THE MAYOR OF Los Angeles is frustrated because he can't fire his own police chief. That's because the people of that dippy city were once silly enough to make the job civil service with no mandatory retirement age. It's something like a president not being able to fire or choose his own secretary of defense.
But there may be a way out for the mayor. It's called public opinion. It's also called money.
Right now, Police Chief Daryl Gates might have public opinion on his side. As senselessly brutal as his cops were on that infamous videotape, the cops are white and the traffic violator they flogged is black. Since the majority of the people in Los Angeles are white, it's doubtful that they're as outraged as the various civil rights groups, the ACLU or the city's black mayor.
So Gates can feel arrogantly confident while thumbing his nose at those who suggest the favorite training film for some of his cops was "Mississippi Burning."
The problem Mayor Tom Bradley faces is simple enough: How to turn public opinion against Gates. And I have a proposal.
First, there is the National Football League. As some may recall, the football commissioner decided that a future Super Bowl could not be played in Phoenix because the people of Arizona voted against making Martin Luther King's birthday a paid state holiday.
Losing the Super Bowl cost Arizona millions of dollars. And they lost millions more when other conventions and meetings canceled.
The NFL has awarded Pasadena the Super Bowl that Arizona lost. That doesn't seem fair. All that the people of Arizona did was vote to save some tax money by not giving their bureaucrats another paid holiday. They didn't beat some poor mope until fillings popped out of his teeth.
So the commissioner of the NFL should announce: "I am going to recommend to the owners that we do not hold any Super Bowls in Los Angeles. Even in our sport, the referee blows a whistle before the linemen stomp the fillings out of a quarterback's teeth."
Of course, it's possible that the football commissioner is more inclined to dump on Phoenix, a small TV market and weak franchise, than on big, profitable Los Angeles.
In that case, it might be up to some of America's most famous black athletes to jolt Los Angeles into telling its police chief to take a walk.
But what would happen if Magic Johnson called a press conference and said: "My African-American teammates and I regret to inform our fans that we cannot, in good conscience, play any more games in a city that tolerates an arrogant boob as its police chief."
If Magic and the others walked, who would the Lakers have left? Nobody except a clumsy Bulgarian named Boris Poopnik or something.
It would be a grand and heroic gesture. Nobody pays attention to the ACLU or the NAACP. But Magic Johnson? If he and the others strolled away, even laid-back L.A. would suffer mass hyperventilation.
And why stop with Magic Johnson and the Lakers? There are the Dodgers, the Raiders, the Rams and other L.A. teams with great black stars. Don't they owe more to their fellow blacks than an opportunity to buy the overpriced gym shoes they endorse?
In turn, a threatened walkout by Johnson and the others would lead to hysteria and rage on the part of L.A.'s other famous sports faces -- Jack Nicholson and the galaxy of Hollywood stars who show up for all the Laker games. I'm sure they could be persuaded to use their influence to call upon all decent Americans to boycott Los Angeles and its products until Chief Gates retires to a cottage in the country, where he can pluck the wings off flies without fear of criticism.
And that would translate into lost money. It's a safe guess that L.A.'s business community admires Chief Gates, since his police force engages in a solid management practice -- kicking those who are down.
But if he starts costing them big dough, that's a different matter. He would become just another subsidiary that's a loser: Get rid of it.
If Magic Johnson and the other black athletes believe this is not their concern or responsibility, then I would leave them with one thought. What if you never grew to more than 5-10 and ran slow? Those fillings could have been popping out of your teeth.