One day at the height of last spring's municipal election campaign, four people gathered at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to talk about improving the chances that Compton City Councilman Floyd A. James would win a second term.
Those attending were the 44-year-old James, his political consultant Roderick Wright, prominent Compton developer Danny Bakewell and powerful state Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).
As Waters would later testify to the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, the strategy session was "a general meeting to talk about . . . how we were going to raise money, what the campaign was going to do, a general overall campaign meeting."
One idea captured everyone's imagination, Waters testified. She said the idea was to drum up support by giving voters a free record album featuring a fiery speech by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a national leader who enjoys particular popularity in Compton, where three-fourths of the residents are black.
As a veteran political candidate and campaigner, Waters said, "I thought it was a good idea."
Indeed, albums were offered in late May by the James campaign. Yet, how it affected the race is unclear. History only shows that after James was nearly defeated outright in the April 16 primary, finishing second to barely force a runoff, he won a sweeping victory in the June 4 general election by a margin of almost 2 to 1.
Because the albums were allegedly distributed in a way that Waters said "just isn't done"--in return for a promise of votes--James and Wright now face election-fraud charges that could not only oust the councilman from office but also send both men to state prison for as much as nine years if they are convicted.
Since being indicted in December, James and Wright have pleaded innocent, charging that the whole matter is a mix-up over interpretations of state election law. They are scheduled to appear on Thursday before Los Angeles Municipal Judge Xenophon F. Lang for a preliminary hearing.
James could not be reached for comment. But his attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., said, "I believe he's innocent of these charges and there's a good likelihood that we'll establish that."
Wright's attorney, Gerald Chaleff, added that his client "doesn't believe he has done anything wrong."
At Thursday's hearing, Deputy Dist. Atty. Candace J. Beason is expected to outline the evidence against the two political figures, much of which shows up in grand jury testimony released last week to The Times and other members of the public.
Aside from painting a rare behind-the-scenes portrait of a political campaign in motion, the grand jury testimony sheds light on the role that Waters played in the bitter election, which affected a city not even in her 48th Assembly District. Her participation is doubly interesting because James had repeatedly accused his council opponent, Patricia A. Moore, of being a shill for the "machine politics" of Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton), often thought to be at political odds with Waters.
"Merv and I get along much better than most people think," Waters said last week when contacted by The Times. "People like intrigue . . . (it) makes for good political gossip." As for her presence in the James campaign, Waters explained, "Being a black woman, I am called on all over the State of California, and this is what it boils down to." While she likes James "as a human being," she said she was not driven to back him by any shared political philosophy. And the fact that Dymally had endorsed the councilman's opponent "certainly would not be my high motivation for getting involved."
(The assemblywoman's son, Edward K. Waters, is among 10 Democrats vying for the 54th District Assembly seat being relinquished by Bellflower Democrat Frank Vicencia, the speaker pro tem. The district includes a portion of Compton. Two former Dymally aides are also in the race.)
James and Wright are accused of passing out albums to voters only if they promised to cast a ballot for James. Seven Compton residents told the grand jury that they had received a campaign mailer informing them of the offer and announcing that James had purportedly been endorsed by Jackson. Each said they responded by going to James' headquarters on Compton Boulevard, signing a pledge card and picking up their albums, sometimes in the presence of James himself.
"When I went in I showed them my piece of paper, she (a campaign worker) had me to sign it, she gave me the record, I waved at the man in the back, who was Mr. James, and I went on home, put my record on and played it," resident Otis Evans testified.
'People Respect Jackson'
Added Francesca M. Houpe, a Compton word-processing teacher: "A lot of people respect Jesse Jackson. And to get that album would have been a very good thing for them. And it was a powerful injustice (against challenger Moore), I felt."