Because of an editing error, an article March 31 incorrectly said that Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley would have been the first black U.S. governor had he defeated George Deukmejian in 1982. He would have been the first elected black governor. Louisiana had an appointed black governor, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, who served 43 days in 1873.

The quiet, humorless former policeman who has run this flamboyant city for 12 years will soon be guaranteed his place as its most successful mayor, yet it is not all his heart desires.

Democrat Tom Bradley, 67, would have to make an enormous, unthinkable blunder, such as banning automobiles and swimming pools, to lose reelection April 9. Victory will make him the first person elected mayor of Los Angeles four times.

He leads his principal opponent, city council member and former USC All-American John Ferraro, 62 percent to 22 percent, according to the latest Los Angeles Times Poll. He is adored by conservative businessmen for his enthusiastic rebuilding of downtown. Liberals applaud his status as one of the era's most successful black politicians. Nearly everyone praises the profit-making Olympics he brought to town last summer.

But even the most blessed among us have their demons. For Bradley it is the bitter recollection that a hairline defeat in 1982 kept him from becoming the first black governor in the United States.

Gov. George Deukmejian (R), who beat him, is about as tall, quiet and fiscally conservative as Bradley, all of which has helped him become as popular throughout the state as Bradley is in Los Angeles. The latest California Poll by Mervin Field shows Deukmejian, 56, with a 51 percent favorable job rating, higher than that attained by President Reagan when he was governor here.

In the wake of Bradley's narrow defeat for governor, it seemed clear that he was eager for a rematch. He actually beat Deukmejian at the polls, but was overwhelmed by a surge of Republican absentee ballots. GOP strategists had used an expensive mail-ballot campaign and anger against a Bradley-backed gun-control measure to capture the victory.

Even today, with Deukmejian entrenched in Sacramento and other Democrats urging the mayor to rest on his Olympic laurels, Bradley seems unable to discard the hope of winning the governorship in 1986 and wiping away the bad memory.

Ferraro, a 60-year-old Democrat, was the only city notable willing to risk a race against Bradley in the nonpartisan election. In a series of television commercials and news conferences, he has tried to portray Bradley as so absorbed with gubernatorial ambitions that he could never be a "full-time mayor."

Bradley easily could end the debate by promising not to run for governor, but instead he shrugs it off.

Even when the powerful political coalition led by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) delayed its mayoral endorsement because of concern about another losing Bradley race for governor, the mayor stood his ground. He has only aggravated speculation by hiring Tom Houston as deputy mayor and Tom Quinn and mayoral campaign director. Both are former aides to the last Democratic governor, Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.

Ferraro has done what he could to tarnish Bradley's image. He has chided the mayor for cuts in the police force and for a plan to reverse the decline through higher taxes. He has reminded voters that Bradley allowed Occidental Petroleum to drill for oil in the Pacific Palisades despite community opposition. But nothing apparently can erase the memory of the successful 1984 Summer Olympics -- rated the mayor's greatest strength in the Times poll. Even baseball commissioner and former Olympics organizer Peter Ueberroth has endorsed him.

In a speech Tuesday on Los Angeles in the year 2000, Bradley said he dreams of a new Peace Institute, pedestrian corridors, an urban kibbutz for underprivileged youth and a 32-hour workweek. But the basic message had a more immediate political ring: "The Olympic torch showed us that there is no limit to what we can achieve if we have a bold vision -- and if we relentlessly pursue that vision with perseverance and enthusiasm."