She made history as the youngest mayor ever elected in Compton, California, not to mention defeating an incumbent and former mayor to get there. And Aja Brown talks about her history-making job with a passion for correcting the city’s finances and developing industry in the Southern California city.
She has taken the helm of this working-class city known widely for being the home of a large number of hip hop groups, rappers and athletes. It is also known for being an epicenter of gangs and drug activity. Brown is seeking to change its image.
Elected in June 2013, the 31-year-old Brown has lamented the lack of stores that sell fresh produce and she organized a farmers’ market in Compton. In addition, she’s working to attract new businesses across a wide spectrum of industries. She said she has been particularly fascinated with the revitalization of Brooklyn, adding that she looks at the New York City borough as the source of a number of ideas for Compton.
“I have a 12-point plan that is organized by different initiatives, from youth development, infrastructure, working with educational coalitions and economic development,” Brown said, in an interview with BET.com.
“Compton has so many things that have to be put into place policy-wise,” she said. “In the last seven months, we’ve implemented a capital improvement plan. We’ve also implemented controls to make sure that our finances are stable and that we expend less money than we bring in.”
The daughter of a single mother who raised her and her twin brother, Brown grew up in Altadena, California, and became involved in public service while a student at the University of Southern California. She worked as an economic development analyst with the city of Gardena and, shortly after, graduated with a degree in public policy and urban planning and development in 2004.
In 2006, Brown began working as an urban planner in Inglewood, California, and by 2009, she was working in Compton as a project manager in the city’s Redevelopment Agency. In her race in 2013, she won by a landslide, defeating both incumbent Mayor Eric J. Perrodin and former mayor Omar Bradley to become the city’s first female chief executive.
Since the election, she has attracted nationwide attention for attacking the historic budget deficit. “Internally, we have a lot of restructuring to do to make sure we are poised for growth and development,” she said, adding that she wants to grow the city’s manufacturing base.
She said that while in college, she had no idea she would one day enter politics and run for mayor of Compton. “Oh, no. Not at all,” she said. “I knew I would work in a community that I would like to live in, but I had no idea that I would ever go into politics, even though some of my classmates thought I would.”
She said that Compton is already seeing a good deal of development that has occurred in the last few years.
“We’ve had a large influx of retail and software development here,” she said. “And they do some of the highest numbers in the state. Compton looks a lot of different. Residents are now able to go out and grab a bite, go to dinner, go to Target, Best Buy or a gym or Marshall's. We’re now able to experience more amenities. I want to see that grow.”
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(Photo: Courtesy of Aja Brown VISION for Compton Campaign)