COMPTON — There is a new downtown shopping center, an upscale hotel rising beside the freeway and--where slum housing once stood--the first major single-family home construction in four decades.
But the drive for redevelopment in Compton has made still another mark, this one on the city's political landscape: Over the past two years, dozens of builders, bankers, attorneys and businesses have been filling City Council campaign coffers at a record rate.
Drawing a modest $14,400 a year for their part-time public service, council members had historically maintained campaign funds of a few thousand dollars at most.
Yet a Times study shows that since 1985 about $262,000 has been received by or on behalf of the three officials who consistently form the decision-making majority--Mayor Walter R. Tucker, Councilman Robert L. Adams and Councilman Floyd A. James.
The same contributors, meanwhile, have given virtually no money to veteran Councilman Maxcy D. Filer, a frequent critic of redevelopment firms, and nothing at all to Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins, even though she usually sides with the majority. Filer and Robbins are up for reelection next month and expect to campaign on contributions of less than $4,000 each.
Tucker and James did not return calls seeking their comment over the last two weeks. Adams said flatly that campaign contributions have never influenced his council vote, although he recognizes that some givers "do lobby for what they want. They have ulterior motives. Some of them would want us to look favorably on them, developers and others."
But, Adams continued, "The voters put you in office, and the majority of voters in Compton, they're not able to give large contributions . . . My decisions on the City Council are made on behalf of 90,000 people (who live in the city). I do not deal with special interests."
Adams said he, Tucker and James may have attracted some financial support because "this city has improved so greatly" in recent years.
"The people who are in business and participating in this community, I think that they feel they owe it to us for good government," Adams said. "There was over 1,000 homes boarded up in this city. We had a boarded-up downtown area. Now, it seems to be a city on the move, and this is one of the reasons they are contributing to us."
Robbins said she is disturbed by the heavy contributions and sees no need to build a large campaign fund. Robbins said she does not hold the kind of testimonial fund-raisers held by Tucker, Adams and James. "The other council people, if that's what they want to do that's fine. But as far as I'm concerned, I don't think the people in this city can stand these kinds of things, and I don't think we should spend that kind of money on an election."
Filer said he hopes that no council member has ever been influenced by a campaign contribution, but "from a circumstantial evidence standpoint of how they (Tucker, Adams and James) vote, you would have to think that . . . Just look around and see what (some contributors) have gotten, that's all you have to do."
The Times study, based on state-required campaign finance reports and economic interest statements prepared by the council majority, tallied approximately 300 contributions from 160 firms or individuals. But more than half the money came from a few dozen contributors who either hold long-term city contracts or have benefited from the redevelopment that Tucker, Adams and James have championed.
The records also show that council members have paid sizable amounts of contribution money to friends or relatives employed in their campaigns and sometimes pooled their funds on a scale unusual for Compton, where the cost of city politics has risen faster and farther than in neighboring cities of similar size.
The largest contributors to the three council members include:
- AFCOM, of Seal Beach, which combined with board chairman William Dawson to give $30,049. The firm developed 291 units in Compton's Sunny Cove town house project with the backing of $22 million in city-sponsored mortgage revenue bonds, records show. The council also helped AFCOM pay the commitment fee needed to obtain the bonds by loaning the firm nearly $1 million in 1984.
The AFCOM-related contributions include $6,500 to Tucker, $9,826 to Adams and $13,723 to James.
"Obviously," Dawson explained, "it's because they've been supportive of our cause in the main. And I don't mean to exclude the others (Filer and Robbins) from that. I believe these people sincerely, over the six or seven years we've been (in Compton), have made a real effort at turning this city around and have accomplished a great deal. We think we've accomplished a great deal" at Sunny Cove by "turning what had been a ghetto into a shiny new family neighborhood.
"Frankly, I think every other developer who has done business in Compton has received more breaks," Dawson concluded. "We didn't have the advantage of being in a redevelopment district."