Photo by Ted Soqui
In anything-goes Compton politics, the fantastic has happened again: Mayor Omar Bradley has been defeated. Not only that, he was defeated by an opponent with virtually no name recognition in a place that doesn’t suffer anonymity. Everybody thought Eric Perrodin was a long shot, even the candidate. Though it was cast from the beginning as a campaign of bold new ideas and change, Perrodin’s run for mayor was always held together with spit and glue and more than a little prayer. (Just ask Father Stan Bosch, a reformist priest and ardent Perrodin supporter who summed up his candidate’s victory last week with a line of Scripture, “The Lord has lifted up the lowly.”) It was a David-and-Goliath battle between Mayor Omar Bradley’s frighteningly efficient political machine and Perrodin’s no-frills sincerity, between cold ambition and the passionate but notoriously unsteady heat of reform. Last Tuesday, in the big shadow of the L.A. mayoral runoff in which the establishment prevailed, Compton’s little guy won; nobody was more surprised than the little guy himself. “The hardest adjustment for me will be getting used to the spotlight,” said Perrodin a couple of days after his victory, still with an air of incredulity. “I’m a private person. Omar wasn’t.”
To say the least. It came as a shock to many that on June 30 the city will no longer be represented by the high-profile and hijinks-prone Bradley, whose antics over his 8 years as mayor became so synonymous with Compton, it started to feel as if he came with the place. It also became assumed that those who mounted challenges against him would fail, because they always did. Not this time. And not only did he lose, so did all the candidates he backed in this runoff — two for council and one for city treasurer. If beating Bradley felt dubious, beating his entire slate was unthinkable. Perhaps the only force that could beat the mayor — other than God, of course — was the mayor himself, which was what many Compton observers say happened this time out. It was Bradley who sparked and then fanned the flames of civic discontent last year when he led a move to dissolve the Police Department despite public unease about it; that was followed by a similarly undemocratic decision to award the city’s lucrative trash-collection contract to a guy with no real experience in the sanitation business but with close ties to the mayor. Money had been funny in Compton for a long time, but the general population was starting to recognize just how funny it was, and if the trend didn’t change, Compton was going to find itself bankrupt sooner than the state could restore control of its school district to the locals. The state, which has been reluctant anyway to give the district back since it began the process earlier this year, would have ample reason to change its mind.
And then there was Bradley’s sordid campaign against Eric Perrodin that will surely have a special place in the long annals of Compton infamy; James Hahn wielding a crack pipe over the integrity of Antonio Villaraigosa had nothing on this one. Throughout the primary, and especially as the June runoff approached, Bradley attacked Perrodin for being a cross-dresser. Or a gay man, an exotic dancer, a transsexual, or some combination thereof, and in any case not a man fit to be mayor. (Perrodin, for the record, is none of the above, though he rightly pointed out that his sexual preference should be irrelevant to his political qualifications. Ten years ago, as a Compton police officer, he performed as RuPaul in a skit that was part of the department’s annual Christmas benefit that raised money to purchase toys for needy children. Hence the source of the rumors.) Even this might have been dismissed as so many outrageous allegations of the sort that Bradley tends to level against his “enemies,” but the stakes were high this time, so the mayor pushed harder. The weekend before the runoff, anonymous brochures titled the “Compton Enquirer” began circulating around town. The brochure flaunted the RuPaul photos and accused Perrodin, among other things, of being a bachelor, of “performing for hundreds of hungry, lusty men,” of wearing his mother’s pearls, of wanting to be a woman and preparing for a sex-change operation. Thousands of these brochures were mailed, left on car windows and distributed near churches on Sunday — a jab at the organized coalition of pastors who have long been asking for civic accountability and who opposed Bradley’s re-election. The pastors, and the Compton electorate, were not amused.
Perrodin is happy with the outcome, if stunned, though his optimism is tempered by the very big job — bigger and more daunting than the campaign — that lies ahead. His first order of business will be an independent audit of city finances, which he doesn’t expect will yield good news. He will have to contend with a new balance of power on the City Council, with shifting allegiances, with the fate of officials in City Hall who were loyal to Bradley. Nor is the outgoing mayor leaving quietly: In a close election decided by just over 200 votes, Bradley is claiming election fraud and marshaling legal forces. Compton City Clerk Charles Davis, whose office oversaw the election, says he was the first to catch hell from the mayor, who accused him of robbing him of victory and later went down to the county Recorder’s Office to make some more noise. Bradley will have lots of time on his hands, because he is also out of another job — his fat contract as an administrator with the Lynwood school district was not renewed. Perhaps anticipating his bad fortune, the mayor announced during the campaign that he was angling to head the Compton school district, but the Compton school board, in its first act as an official body in eight years, recently announced that it is on the verge of hiring a superintendent, and it won’t be Bradley.
The prospect of an idle Bradley and an uncertain Compton is unsettling, but it doesn’t dampen the jubilance and sense of relief around town that is still evident among the reformists. Eric’s brother Percy, who ran the campaign out of his home in Long Beach, reports that a Compton city worker came up to him after the election and said, “‘Lincoln freed the slaves, and Perrodin freed the employees.’” Compton booster Ellis Cooke said, “We couldn’t have hoped for anything more.” And Father Bosch and his fellow clergy are planning some days of praising — and more bouts of prayer. Though he has his concerns from here on in, Bosch marvels at the sea change. “We have much to do, but in this tiny little place, Compton, big things are happening,” he said. “The isolation is finally breaking.”