If any one word can be applied to Walter R. Tucker III, the congressman from Compton who was indicted Thursday for bribery and income tax evasion, it would have to be resilient.
Not only did he survive a scandalous legal transgression that would have buried most--he thrived.
In 1988, Tucker, a former prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, was charged with tampering with the date on photographs he was using as evidence in a narcotics case in an effort to cover up his having withheld the evidence from the defense.
Tucker, who was fired from his job, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges and spent three years on probation.
But instead of disappearing from sight, Tucker went on to win two high-profile political offices in quick succession. In April, 1991, Tucker beat out older, more politically experienced opponents to become the youngest mayor in Compton's history.
A year later, he ran for Congress--much to the dismay of many in Compton--and won an even more steeply uphill Democratic primary race. He dodged constant attacks on his controversial past and beat out Lynn Dymally, the heir apparent to the seat long held by her father, Mervyn Dymally.
So far, Tucker, the scion of a prominent political family, has held his own in the confrontational, all-elbows world of Compton politics. Handsome, articulate and well-educated--two years at Princeton University, a bachelor's degree from USC, a law degree from Georgetown University--the 37-year-old politician has cultivated fans and created enemies.
During the riots in 1992, he earned praise for his eloquent comments about social injustice and was attacked as an opportunist looking for media attention. "Television whore" was the term the retiring Mervyn Dymally used in the heat of the congressional campaign.
Shortly before he ran for mayor, Tucker became a nondenominational minister and often sprinkled his comments at council meetings with religious blessings and offers to pray for people. Today, he is a nondenominational associate minister at the Bread of Life Christian Center in Carson. Tucker voluntarily became an inactive lawyer in 1992, remaining in good standing with the State Bar.
He and his wife, Robin, have two children, Walter Rayford IV (born in 1986) and Autumn Monet (born in 1988). Tucker listed his wife as an employee in the Compton city manager's office on the financial disclosure statement he filed with the city clerk in January, 1993.
In the past, there has been no shortage of praise or acrimony heaped upon Tucker. Danny Bakewell, leader of the Brotherhood Crusade, a community organization, once said: "He represents a new breed of African American men."
And Bernice Woods, a Tucker critic and former Compton City Councilwoman, commenting two years ago on Tucker's surprising congressional primary victory, mused: "All I know is that the devil does reign sometime."
In answer to his critics, a chastened Tucker said in a 1992 interview that he had learned his lesson: "How many times did I have to relive that mistake I made six years ago? Experience has taught me that no matter how zealous you are, you cannot do things at the expense of the rules."
But Thursday few people, critics or supporters, were talking about Tucker as he faced his newest legal and political problem. A call to the home of Tucker's mother was not returned.
Tucker comes from something of a political dynasty that has been likened to the Kennedys writ small. The Tuckers have remained fixtures--charismatic and checkered--in Compton.
The congressman's father, Walter R. Tucker Jr., was a respected dentist who served on Compton's school board and City Council and later as its mayor. A staunch supporter of the city as it wrestled with increasing poverty and gang violence, the elder Tucker died of cancer in 1990, midway through his third term as mayor.
The congressman's mother, Martha, has suffered her own legal problems. A former teacher and entrepreneur, she was accused of defrauding eight clients of nearly $300,000 in a real estate scheme.
Martha Tucker, who has said she was "left holding the bag" in what she thought was a legitimate real estate deal, pleaded no contest to three counts of grand theft and was ordered to pay a fine.
Tucker also has a younger brother, Kenneth, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Compton in 1993, as well as two sisters. The Tuckers still maintain an elegant, high-ceilinged house in Compton that draws all the family members back from time to time.
The answering machine at that home Thursday greeted callers with the following: "Today's message is how beautiful are the feet of those who spread the gospel. Leave your message at the beep and God bless."