WHEN FORMER COMPTON MAYOR Omar Bradley and four of his allies marched off to jail Monday after being charged with misuse of public funds, many citizens who suffered through the cronyistic Bradley years gathered on the steps of City Hall to cheer ding-dong, the witch is dead, or sentiments to that effect. The sense of vindication and relief that the bad times might finally be over was palpable, and understandable; after all, Bradley was widely considered to be the worst in a historical rogues' gallery of Compton public officials prone to serving their own interests instead of the people's, sometimes criminally. While the same-day arrests of City Council Members Delores Zurita, Amen Rahh and Yvonne Arcenaux and City Manager John D. Johnson II were impressive, the big catch was Bradley himself. Popular reasoning holds that if he goes, so goes a corrupting influence that reaches well beyond city limits and has outlasted Bradley's tenure as mayor. "If they're found guilty, the city will be like a phoenix, rising from the ashes," says Mayor Eric Perrodin, invoking his favorite image of the week. "This will be a good thing if it makes Compton grow."
That if is probably bigger than Perrodin is acknowledging. Other long-standing Bradley critics and civic reformers are, at best, cautiously optimistic that Compton will turn around, even if the five are found guilty and barred from holding public office ever again. While the arrests on charges of credit-card fraud addressed the fiscal impropriety that's been one of the reformers' biggest issues, they have more concerns crime rates, a persistent political atmosphere of self-aggrandizement, and racial tensions between the majority-black government and its increasingly Latino populace. "We've been naming the cancer, now we have to heal it," says the Rev. Stan Bosch, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church and a member of the reformist clergy group Pastors for Compton. "I've seen so much self-interest in this town. We don't have Latino representation to fill the seats in City Hall. I sit on a crime task force because I wanted to be part of a collaborative effort in the city, to come together with other groups and make a difference. But sometimes people want money for their programs, and it's back to the same old thing." Bosch also cites the recently created Public Safety Department, an entity funded with federal dollars that is most noted for employing Arcenaux's son and longtime Bradley henchman Melvin Stokes.
Stationery-store owner and ex-Councilman Fred Cressel, Compton's most locally famous watchdog, was more jubilant about recent events than Bosch but also expressed uncertainty about the future. "You've got Omar's side saying that [the arrests] were just a smear tactic on the part of Eric Perrodin's 'gang,'" he says. "That's what's wrong with things now, all these factions. Who's going to look out for the people?"
Maybe Cressel himself again. As it happens, the City Council seats now occupied by two of the accused Zurita and Rahh are up for re-election in April, and Cressel is running in Rahh's district. The election takes on a significance it certainly would not have had otherwise; all the arrestees are out on $25,000 bail and can hold their positions until or unless the justice system or the polls toss them out. But it's more than likely that the disgraced Rahh and Zurita will lose to two Perrodin-backed candidates now serving first terms on the Compton school board. This could be a good thing for the beleaguered mayor, who would finally get a majority voting bloc on a council that he could only heatedly complain about up to now, but could do little to stop. To reformers, the power shift would be good in the short term but potentially bad in the long: They worry about Perrodin's candidates, Isadore Hall and Barbara Calhoun, deserting their school-board posts after less than two years on the job and after pledging commitment to the students of equally beleaguered Compton Unified. Using the school board as a political steppingstone so blatantly, reformers say, signals not progress in Compton but more of the same. But Perrodin, who himself was backed by reformers two years ago in the mayoral election, dismisses such worry as unnecessary. "All the people on the school board speak in one voice, and if we lose two of those voices, you still have a solid majority of reform on the board," he says. "I feel confident that with those two gone the board will go on as it should."
There are other reasons why business feels so unfinished in Compton. Separate federal investigations into the city's sweetheart deals with trash contractor Michael Aloyan and would-be developer and former Lynwood City Councilman Paul Richards more Bradley allies in a network of many continue. The specter of Walter Tucker III, the former Compton mayor and congressman who was once a bright light in local black politics but who wound up being convicted for extortion, looms large these days. Perrodin has long said he wants the city cleansed, but many wonder about the dirt that has yet to come out in the wash. The Rev. High Vines Jr., an activist and the host of a local cable show that was once silenced by Bradley, points to the fact that Councilwoman Yvonne Arcenaux dissented from the Bradley regime for years before casting her lot with his voting bloc, and with her own profit. "It's rather sad, actually," says Vines, a Compton resident since 1970. "I was in touch with all of this long before Omar got into office. Officials don't reckon with responsibility and accountability. Some-thing should have been done about this long ago. But now it's up to the voters to be inquisitive about who they vote for, and to not vote for the guys who only want to further themselves." The arrests, Vines concludes, "are a bittersweet victory." Most folks in Compton will take it for now.
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