COMPTON — In a blaze of prayers and commemorative plaques, Compton residents sent a native son off to Congress this week with a farewell party whose main themes were forgiveness and hope.
Walter R. Tucker III served less than two years as mayor of Compton, but in that time he saw city budgets slashed by the state, a riot that caused about $100 million in damage to the city and a council so divided that its meetings sometimes descended into bickering matches.
"Some say I didn't serve long enough to get my seat warm," Tucker, 35, said during his last council meeting Tuesday. "But believe you me, this seat got plenty hot at times."
In the past year, other council members voted to take away Tucker's city-leased car, saying he used it to distribute campaign literature, and created a policy forbidding council members to hold individual press conferences when it seemed as if Tucker was grabbing the media spotlight after the riots.
But at a Tuesday night party at the city-managed Ramada Hotel, all the old differences seemed to be set aside as city officials and residents gathered to wish Tucker well.
Even council members Bernice Woods and Omar Bradley--two members of the three-person majority who were at odds with Tucker most of the time--attended the party with words of reconciliation and unity.
"Walter is a capable young man, no matter how we have differed on the issues in the past," Bradley said. "Most importantly, we finally have someone from our community representing our community."
A 90-minute conversation about two weeks ago between Bradley and Tucker mended many of their differences, said Bradley, who has announced his candidacy for mayor in the April elections. Tucker's one ally on the council, Patricia A. Moore, also has indicated that she will run for mayor.
Until the election, Tucker's council seat will remain open, officials said.
The crowd at this week's party revealed much about the coalition that helped Tucker win his congressional seat.
Packed into a large conference room at the Ramada were about 300 residents representing the city's ministry, up-and-coming community leaders and the elderly.
As the various groups presented Tucker with commemorative plaques, each expressed a confidence that he will not forget where he came from, despite the bright lights of Washington.
"I'm happy for his sake to have this advancement," said Dorothy Mae Kelley, a 30-year Compton resident and a member of the Tragniew West Senior Citizen's group. "But we'll miss him. We always knew he loved the seniors."
Kelley's group, along with 11 other senior citizens groups ranging from the Swinging Singles to the Forensic Club drama group, presented Tucker with a plaque thanking him for his service to the community.
"I'm elated that he made it," said former Councilman Robert Adams, who served from 1977-88, part of that time with Tucker's father. "This district will have some true representation now, someone you can lay your hands on."
Although retiring Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally has kept an office in Compton, he lives in Ladera Heights, said KrisBailey, Tucker's spokeswoman. Tucker was elected to replace Dymally even though he was outspent 4 to 1 by Dymally's daughter, Lynn, in the primary.
Tucker was born and raised in Compton. He attended Princeton University and USC, where he graduated with honors, before earning a law degree from Georgetown Law School. Tucker worked as a substitute teacher in Compton before becoming a prosecutor with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He worked as a private attorney during his tenure as mayor.
For many party-goers, Tucker was more important as a symbol--a young, Christian, African-American leader--than the sum of his accomplishments. It is important, 33-year-old businessman Reginald Beamon said, that Compton residents be able to look at their federal representative and say, "He looks like me."
"Him being elected presents a ray of hope to the community. He's a young man, a praying, God-fearing man, and he succeeded," Beamon said.
Many speculated that Tucker, whose family has been called the Kennedys of Compton, could go much further with his political ambitions. The sentiment has not been lost on Tucker, who once described himself as "one of those snotty-nosed kids who said he was going to be the first black President of the United States."
But Tuesday night, over finger sandwiches, Swedish meatballs and potato skins, Tucker concentrated on what he has accomplished rather than further advancement.
During the June primary season, Tucker was hit by the opposition and his fellow council members for spending so little time in the mayor's chair before seeking higher office. But during his 20 months as mayor, Tucker likes to point out, his accomplishments were measurable: He brought together leaders of the city's various ethnic groups for a "unity summit," established a youth commission and a youth services center and lobbied hard to see that longstanding negotiations for a job training center came to fruition.
The freshman representative has been selected for two congressional committees: Transportation and Small Business. And he announced, with some elation, that he won a low number in a lottery drawing and secured one of the better offices in the Capitol.
Tucker will be sworn in as a member of Congress on Jan. 5. He, his wife, Robin, and their two young children are searching for a new home in the capital.