Bradley returns to boyhood home to launch fall campaign
September 8, 1999
Web posted at: 4:32 p.m. EDT (2032 GMT)
CRYSTAL CITY, Missouri (CNN) -- Returning to his boyhood home, Bill Bradley formally launched Wednesday his underdog campaign to capture the Democratic nomination for the 2000 presidency with a broadly themed speech that called for a "deeper prosperity."
The former New Jersey senator is the lone Democrat challenging Vice President Al Gore and his speech highlighted the differences between the two of them. Bradley has focused on what he calls "big ideas" and criticized the Clinton-Gore Administration's incremental approach to government.
Bradley asked if it was in the country's best interest to have a soaring economy but also have one in five children living in poverty, and 45 million Americans lacking health insurance.
Sen. Bill Bradley announced Wednesday that he's a candidate for president
"Government cannot be all things to all people all the time. Nor should it be doing trifling things much of the time for some of the people," he said. "But it should be doing large, essential things for the whole nation."
He never mentioned President Bill Clinton, but Bradley was implicit in his criticism of the Clinton Administration and its multiple scandals. "One of the reasons I'm running for president is to restore trust and public service and confidence in our collective will," he said.
"I'm more interested in leadership than polls and politics, and I believe we need a new kind of leadership," he said. "A leadership that puts the people front and center, not the president."
Speaking from the steps of his high school, he said he planned to run a different kind of political campaign, saying Americans have a right to be skeptical but he also has a right to change that skepticism.
"I'm hoping by Election Day, we'll be choosing between two people we can esteem, not the candidate we can still tolerate," he said.
So far, Bradley has come out in favor of stronger gun control laws, universal health care, campaign finance reforms, including banning "so-called" soft money, and he has labeled racial division as the country's number one national problem. His speech reflected those stands but did not go much further, only saying that now is the time to improve things with such a good economy.
"We can reduce childhood poverty, we can increase the numbers of Americans with quality health care, we can mute the voice of big money in our elections and we can put in place long-overdue gun control," he said.
Near the end of his speech, Bradley got some of the loudest applause from the hometown crowd by emphatically saying: "There are two kinds of politicians -- maybe more. Those who talk and promise and those who listen and do. I know which one I am."
Bradley, 56, has been unofficially running since December and has spent a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, the sites of the first presidential caucus and primary, respectively.
The Bradley campaign got a boost from a weekend poll that showed that he and Gore, the favorite of President Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment, were running neck and neck in New Hampshire.
Bradley proved his viability as a candidate by raising some $12 million in campaign donations in the first half of the year, compared to Gore's $18 million. Bradley has found help fund-raising from some of the many prominent sports figures he befriended when he was a pro basketball star with the New York Knicks, and he has also found fertile fund-raising ground among lawyers and investment bankers.
Bradley plans to make more detailed policy announcements this fall -- on child poverty, universal health care, the economy and foreign policy -- in hopes of raising his profile nationwide.
He was born July 28, 1943, in Crystal City as the only child of Warren and Susan Bradley. His father was the president of the local bank while his mother was a school teacher.
Bradley left Crystal City to attend Princeton University, where he was a three-time All-American and captained the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the 1964 Olympics. After that, he declined to enter the NBA and won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University.
After returning from England, he joined the New York Knicks and played for 10 seasons, winning two championships in the process. In the NBA, he was known as "Dollar Bill," but was also known among his teammates as a thoughtful thinker who didn't follow the typical path off the court.
Bradley's campaign biography on his Web site quotes Phil Jackson, one of Bradley's roommates on the Knicks' road trips, who remember that under Bradley's guidance, "we'd visit an art museum in Houston, or a spectacular shoreline vista in Oregon, or attend a political lecture in Boston. And so I found myself getting a special kind of education just witnessing Bill's grasp of what makes our society tick and how business gets done."
The NBA also shaped his views on racial issues as he watched his African-American teammates deal with discrimination on a daily basis. Bradley says he realized "how much I will never know about what it is to be black in America."
On Wednesday, Bradley said that he would use the bully pulpit of the presidency to preach against racial division. "Time and again, I will urge Americans to bridge the divide of prejudice so the America of the new millennium sees deeper than skin color or eye shape to the individual," he said.
While he was in the NBA, he met his wife Ernestine and they were married in 1974 during a schedule break: he was off due to NBA All-Star game, and she was on break between semesters at Montclair State College, where she began teaching in 1971 and is still on the faculty.
After retiring from the NBA, he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1978 from his adopted state of New Jersey, winning the seat and holding it until his retirement in 1996. He easily won re-election in 1984 but had to overcome a stiff challenge from now-New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 1990, beating her by 50,000 votes.
In the Senate, he won a reputation as a moderately liberal Democrat with one of his biggest legislative achievements being the 1986 tax reform bill, which he helped create. His attention to racial issues was highlighted in a memorable Senate speech in which he hit a Senate lectern 56 times to dramatize the beating of black motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers.