The professor hits the campaign trail; Ernestine Bradley brings her husband's message to Baltimore


On a normal mid-February morning in the life of Ernestine Bradley, she would have been teaching Intermediate German or Theory of Comedy at Montclair State University in New Jersey. But life is not normal when your husband runs for president.

Yesterday morning, Ernestine Bradley was on a college campus -- Morgan State University -- but instead of German literature or techniques of fiction, she was talking about health care and gun control, the beginning of a full day of campaigning in Baltimore.

"I do it gladly," she said of disrupting her academic life, which includes the recent publication of the book "The Language of Silence," on the failure of post-war German writers to deal with the Holocaust.

"There were so many times Bill has been there for me, there was never any question this is what I was going to do," she said.

In May, she took a leave from Montclair, where she has taught since 1971. She is out on the campaign trail -- Wednesday in Washington, yesterday in Baltimore, today in Boston, tomorrow in Seattle.

"It really is a lot like teaching," she said. "You talk to people and answer their questions. And I learn so much. Intellectually, I knew what a diverse country this is, but you don't really understand that until you get out there."

Bradley is part of that diversity. She was born in Germany in 1935 and grew up there during World War II. Her father was a pilot in the Luftwaffe but, she notes, was not a member of the Nazi party.

Fluent in English and Spanish, she got a job as a flight attendant and came to the United States in 1957, settling in Atlanta, where she studied at Emory University.

It was as she worked toward her doctorate in German literature that she first confronted the horror of the Holocaust, a subject not discussed in German literature written after World War II. She decided to explore this silence, she said.

Finding truth

"That is where you find the truth of the situation," she said. "The writers would come so close and then look away. I think this young generation when they start writing, they will be the first to deal with it."

She met her husband in 1970. Unlike most people in the United States, she knew little about the Princeton All-American, Rhodes scholar and professional basketball player for the New York Knicks.

Bill Bradley has said that is one of the things that attracted him to her. They married in 1974.

Ernestine Bradley was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and underwent a mastectomy. She has been outspoken about cancer awareness since that time, and said that topic, along with education issues, would be among her concerns, should she move to the White House. "But I don't like to think that far ahead," she said. "I feel like I'm on a tightrope. I have to look at just the next footstep or I might fall off."

Important role

She told the students at Morgan State that in Atlanta she taught at Spelman College, saying such historically black schools play an important role.

"From these colleges and universities come most of the professional African-Americans." she said. "These are the people who will be in the boardrooms and classrooms and newsrooms so all of us can belong to a fully integrated society."

After a tour of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and school, Bradley appeared on a radio program and then went to Fells Point to meet one of her husband's most prominent Maryland supporters, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

"That little girl right there is Bill Bradley's wife," the former governor said, pointing her out to a potential supporter as she walked to the Broadway market.

Meeting voters

There she got an earful from Dawn Adolf, 29, a single mother of three who was was working the counter at Lucia's restaurant. Adolf said she was concerned about plans to shut Police Athletic League centers.

"She knew about her husband's plans on gun control and day care; that was good," Adolf said afterward. "But she should know some more about putting more police on the streets."

But a word of encouragement for Bill Bradley came from another group. "I'll vote for anybody with a jump shot like that," one man said.

Pub Date: 2/11/00

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