City Council Challengers Cry Foul : 2 Incumbents Win Bitter Runoff in Compton
An election marked by bitter discord ended on the same note Tuesday as two incumbent councilmen were overwhelmingly returned to office amid predictions by their opponents that the results would be declared void. “This is the most disgraceful election in the world,” said Emily Hart-Holifield, who lost to Robert Adams in District 3. “This makes Compton the laughingstock of the nation.”
Vowed Patricia Moore, defeated by Floyd James in District 2: “My attorneys will be in court . . . seeking to have the election ruled invalid.”
Elsewhere, however, the Adams/James victory was being hailed as a major step forward for Compton.
“This means that we’re united,” said Mayor Walter Tucker, who had endorsed both incumbents and who had been easily reelected in the April 16 primary. “Why break up a winning team--it means we’re going to continue to work together to improve the city.”
Although both challengers had narrowly defeated the incumbents in the primary, thus forcing the runoff, the numbers this time were not nearly as close. In District 2, James received 61.9% of the vote to Moore’s 38.1%. Adams had 58.5% to Hart-Holifield’s 41.5%.
20% Voter Turnout
In all, 20.1% of the city’s 35,034 registered voters cast ballots, slightly fewer than in the primary.
Moore attributed the lower turnout and her defeat primarily to a last-minute mailing distributed by the James campaign that falsely indicated that she had been disqualified from the race. The official-looking “revised voter guide” and “June 4th Election Notice” claimed Moore had been disqualified on March 4 for not being registered to vote in her district.
In fact, according to City Clerk Charles Davis, Moore had been disqualified on that day but reinstated two days later after it was determined that her lack of response to a registrar’s inquiry had been due to postal error--something the James’ mailing did not point out.
“It confused everyone,” Moore, 36, said of the mailing. “Many people thought I was disqualified. I’m not conceding this election by any means.”
James said he approved the mailing in order to publicize his contention that Moore maintains only a non-residential address in the district, a charge she has denied. The mailing was legal, he said, because the material contained a disclaimer clearly indicating that it was campaign literature and not an official city document.
Charges Not Enough
Hart-Holifield, 44, said her major complaint regarding her opponent on the last day of campaigning was that some of his billboards had been placed too close to polling places. Adams denied the charge.
Davis, the city’s chief election official, said that charges of unfair campaign practices would not be enough to have an election declared invalid. A court could make that declaration, he said, only if it determined that there had been some impropriety or fraud in the actual balloting process.
James and Adams hailed their victories as an affirmation of the city’s policies and a rejection of “machine politics” in Compton. They had characterized the Moore and Hart-Holifield campaigns as attempts by Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton), who supported both challengers, to impose outside “bossism” on local government. “It was a matter of the people coming together and saying they don’t want the Dymally machine controlling our city,” James, 44, said of his reelection.
Added Adams, 53, referring to the city’s ongoing development: “I think we got the message across to the voters in the community that we need to keep moving in a progressive direction economically.”
Throughout the campaign the challengers had portrayed the incumbents--each of whom has served eight years on the council--as men lacking sensitivity to some of the city’s basic problems, particularly in the areas of crime, unemployment and development.
One of their major charges had been that the councilmen--who were supported by major developers--had participated in the “giveaway” of Compton in deals that saw developers obtaining land at prices lower than assessed value. The incumbents said that was necessary to lure new business to the city.
James said he spent between $25,000 and $30,000 on the general election, while Moore said she spent about $10,000. Adams said he spent about $20,000 on this election, while Hart-Holifield said she spent about $7,700.
For James, at least, some issues remain unresolved.
Four days before the election, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norman L. Epstein issued a temporary restraining order preventing the councilman from distributing copies of a letter purportedly written by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. According to the judge, the letter--which offered free copies of a Jackson record album called “Our Time Has Come” to Compton residents pledging support for James--may have violated sections of the California Elections Code prohibiting the proffering of money or other “valuable considerations” in exchange for votes.
Jackson’s press secretary, Frank Watkins, later said that the former Democratic presidential candidate had not written the letter and was not aware of its distribution.
James attributed the mailing to a political consultant in Inglewood and said he had not been aware of it before it was sent.
And the consultant, Rod Wright, who said he had received the letter from “people close to Jackson in Chicago” and could not personally vouch for its authenticity, blamed his own ignorance of the law for the 18,000-piece mailing. “I screwed up,” he said, adding that about 50 of the albums had actually been given away.
Violation of the code section is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, according to Candace Beason, a county deputy district attorney. Beason said her office is investigating the matter to decide whether criminal charges should be filed. She also said she was investigating the later mailing that indicated Moore’s “disqualification” to determine whether a crime had been committed.
“In the midst of all this confusion, through the judicial process will emerge a clean Compton,” Moore said Tuesday in an interview during a quiet party that was to have been a victory celebration. “The jury is still out.”