Former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley, left, speaks at a mayoral candidates'… (Barbara Davidson )
Compton voters head to the polls Tuesday morning to cast their ballots for the next mayor in a crucial election for a city that has struggled with a $40-million deficit.
Twelve candidates are vying to become Compton's chief executive, including former Mayor Omar Bradley whose conviction on corruption charges was overturned last year. Prosecutors plan to retry him. Bradley's next court date is eight days away.
[For the record, 12:16 p.m. April 16: An earlier version of this post said there were 11 candidates; there are 12.]
Bradley is part of a crowded field running for Compton mayor. The slate includes Rodney Allen Rippy, a former child star who appeared in Jack in the Box commercials in the 1970s; B. Kwaku Duren, a civil rights attorney who once organized with the Black Panthers; ex-Compton City Clerk Charles Davis, who testified against Bradley in his first trial; and William Kemp and Lynn Boone, a pair of longtime Compton activists who have launched repeated recall attempts against the current mayor, Eric Perrodin.
The election comes as Compton faces a crossroads. The city, once notorious for violent crime and blight, has seen crime — particularly homicide — plummet over the last decade. There has also been much-needed economic development. But a financial meltdown at City Hall threatened that progress.
Two years ago, the general fund had run up a $40-million deficit because for years, officials had raided the city's water, sewer and retirement funds when the general fund ran short on cash. The city laid off 15% of its employees and cut back on services such as graffiti removal, tree trimming and street maintenance.
Against this backdrop, Bradley is trying to make his return to the roughly $60,000-a-year job. Along with 10 other challengers running against current Mayor Perrodin, Bradley argues it's time for sweeping change in Compton.
"I want to take you on a magic carpet ride 12 years ago," Bradley said at a mayoral candidate forum last month. "I want you to imagine the streets of Compton in 2001. Do you see any pot holes? I want you to imagine the trees in Compton in 2001. Were they trimmed? I want you to think about the layoffs that are occurring now and the deficit now, and I want you to ask yourself, was it happening then?"
The city's last mayoral election had a different atmosphere, in which three candidates ran and less than 12% of registered voters turned out.
Compton's demographics — and voting system — have changed.
In 2010, Compton was sued by a group that claimed the city's at-large election system violated Latino residents' rights by diluting their voting power. As a result, the city adopted a new by-district City Council voting system that could give Latino candidates a better chance of getting elected (the mayor will still be elected at large).
Latinos now make up about two-thirds of the city's population, but they are still outnumbered by blacks among registered voters.
Latino residents said they were hopeful of getting representation. But some questioned whether the community would turn out and vote, or if their vote would be divided by multiple Latino candidates running for the two council seats.