When Fletcher Bowron (1887-1968) ran for mayor of Los Angeles in 1938, his twelve years as a superior court judge with a reputation for honesty and fairness carried him to victory against a notoriously corrupt incumbent. During his nearly fifteen years as a neo-progressive mayor, Bowron presided over fundamental reforms in the police department, public utilities, and other agencies charged with basic services, rooting out bribery, kickbacks, and influence peddling.
World War II brought economic and population booms, racial conflict, social dislocation, and environmental problems to Los Angeles and complicated Mayor Bowron's job. After the war Bowron initiated massive public housing and desegregation projects. These forward-looking programs alienated enough voters to cost him the 1953 election as his leftist supporters fell away under the influence of McCarthyism.
This political history of the mid-twentieth century reform period in Los Angeles is also a case study of the ways outside events can affect municipal affairs. As Tom Sitton demonstrates, the choices made during Bowron's administration have had a direct bearing on how Los Angeles looks today and how its government operates.