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11 Candidates Jockey for Position in City Treasurer's Race : Elections: Some are trying to gain an edge by boasting of ties to Wesley Sanders Jr., who held the post for 20 years until his death.


COMPTON — Every four years for the last 20, Wesley Sanders Jr. ran for city treasurer, and each time he won with such ease that everyone figured he'd hold the post as long as he wanted it.

When he died last year, it created an opportunity few thought they would see. So many people rushed to file papers for his seat that, as local wags tell it, they raised a cloud of dust that could be seen from downtown Los Angeles.

An unprecedented 11 people, including one write-in candidate, are vying for the $75,000-a-year job. When the polls open April 20, voters will have their pick from a field including several business owners, a bank loan officer, two former Compton police officers and a board member of the Compton Unified School District.

Each candidate boasts of a proven track record. But, perhaps hoping that a little of the Sanders' winning touch will rub off, several are emphasizing their ties to the well-liked treasurer. There's Douglas Sanders, Wesley's son, who promises to carry on his father's legacy. And Saul E. Lankster, a cable show producer who says he is the only candidate supported by Wesley Sanders' widow (who is Douglas Sanders' stepmother). And Patricia Moore-Dees, a city business license inspector who points out that she is the only candidate who worked day-to-day with Wesley Sanders. And Richard Bonner, a businessman whose ballot statement notes that for five years he "walked and talked" daily with the late treasurer. There's even a retired teacher named Earlean Sanders, whom Douglas Sanders notes, with some irritation, is no relation.

"Vote DOUGLAS Sanders, DOUGLAS Sanders, DOUGLAS Sanders," he said pointedly at a recent candidates forum.

Whoever wins will become the custodian of public funds--in Compton's case about $93 million this year. The treasurer does not decide how the money is spent. That's the job of the city manager and council. But the treasurer does sign all checks and is responsible for keeping track of all the money the city receives and spends. The official is also responsible for making sure that businesses are properly licensed.

Perhaps the treasurer's biggest duty is deciding which banks to use and how the city will invest its money. As of Feb. 26, the city had $20 million invested in such things as short-term certificates of deposit and so-called commercial paper, which are short-term loans given to corporations. The largest single investment, about $8 million, is part of a portfolio of investments from local agencies that is managed by the state treasurer, according to a city treasurer's report.

All candidates have promised that they will invest the city's money safely, in places where it will earn a high interest rate and will be easily accessible. In fact, they have little choice. State law and the City Charter severely restrict where and how public funds may be invested. The security of the investment is the No. 1 priority.

However, the issue of where the city should do its banking has become a sensitive one in the campaign. The city keeps a bank account for its day-to-day business at Queen City Bank in Long Beach. Its payroll account is at a Bank of America branch in Compton. Several candidates have argued that the city should keep its money in Compton banks. Besides Bank of America, the other banks in Compton are Capital Bank, Sanwa Bank and Founders National Bank.

"My philosophy is that we need to bring money into our area so that the local banks can have the money to lend to our citizens and our community," said Eartha Wilson, a loan officer at Compton's Capital Bank, who is running as a write-in candidate.

In fact, the City Charter states that "terms, interest and services being equal," preference should be given to local banks. However, some candidates say that where the city keeps its money is not what is important, but whether that institution recycles it back into the community.

"I'm not going to tolerate putting $50 million in the Bank of Whatever if we (in Compton) can't get a loan there," said Royce Esters, a businessman who owns a bookkeeping and tax consultant business and who is president of the Compton branch of the NAACP.

Most of the other candidates are sounding the same message, particularly those who own small businesses. Nearly all have said that one of their priorities is to do business with banks that will provide low-interest and small-business loans to Compton residents and business owners. They all agree that the city treasurer's office should be more diligent in policing tax collections and in issuing business licenses.

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