The biggest surprise of last week‘s primary election in Compton was not the fact that its uncharacteristically low-lying mayor, Omar Bradley, showed up, or that he was forced into a runoff with a political neophyte whom he outspent by some hundred thousand dollars, or even that everybody pretty much behaved themselves all day. No, the biggest bomb was dropped by a group of enthusiastic young people who chanted and paraded their way into City Hall and council chambers bearing signs for their candidate, Evaristo Garcia. To handclaps and loud exhortations of “E-var-is-TO!” and “Si, se puede!,” the group lined the walls of council chambers in a public show of political feistiness that was a first for Compton’s fast-growing but hitherto-silent Latino population. Okay, so the ranchero-hatted Garcia was running for City Council, not mayor, and he wound up capturing only 8 percent of the vote, but that hardly dampened the spirits of his supporters or lessened the point that‘s being sharpened daily: There’s a brand-new game in town.
Well, maybe not quite yet, but it‘s coming, and the burgeoning number of people who regard Bradley as old-game and a growing obstruction to progress, ethnically and otherwise, feel that a change is finally within reach. The hundreds who jammed council chambers to watch the ballot count didn’t merely watch; they kept score on the grid sheets that City Clerk Charles Davis so graciously provided, though there was probably more pragmatism than grace behind that. Davis himself was running for re-election and, for obvious reasons, didn‘t want any cause for complaints of impropriety, in a season of dizzying improprieties.
The tally had the air of a bingo or basketball match; each set of numbers elicited shouts of triumph — a basket! — or murmurs of consternation, or silences that were difficult to read but likely either disappointment on Bradley’s side or hope that didn‘t dare give itself a voice, that was holding its breath, on the other. The mayor’s appearance in City Hall after a couple of weeks of notable absence seemed anticlimactic, partly because he‘s wanted to project a more sober and magisterial image lately, and partly because he was genuinely upstaged by a Latino contingency that he privately didn’t figure would matter much in this race at all. But anybody who knows Compton knows that anything can happen here. Anything does.
Eric Perrodin‘s post-election party at a local VFW post had plenty of Latino supporters, most of them decked out in bright T-shirts advertising their candidate of choice. Garcia’s people made the most noise, but Perrodin‘s are really stoking the fires of revolution: Thanks to the candidate’s own roots in the Catholic Church and to a local priest who preaches civic reform and pastors the two biggest congregations in town, Omar has a real shot at losing this time. The priest, Stan Bosch, showed up at Perrodin‘s fete looking happy but worn; now, he knows, the countdown to the June runoff and the real battle begins.
Eric Perrodin’s brother Percy and friend Hourie Taylor, both formerly of the Compton Police Department, which was dismantled last year by the Bradley administration, had the same look as they walked about in something of a daze, their beers at half-mast. But they toasted the night‘s success along with everyone else, and the air hummed with optimism and brash talk; Eric Perrodin may have taken only 20 percent of the vote, but he did so with no prior political experience and with the sort of grassroots campaign that might get nods for effort but usually doesn’t register with the Compton electorate: an electorate that got reams of glossy Bradley literature and an Election Day blitzkrieg of fire trucks that roared through town with their sirens and bells clamoring, announcing not a fire but a fine opportunity for citizens to turn out at the polls and re-elect the mayor. The publisher of the Compton Bulletin and others immediately complained about the stunt as a traffic hazard and as more waste of taxpayer money — the trucks were rented, but the firemen were Compton employees who had to be replaced by off-duty firefighters who, in turn, had to be paid time and a half. Battalion Chief James Murphy said he was all but forced to sign off on the arrangement; ex–fire chief Milford Fonza, who clashed with Bradley for years before retiring last year and showed up on election night to support the opposition, nodded grimly. The voting booth appears to be the only place left in Compton where a public protest against Bradley has no consequence, but just might have all the consequence in the world.