COMPTON — Four chairs sat arm to arm in a boxing ring at this city's YMCA. Each had a name taped to it.
The occasion was a scheduled forum featuring the four candidates for two city council seats in Compton's June 4 runoff election. The discussion turned out to be rather one-sided when only the incumbents showed up, but the setting was appropriate to a race characterized by all participants as an unusually bitter one.
The incumbents, Floyd James and Robert Adams--councilmen in Districts 2 and 3 respectively--are fighting for their political lives on the premise that Compton has made major strides under their leadership.
They are backed by Mayor Walter Tucker, who easily won reelection in the April 16 primary.
The challengers, Patricia Moore and Emily Hart-Holifield, are charging that important areas of civic concern have gone begging while the councilmen have demonstrated little sensitivity to the city's problems.
"I know the caliber of the person I'm facing," said Moore, who is challenging James in District 2. "He cannot stand on his record."
Said Hart-Holifield, Adams's opponent in District 3, "We're sick and tired" of the leadership provided by the likes of Adams.
Both challengers ran narrowly ahead of the incumbents in the primary.
Incumbents See 'Bossism'
Adams and James counter by characterizing the challengers' campaigns as attempts to impose outside "bossism" on local goverment in the person of the Congressmen Mervyn Dymally (D--Compton), who backs both challengers. "It would be totally unfair" for such an attempt to succeed, said James.
Between the personal barbs and insults, however, some real issues seen to have emerged. From the challengers' points of view, they fall roughly into the areas of development, unemployment and crime.
The challengers say that while several major projects have come to the city under the tutelage of the present City Council, they have been attracted only by the "give-away" of Compton land--by deals in which the developers get land at prices lower than assessed value.
As an example, both cite a Compton Boulevard shopping center built on land they say was assessed at $1.5 million but sold to a developer for $500,000. As a result, they say, the developer, Compton Development Corp., reaped huge profits with dubious benefit to the city's people.
"Compton should not be in the business of giving its land away," said Moore, 36, who works part-time as an aide to Dymally and is president of the city's United Council of Block Clubs.
Hart-Holifield, 44, a special-education teacher and member of the Compton College Board of Trustees, has said of the commercial project, "Someone really gained, but it wasn't the community."
Land Prices at Issue
While the incumbents admit that land has been sold for less than assessed value, they say it was done to attract developers to Compton. They say the city will be compensated by increased property tax revenues and employment.
"I'd rather see the downtown area operating with some retail stores in it than with nothing," said Adams, 53, a councilman since 1977 and owner of two funeral homes. "The shopping center will be here for years to come--we've never given anything away."
James, 44, said Moore's criticism showed a lack of "knowledge or concept about how you use a redevelopment area to build your city."
Regarding unemployment, the challengers charge the incumbents with failing to insist that developers employ local workers in their projects and with doing little to provide training and incentive for the city's unemployed youth.
Regarding crime, Moore and Hart-Holifield both charge their opponents with presiding over a city whose police department is slow to respond to problems, particularly in the area of drug abuse.
"Cocaine is taking over our city," Moore said.
Hart-Holifield added, "We need to sit down and give some goals to our police department."
James and Adams say the police are shutting down as many as two cocaine "rock houses" a day, and that crime in the city has lessened.
On the subject of unemployment, the incumbents say they have enforced affirmative-action ordinances requiring Compton developers to hire at least 27% of their work force locally.
Dymally Is Issue
Much of the criticism, the incumbents say, stems from what they characterize as an attempt by Dymally to impose outside "bossism" on Compton.
"It's clear to me that Dymally wants control of this city," said James, the owner of a local dry cleaning business who, like Adams, has been on the council since 1977.
Although Dymally has supported him in the past, James said, it was in name only. "He wasn't giving me money and running my campaign," the councilman said.
"When Dymally puts money into Pat Moore's campaign, who do you think she will listen to? Definitely not the citizens of Compton. If Merv tells her to jump, she'll jump."