COMPTON — About 100 residents showed up for an afternoon City Council meeting Tuesday in response to a mass postcard mailing announcing that the council was going to try to "sneak" through a vote to allow card parlors in the city.
The issue was not on the council agenda, and puzzled city officials said they did not know what prompted the postcards, which began arriving last Saturday in mailboxes across the city. The cards, which featured a cartoon of three snarling dogs labeled as gaming interests, urged residents to attend the meeting to voice their opposition to gambling and its alleged ties to "criminals, prostitutes, loan sharks and other undesirables."
The origin of the postcards is a mystery. They bore no name and no return address. The postal permit number on the cards belongs to USA Direct Mail, a North Hollywood firm. Rafael Rodriquez, who identified himself over the telephone as co-owner of the firm, declined to reveal who hired USA to send the post cards.
The gambling issue has been dormant for years in Compton, but recently, rumors have been circulating that gaming interests have approached the city, which is struggling to stay solvent, about opening clubs there.
City Manager Howard Caldwell acknowledged that the city has recently received about three proposals for card clubs and bingo parlors, including one from John Mgrdichian, who owns Murcole Inc., the city's trash hauling firm. He is also an investor in a Commerce card casino.
Caldwell insisted after the meeting that he has no position on gambling and would only make a recommendation if asked to do so by the council. However, he prepared a written statement describing the postcard deluge as "an obvious scare tactic" of "outside" gaming interests.
"Gambling interests in other cities do not want Compton to make money doing what they do: playing cards," Caldwell said. The statement was was reproduced and handed out at the council meeting.
Some gaming interests have reportedly been eyeing the city's failing auto mall next to the former Compton Lazben Hotel, which recently joined the Ramada hotel chain. Two auto showrooms are empty, their owners having gone bankrupt more than a year ago.
Gaming interests have gained a foothold in other cities by promising hefty revenues to fill meager public purses. And Compton's purse is all but empty, with city officials now acknowledging that their redevelopment projects have failed to generate sufficient tax money to help balance the city's budget.
The city is expected to have a $9-million budget shortfall in the 1991-92 fiscal year, which begins July 1, Caldwell said. During the Tuesday meeting, the council told Caldwell to begin considering alternatives to maintaining the city's Fire Department. One alternative, for example, would be signing a contract with Los Angeles County to provide fire protection.
Though there was no vote Tuesday on gambling, the issue may surface again as the city's budget woes mount and municipal elections approach next year.
Council members Maxcy D. Filer and Patricia A. Moore, who have announced plans to run for mayor in the April election, said they strongly oppose gambling. "We can't handle the Crips and the Bloods. I don't see how we can handle organized crime," Moore said, drawing loud applause from residents who crowded into the council chambers.
Councilwoman Bernice Woods, another mayoral aspirant, said she would support a ballot measure to let the voters decide. Councilwoman Jane Robbins, who has announced plans to seek reelection, said she would want to see the actual wording of a proposed gambling referendum before making a decision.
The council approved a gambling ballot measure in 1982, but the decision triggered so much opposition from residents that the council rescinded its vote a few weeks later.
Two other candidates for city offices also said they oppose gambling.
Walter R. Tucker Jr., son of the late mayor who died of cancer last month, said he does not support gambling and would be inclined to oppose a ballot issue. Tucker has announced plans to run for mayor.
Political consultant Basil Kimbrew, who plans to challenge Robbins for a council seat, said he opposes gambling, and, if necessary, would use his own money to pay for mailers urging voters to reject card clubs or bingo parlors. "It's bad for the city; it's going to bring prostitution," Kimbrew said.
Marie Blount, who moved to Compton 30 years ago, echoed the sentiments of many in the audience. "I'm in favor of anything that will give us more taxes, but I'm against gambling because we have enough problems," she said.