October 26, 2008


I’ve always taken a great interest in U.S. politics, an interest that was rekindled when I moved to Los Angeles so many years ago. Since then, I’ve kept abreast of mainly LA politics since that was what obsessed local TV stations and other media then.

At that time, LA had its first and, to date, only African American mayor, namely Tom Bradley (pictured). A five-term mayor, serving from 1973 to 1993, he held office for 20 years - the longest tenure by any mayor in the city’s history. Indeed, his 1973 election made him only the second African American mayor of a major U.S. city, the first being Carl Stokes of Cleveland, Ohio, elected six years previously.

I’ve always felt a sort of affinity for Bradley, who died ten years ago, since we both attended - he much earlier than I - the same LA law school which was one of the few that catered for mature students on a part-time basis, Bradley while still a cop with the LAPD.

I also met him by chance as mayor. A friend who knew the Hollywood set had asked me if I would take part in a couple of movies that needed an English ‘accent’ as she put it. I agreed and shooting took place one day near City Hall. There were the usual takes and retakes and filming seemed to go on indefinitely. Whilst I was patiently awaiting my turn, I noticed Tom Bradley leave the Civic Centre complex and walk down Spring Street towards us flanked by minders. As he drew level, he gladhanded all in turn beaming broadly and commending each of us for our performance, ever the consummate politician. I recall he complimented me on my accent, although how he could have heard it I'll never know.

He ran, unsuccessfully, for Governor of California in 1982 and 1986 and, having been defeated each time by the Republican, George Deukmejian. The racial dynamics that appeared to underlie his narrow and unexpected loss in 1982 gave rise to the political term ‘the Bradley Effect’ - a tendency of white voters to tell interviewers or pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, but then actually vote for his white opponent.

Indeed, in 1982, the election was extremely close. Bradley led in the polls going into Election Day, and in the initial hours after the polls closed, some news organizations projected him as the winner. Ultimately though, Bradley lost the election by about 100,000 votes - about 1.2% of the 7.5 million votes cast. A shame as I'm sure he would have made a great Governor and possibly also Presidential candidate.

And it is this term, ‘the Bradley Effect’, that resonates now with Obama’s Democratic candidacy. He is considered to have encountered both the Bradley Effect, and a ‘reverse’ Bradley Effect - in which black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama or are underpolled - during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary elections.

Indeed it is precisely this Bradley Effect which I am keen to explore here in Andalucia with its expatriates, some of whom, now in their late nineties, stayed on after fighting in the Spanish Civil War. A bit like Hemingway who, in an autobiographical essay, suggested he might have been not only a weapons instructor during the war but also an informant for the Republic…

But more in my next post on my forays among the US expatriate community.

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