COMPTON — Mayor Aja Brown is not a Compton native, but when she moved to the city nine years ago, she was drawn to its “underdog” quality and saw it as a place where she could make a difference.
Now, as her first term as mayor comes to an end and she campaigns to serve four more years in office, Brown reflects on her mission to bring her adopted city to the head of the pack.
When she took office, Brown said the city was reeling from financial issues due to mismanagement of funds. Under her tenure, the city paid back $7 million and negotiated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to excuse some of the outstanding debt.
“Some of those debts were over 20 years old,” she said. “Now we’re on schedule to remove our debt in the next 12 years.”
The effect of the deficit reverberated through the workforce, as the city had to lay off employees to remain solvent, Brown said. But during her four years, at least 100 jobs were restored, she said.
“Unemployment was at 18.5 percent when I took office and now it’s at 11 percent,” she said.
Brown, who grew up in the Pasadena area, was introduced to Compton as an adult when a friend invited her and her husband to attend a Bible study group at Faith Inspirational Missionary Baptist Church.
But her history with the city goes back to a dark place. Her maternal grandmother, Lena Young, was murdered in a home invasion rape and robbery in Compton in the 1970s. The case is still unsolved.
Following the incident, her mother, Brenda Jackson, fled the city in her 20s. It was too sad to remain there, Brown said.
The mayor draws inspiration from Jackson, who raised her and her twin brother Jonathan as a single mother. She gave her daughter the same name as the Steely Dan song, one of her favorites.
“My mom was kind and believed in holding yourself accountable, but with a lot of love,” Brown said, “I get that from her. Everything I do, I do with love.”
Brenda Jackson is now retired and “living the good life,” Brown said. She used to work in administration at the Jet Propulsion Lab.
If re-elected June 6, Brown said her goals for the next term include building up downtown Compton and restoring the nightlife, “which has faded in the past,” she said. She would also like to expand one of her pet causes, re-entry programs for those who have served jail time.
“Everyone makes mistakes and I believe they deserve a second chance,” she said.
Aside from her life in politics, Brown’s interests include interior design, perfecting her Pinterest page and reading faith-based books.
Brown will face off again against former Mayor Omar Bradley, who served the city from 1993 to 2001.
Unlike Brown, Bradley grew up in Compton, teaching high school before entering politics.
In 2004, he was convicted of misappropriation of public funds by using a city-issued credit card for personal items. He was accused of misusing about $75,000 for purchases that included a stay in a penthouse hotel room, golf balls and shoes and cigars.
In 2012, an appeals court overturned his conviction, ruling that his trial did not prove he intended to break the law.
He is now facing a retrial that could prove he is not “criminally negligent” and did in fact have unlawful motives.
Bradley did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him for this story.
Also on the June 6 ballot is a runoff for city treasurer with incumbent Doug Sanders facing Jasper Jackson and a runoff in City Council District 3 between incumbent Tana McCoy and challenger Carlos Tomas.