he only served a couple of weeks. He made headlines long after his mayorship, it turned out that he had a Jewish family on one end of town and a Catholic Latino family, an illicit family, on the other end of town and had six children by that woman.
After his first wife died he married the second wife, the Catholic woman, but he arranged for his coachman to steal the marriage certificate so that widow and children after Cohn died were out of luck financially.
Tom Bradley's election in 1972 was groundbreaking in Los Angeles, electing a black mayor with a coalition of essentially African Americans and Jews after a period of rioting and unrest in the 1960s. This was supposed to be a new era. Tom Bradley served for 20 years, he left office right after the L.A. Riots, so he'd been bookended by that.
This is a man who was called the Sphinx of Spring Street because he was so unflappable and so cool and yet when he was first sworn in there were neo nazis protesting at his inauguration. He showed a sense of humor that most of us didn't see. He looked out across these protesters and said, "I is da Mayor."
Mayor Sam Yorty thought his fact had been stolen from him. I interviewed him in his Studio City home, he was the last mayor from the San Fernando Valley. Tom Bradley had so many things named after him, he had an airport terminal at LAX. Sam Yorty said, look, I started the Convention Center and all I got was a meeting room named after me.
Yorty was the first mayor of the television era, he used to go on Johnny Carson and play the banjo. He really made a name for himself nationally, but didn't do quite so well locally.
In fact, Los Angeles has had Latino mayors back into the Mexican era because the city was founded more than 200 years ago, so of course we had Mexican mayors. But one mayor, Cristóbal Aguilar, was attacked in the Yankee era because his English wasn't very good, so he lost. But we owe him a great debt of thanks, the City Council had voted to privatize the city's water system, and he vetoed it, so thank you, Mayor Aguilar.
Fletcher Bowron, he was much beloved by the city, he was mayor for more than 15 years. His fellow guardsman called him "Old Chubby Cheeks." He had a great sense of the politics of joy , he loved LA and he helped bring it into the modern era, and that's one mayor I would have liked to have interviewed.