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Even for Compton, Mudslinging Nears New Political Low

Vote: Anonymous fliers, a doctored photo, a picture of a candidate in drag and rumors of sex harassment are among the nasty tactics raising concerns.

April 03, 2001|JOE MATHEWS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you believe the campaign literature, one contender for Compton's City Council has a live-in lover in Lakewood. Her opponent is a disbarred lawyer. A candidate for mayor likes to wear women's clothing. Another is a Scientologist. Still another lives in Carson. And the current mayor, Omar Bradley, is either a member of the Mexican Mafia, a sexual harasser, a murderer--or some combination of the three.

Compton is rightfully renowned for some of the dirtiest politics in California, but even the city's most hard-bitten observers say they are taken aback by the number and nastiness of this year's attacks.

Most of these allegations--usually unaccompanied by the names of the accusers or supporting documents--come in fliers that have choked mailboxes and covered tables at churches and senior citizens centers all over town in recent weeks.

Finding and distributing the dirt, no matter how unsupported by the facts, has become an industry of sorts. One mayoral candidate says associates spent nearly $20,000 to provide him with raw information for fliers. And city taxpayers--without the knowledge or consent of the whole City Council--are paying thousands of dollars for ads in a recently launched newspaper that praises the mayor and criticizes his foes.

"I have never seen it this bad," said one of the more mild-mannered mayoral candidates in the April 17 election, Eric Perrodin, a deputy district attorney. "The way the rhetoric is going . . . there's a real threat of violence."

All six candidates for mayor decry the sleaze, yet each has tried to benefit from it.

One candidate, Basil Kimbrew, a school board member, said last week that he joined the race more to "get out the truth about the mayor" than to win. City Councilwoman Marcine Shaw, noting a letter that called her a Scientologist (she is a Baptist), declared last week that "I'm hoping that everyone will stop this kind of nonsense"--but in the next breath wondered why the media hadn't reported allegations a particular flier made against one of her opponents.

Some of the attacks are made through unsigned newsletters, with names such as the News and the Truth (both critical of Bradley) and the pro-Bradley Uncle Festus. A second kind are unsigned letters from groups with such names as Concerned Citizens and the Committee of Hispanic Mothers Against Crime. (State law says campaigns must identify themselves in any mass mailing, but that requirement does not apply to door-dropped materials.)

Less frequent are elaborate publications and booklets from longtime critics of the city government, such as High Vines Jr., a local pastor. Vines' latest, "Omar Bradley: The Whole Truth," runs to 76 pages and includes a cover photo of the mayor with a goatee, mustache and extra-long nose drawn in.

Local community newspapers also provide a venue for allegations. The Compton Journal, which is supportive of the mayor and critical of his opponents, began publishing in February, in hopes that campaign advertising would provide a spark to support the weekly in the long term, said Greg Butler, chief executive of the holding company that owns the paper.

In addition to placing campaign ads, the city manager approved the purchase of three full-page ads congratulating the Journal on publishing. Those ads cost the city $4,900, according to checks and records obtained by The Times. Because the check was for less than $5,000, it did not require approval of the City Council, officials said.

"I'm upset. I did not know anything about city money going to the Compton Journal and I'm on the City Council," said Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, a critic of Bradley and a target of the Journal. "But that's how the election is going this year."

Residency and sex are favorite lines of attack. Fliers have questioned the residency of Arceneaux and Kimbrew, as well as that of Bradley-backed council candidate Melanie Andrews. On the sex front, a newsletter and fliers have referred to a picture of Perrodin, the mayoral candidate, dressed in drag. The photograph, circulated by an ally of the mayor, captured a decade-old stunt at a Compton police party, when Perrodin was on the force.

Perhaps the most potentially damaging piece of campaign literature is being circulated this week. The document, delivered to hundreds of homes Sunday and Monday, consists of two pages from a sexual harassment complaint filed last fall with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by a City Hall secretary. Such complaints are private under federal civil rights law. The EEOC investigated, but has made no finding in the case, a lawyer familiar with the matter said.

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