William “Bill” Elkins
William “Bill” Elkins was Mayor Tom Bradley’s political shadow, his chief assistant, his confidante and his go-to guy.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
When the city of Los Angeles elected Tom Bradley as its first African American mayor, the voters did not realize that William “Bill” Elkins came with the package–he was the unelected mayor–they were Tom-and-Bill. He stayed with the Mayor throughout his five terms in office and remained with him after the Mayor left office. After Bradley died, Elkins focused on providing continuity to the legendary Mayor’s legacy. He was always in the background working to make Tom Bradley look good and that will be Elkins’ legacy.
Though Bradley was the first African American mayor of the city, his constituency covered a wide racial and ethnic spectrum. Elkins was his liaison to the African American community and the one responsible for helping the Mayor to alter the administration’s landscape to reflect the diversity of the city.
“He was Mayor Tom Bradley’s “buddy”, right hand man and special assistant. Mayor Bradley’s favorite words were “talk to Bill” and we did.”
Mayor Tom Bradley and Bill Elkins
Congresswoman Diane E. Watson reflected on the role that Elkins played in the Bradley administration issuing the following statement:
“Los Angeles mourns the loss of Bill Elkins, our dear friend, lawyer and political advisor. He was Mayor Tom Bradley’s ‘buddy’, right hand man and special assistant. Mayor Bradley’s favorite words were ‘talk to Bill’ and we did. We owe Bill a debt of gratitude for the many years of counsel that he provided in an effort to elect qualified African American candidates. In addition, Bill was keenly aware of the struggles of Black teens and worked constantly to solve their problems. Bill’s contributions to our community can not be measured in terms of a job well done, but a tremendous job and dedication to the community. Our hearts and prayers are extended to his wife Eleanor and sons, Bill and Larry. We will sorely miss him.”
Oftentimes, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has reflected on how Mayor Bradley pioneered the path for others like himself, and as the city’s current Mayor, he knows the importance of having a go-to guy at his side. Mayor Villaraigosa’s statement is as follows:
“On behalf of the residents of Los Angeles, I want to extend our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of William Elkins, Jr. Bill was a proud Angeleno who dedicated 20 years of his life in service to the City of Los Angeles alongside his childhood friend, Tom Bradley.
He was a strong voice in creating a more diverse city government and he advocated for and worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Los Angeles. Though we mourn Bill’s passing, we take comfort in the fact that his work will continue to benefit the people of Los Angeles. Bill’s legacy will forever be embedded in the rich history of our City. He will truly be missed.”
Other elected officials owe some of their good fortune in the political world to the trail that Mayor Bradley blazed in the city and the example he set throughout the state, and Elkins was always at his side. Senator Curren Price is one of those elected officials for whom Mayor Bradley laid the groundwork with the aid and assistance of Elkins. He stated: “Mr. Elkins helped pave the way for Black political empowerment in California,” said Senator Price. “He was the dean of political strategists for African American politicians in Los Angeles and definitely Tom Bradley’s right hand man. With his death, we have lost a courageous pioneer in public service who stood on the front line in the struggle for full participation for African Americans in this society.”
Those who benefited from Mayor Bradley’s leadership were inexplicably tied to Elkins for as Congresswoman Watson said, the Mayor would often say, ‘talk to Bill.’ And many in the community knew that to get to the Mayor, one had to go to and through Elkins. The Urban League was often on the Mayor’s list of community institutions that ‘had his ear.’ Blair Taylor, the League’s current president and CEO, had the following comments: “Bill Elkins was a key strategist to five-term Mayor of Los Angeles–Tom Bradley. He played a major role in the historic election of the first and to date only African American mayor of Los Angeles. Mr. Elkins was at Bradley’s side throughout his 20 years in office, which marked the longest tenure by any mayor in the city’s history. Mr. Elkins spearheaded the founding of the Tom Bradley Legacy Foundation, which served as the key community partner in the construction of the Tom Bradley International Hall, on the campus of the University of California Los Angeles, his alma mater.”
Finally, Willis Edwards, who was a commissioner under Mayor Bradley, said, “While in office, Tom Bradley depended on Bill Elkins and Bill always looked out for the Mayor, and the rest of us. He was someone you could count on in the time of need and it was because of him, I became a commissioner.”
Anyone who knew Mayor Tom Bradley also knew Bill Elkins.