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Sam Yorty

Sam Yorty was an American politician, three-term mayor of Los Angeles, California (1961-73), U.S. congressman (January 3rd, 1951 - January 3rd, 1955), and California state assemblyman (1936-40 and 1949-50).

Biographical fast facts

Full or original name at birth: Samuel William Yorty

Date and place of birth: October 1, 1909, Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.A.

Date, time, place and cause of death: June 5, 1998, at 7:40 a.m., Studio City, California, U.S.A. (Pneumonia/Stroke)

Marriage #1: Elizabeth "Betts" Hansel (m. December 1, 1938 - 1984) (her death)*
He also was widowed by his second wife, Gloria, then married a third and final time to Valery King, who survived him.

Son: William Egan Yorty (d. 1983, of cancer)

Father: Frank Patrick Yorty (a restaurant owner/farmer/handyman)
Mother: Johanna Egan Yorty

Remains: Cremated, ashes scattered

Error corrections or clarifications

* A number of sources erroneously report Sam Yorty was married just once, and further claim that marriage lasted from 1938 till his death in 1998. As noted above, Mayor Yorty's first wife died in 1984, and that marriage was followed by two more. He was also widowed by his second wife, Gloria, and then married a third and final time to Valery King Yorty, who survived him.


Sam Yorty was a colorful, contentious, combative mayor, whose shoot-from-the-hip style of politics gave the media plenty of fodder over his three terms in office. The Mayor and the press were frequently at odds. His relationship with the Los Angeles Times was little more than open warfare. Yorty actually sued the L.A. Times over a political cartoon that showed the Mayor seated behind his desk while attendants in white coats, one with a straitjacket behind his back, waited to cart him away. "I've got to go now," Yorty is saying into the phone. "I've been appointed Secretary of Defense and the Secret Service men are here." The case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, before ending in defeat for Sam. He was an equal opportunity offender, managing to anger both conservatives and liberals and making enemies in both parties. But he also knew how to get the job done. He was credited with expanding the city's freeway system into one of the world's largest. This was one of the factors that allowed the major growth the city saw while under his leadership. He was also a strong backer of the Los Angeles Music Center, Los Angeles Zoo and other popular cultural and business venues.

A couple of his notable firsts as mayor include, the first Los Angeles mayor in the twentieth century to serve three terms, a record ultimately surpassed by his successor Tom Bradley, who served five terms. Yorty was the first Los Angeles mayor to have an integrated staff that included Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans, and was the first to appoint a woman as deputy mayor. This is all the more remarkable given that he was a critic of the Civil Rights Movement, and an outspoken opponent of feminism.

Yorty was tagged with numerous nicknames, such as "Mayor Sam" for his folksy demeanor, and "Travelin' Sam" for his globe-trotting at public expense. Others include "Shoot-From-the-Lip Sam," the "Maverick Mayor," and "Saigon Sam" by those who claimed he was more concerned with South Vietnam than South Central Los Angeles. This moniker was also the result of his very vocal support of the Vietnam War and the fact he was spending so much time in South Vietnam. It was said Yorty was the only mayor with a foreign policy: "Bomb 'em back to the Stone Age" he said in regard to the Viet Cong in Vietnam.

Several times in his political career he supported candidates, causes, or made inflammatory comments that were branded political suicide, yet he repeatedly managed to bounce back to the surprise of many.

A passionate anti-communist, and prominent communist hunter, Yorty blamed "communist agitators" for various problems his administration faced over the years. California Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Sr. once called him, "the cleverest concocter of phony issues I ever knew."

Both he and his administration were the recipients of harsh criticism for their handling of the 1965 Watts riots, as well as its aftermath. For all his faults, Sam Yorty generally receives high marks for lowering property taxes, luring new industry to the city, and facilitating the construction of the Los Angeles Music Center. Regardless, many experts rank him among the worst big-city U.S. mayors who served in the second half of the twentieth century.

In the Los Angeles mayoral election of 1969, Mayor Yorty was challenged by Los Angeles city councilman Tom Bradley. Tom lost his bid for the city's highest office in what turned into a bitter campaign. With the Watts riots still fresh in the minds of many Los Angeles residents, all it took to swing the election Sam Yorty's way were a few leaked files that implied Bradley was a left-wing radical with communist leanings. Four years later, Tom Bradley would successfully unseat Mayor Yorty. At a time when the city was only 18 percent African-American, Bradley forged a broad-based coalition of liberals and moderates to win the election. Samuel W. Yorty's loss to Tom Bradley, an African-American, was a watershed in Los Angeles history.

Yorty began his career in politics as a liberal Democrat, but swung to the other end of the political spectrum over the course of his career, becoming a conservative Republican. His official switch from Democrat to Republican took place in 1972, when George McGovern won the Democratic presidential nomination.

Following his defeat, he hosted his own local television talk show that ran for five years. Yorty later became the host of a local radio call-in show. He also continued to run for office, no matter how impractical. It's been reported he ran for office close to 20 times. He lost about half those races, including a try for the White House in 1972, U.S. Senate campaigns in 1940, and another in 1954, which he gave up his House seat to pursue. He again tried for a U.S. Senate seat in 1956, and 1980, as well as two campaigns for California governor in 1966 and 1970. In later campaigns, he was increasingly viewed as a relic and was permanently branded by his previous race-baiting.

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