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'Image Thing' Common Aim of Candidates : Politics: Among nine running for two council seats, almost all want to change the perception that the city is run-down and dangerous, and that City Hall is unfriendly.


COMPTON — Like other cities, this one has its problems with graffiti, crime, overworked police and inadequate parks or recreation activities for youngsters with too much time on their hands.

But in the minds of many of its leaders and longtime residents, Compton's biggest problem involves what might be called the "image thing."

"You tell people you live in Compton, and they say, "You must be kidding,' " said Marcine Shaw, a retired senior deputy to former county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.

Shaw is among nine candidates running for two City Council seats. Nearly all of them say that if voters choose them April 20, they will work to change the public perception of Compton as a place of decrepitude and danger.

For example, candidate Vernell McDaniel, a city code enforcement officer, promised to "make Compton a place where people want to come."

Shaw and McDaniel are among the candidates seeking the 2nd District seat left vacant by Councilwoman Patricia Moore, who is running for mayor. They face opposition from former Councilman Floyd James and Lynn Dymally, a member of the Compton Unified School District board.

The 2nd District includes all city territory north of Compton Boulevard and east of Willowbrook Avenue.

In the 3rd Council District, incumbent Bernice Woods faces four challengers: real estate broker Lugene R. Brooks, business owner Fred Cressel, personnel clerk Yvonne Arceneaux, and aerospace engineer-turned-clothing designer Haywood James.

The district covers city territory south of Compton Boulevard and west of Willowbrook.

Although the council candidates must live in the district in which they are running, they are elected at large. In each race, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote to win; otherwise the two top vote-getters will meet in a runoff.

In the quest to polish the city's image, almost all candidates are proposing ways to make Compton look better. They promise to clean up graffiti, crack down on drug houses, fill potholes and pick up litter.

But several of them also say that in order for the city's image to truly change, City Hall must change. Nearly all of the candidates say the city must become a friendlier and more professional place to attract more business and create more citizen involvement. Some say they are ashamed by the public bickering that has dominated city politics, particularly during last spring's riots, when council members were fighting with one another while stores were being robbed and set afire.

Other candidates say residents feel shut out of City Hall and intimidated and ignored by their representatives.

The City Council's recent decision to approve a card casino project as part of a multimillion-dollar entertainment center--without first submitting it to a vote of the people--was the height of arrogance, most of the candidates said.

"The power needs to be put in the hands of the people," Arceneaux said.

Every candidate with the exception of Woods, who voted for the casino project, said that if they had been on the council they would have asked the voters to decide whether the project should be built. However, only Arceneaux has taken a strong stand against the casino, saying, "There are no benefits to gambling." Woods defended her decision, saying she was just doing her job.

"Most of the people I know were for the club," she said. "They elected me to make these kinds of decisions, and we didn't feel we had the money to spend on the ballot question."

For a town in which personal attacks are prevalent during campaign seasons, the races for the council seats have remained remarkably clean. Still, the records of some candidates have sparked questions.

James, for instance, was indicted on several counts of election fraud during his third term in office. In 1987, he pleaded no contest to one charge relating to a campaign mailer that stated his rival, Patricia Moore, had been disqualified from the race. Although that was true, the mailer failed to note that Moore's disqualification was caused by a postal error, and she was quickly reinstated. The other charges against him were dropped.

James explained that the mailer was sent out by his campaign consultant.

"I never saw it before it was sent out," James said. "But, yes, I was responsible, and I will say I was responsible, but in a campaign things like that can happen. There was never any intent to fool or mislead the public."

School board member Dymally also has found herself on the defensive in the wake of recent revelations that the district is in deep financial trouble.

Although she has not responded directly to the issue, her campaign manager contended that Dymally and other school board members cannot be blamed for the school's financial difficulties because they relied on the superintendent and administrators to take control of the day-to-day business of the district.

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