Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Compton mayor election pits two-time former mayor Omar Bradley against urban planner Aja Brown

Omar Bradley, who served as Compton's mayor from 1993 to 2001, is on the ballot again for mayor. The election is June 4.
Omar Bradley, who served as Compton's mayor from 1993 to 2001, is on the ballot again for mayor. The election is June 4.
Sharon McNary/KPCC
Omar Bradley, who served as Compton's mayor from 1993 to 2001, is on the ballot again for mayor. The election is June 4.
Aja Brown, candidate for Compton Mayor at Wilson Park.
Sharon McNary/KPCC
Omar Bradley, who served as Compton's mayor from 1993 to 2001, is on the ballot again for mayor. The election is June 4.
Ben Graham, aspiring rapper who has experienced both jail and a gunshot in his 17 years, at Wilson Park in Compton
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Compton's voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose their first new mayor in 12 years. The election pits two-time former mayor Omar Bradley against Aja Brown, a community development consultant.

Brown, 31, held city economic development jobs in Compton, Gardena and Inglewood before starting her own firm two years ago. She says many of Compton's basic planning, zoning and strategic plans must be rewritten to attract new investment.

"We see so much mismatch of land uses, but it's because our policies are so outdated that we have no legal mechanism to enforce the type of development that we need," she said.

Brown moved to Compton in 2009 after growing up in Altadena. Her mother had moved the family away from Compton in the early 70s after Brown's grandmother was killed there in a home invasion.

During an interview in Wilson Park, in view of her home and church, Brown said crime remains an issue. Compton has the highest rate of violent crimes and murders among cities in the Los Angeles region, according to FBI crime statistics.

Bradley, 54,  served as Compton's mayor from 1993 to 2001.  He dismissed Brown's focus on planning.  "As she says, 'Well I'm going to modernize the building code.' Okay, how many shootings do you think that's gonna stop? It's not that kind of job," he said.

 Bradley, 54, was recovering from recent heart surgery at home on a street where his extended family once lived. He walked out to the front lawn and pointed at house after house, naming the relatives who lived in each one.

"You could run from my dad's house to my grandpa's house, to my uncle's house, to my brother's house, to my auntie's house to my grandmother's house,  and you would be in a block," he said.

Over time, however, many of them moved away. He lost his own house to the debt he accrued defending himself on criminal charges of misappropriating city funds that were brought by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office. He was convicted of a felony charge, but an appeals court overturned it.

Bradley wants to bootstrap his hometown's economy by putting a thousand young people ---including those with gang ties or criminal records --  to work painting curbs and planting median strips.

"When we give everybody a well and clear-defined part, and give them the resources to play a part in the redevelopment of Compton, it will blossom very quickly," he said.

But now he's got a lot to overcome: he finished second to Brown in the primary by 91 votes. He also faces retrial on the misappropriation of funds charge after the election.

Brown said she takes no joy in Bradley's legal woes, but public servants should have, "a track record of being trustworthy and being respectable and being able to move the community forward without a negative light."

Prominent African-American officeholders such as County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and Assemblyman Isadore Hall are backing Brown, along with the LA County Federation of Labor.

Bradley discounts those endorsements as coming from outsiders who don't have Compton's independence at heart.  

In his ballot statement, Bradley accuses Brown of being party to a secret plot by regional powers who want to confiscate the city's water supply and dissolve Compton's fire department. The county sheriff's department  took over policing here a decade ago.

"Interest in controlling Compton is more than just dictating  who the law enforcement agency is. It's about the natural resources that sit under this land," Bradley said.

Brown dismissed that claim as conspiracy theory. "I take it as a compliment when people have to make up things because they obviously can't find any negative track record within my history or negative underlying issue of why I want to serve my community."

Longtime Compton resident Royce Esters is president of the National Association for Equal Justice in America.   He said neither candidate has been fully active in Compton civic groups.

"I'm looking for a community mayor, one that gets involved in their community. I haven't seen that yet," he said.

According to Esters, crime remains a problem but the falling murder rate means the city must improve basic services, like filling the many potholes on Compton boulevard, trimming trees and rounding up dangerous stray dogs.  Esters says that the next mayor will need to get neighborhood groups and businesses to work together for the city's improvement.

"Its an 'I' syndrome, but not a 'we.' Community before self, that never happens here in the city of Compton," he said.

Compton's mayor, despite the prestigious title, has no more authority or voting power than the four council members. That means that whoever wins must get the backing of two other council members to turn his or her vision into into a new reality for Compton.