A large majority of the candidates running in a crowded field for the Richmond City Council agree that fiscal accountability and responsible financial management will be important issues in the upcoming Nov. 2 election. That was the result of a survey of candidate websites and campaign statements, as well as unofficial polling done this week by the Berkeley Daily Planet.
It was a not surprising view, coming from candidates in a city that was considered on the brink of bankruptcy last January in the wake of a fiscal crisis caused by the state budget crunch, escalating PERS bills, and massive bond payments.
Economic development/job creation and public safety were also high on the list of candidate concerns.
Fifteen candidates, including four incumbents, are competing for five seats on the at-large Richmond City Council. One incumbent councilmember, Rev. Charles Belcher, chose not to run for re-election.
Crowded City Council elections are not new to Richmond. While in 2001, only six candidates ran for three seats on the Richmond City Council, two years earlier fully 12 candidates put their names in for five seats. (In 2001, Richmond voters approved a measure moving municipal elections from odd to even-numbered years.)
Three of this year’s candidates will be quite familiar to each other, as well as to voters. Councilmembers Tom Butt, Nathaniel Bates, and John Marquez all ran for Richmond mayor in the November 2001 election, all losing to current mayor Irma Anderson. Marquez was forced to give up his council seat because his term ended in 2001. He is running this year to reclaim a seat on Council.
This year’s field can be divided up into three categories: incumbents, serious challengers (defined as candidates who already have some combination of money, in-place campaign organization, and major endorsements, and possibles (defined as candidates who might move up to become serious challengers if their message takes hold).
(Nathaniel Bates, Gary Bell, Tom Butt, Mindell Penn)
Nathaniel Bates is running for his seventh four-year term on Richmond City Council, stretching back to 1967 (he sat out for 12 years between 1983 and 1995). He lists hiring an independent city auditor and creating a Citizen’s Budget Committee as his goals if he is re-elected. Bates leads all fund-raising for this year’s election with close to $33,000 in his campaign account. His past campaigns have been associated with controversial political consultant Darrell Reese, who was once investigated—but not charged—with vote-buying in Richmond elections, and has been convicted of failure to report lobbyist earnings.
One-term incumbent and Kansas native Gary Bell is a former bank manager who once served as the youngest member of the Wichita (KS) City Council before migrating to California in 1989. He reports close to $29,000 in his re-election account. He cites financial stability and public safety as his major concerns, as well as moving the Richmond City Hall from its rented location on the Richmond waterfront, which was supposed to be temporary, back to its original downtown civic center site.
Two-term incumbent Tom Butt, who recently was cited by the East Bay Express as the “best local politician and pain in his colleagues’, uh, necks” in part for standing up to the Chevron Corporation, Richmond’s largest employer. Butt, an architect, boasts that he is the “only city councilmember with a Richmond business.” He lists the “three E’s” as his campaign platform: Economic Development, Environmental Health, and Equity of Service. His campaign cash balance currently stands at nearly $7,000.
One-term incumbent Mindell Penn—an education trustee with a degree from the UC Davis Financial School of Management—says that her “mission is to make Richmond a clean, safe and beautiful destination waterfront city” as well as a “top priority” of “restoring services for children and seniors.” She also lists fiscal accountability as one her major goals, including the hiring of an independent city auditor. Penn has $20,000 in her campaign re-election account. She is affiliated with the Black Women Organized For Political Action (BWOPA), the powerful Bay Area advocacy group originally founded in 1968.
(John Marquez, Gayle McLaughlin, Eddrick Osborne, Andrés Soto)
John Marquez, a retired peace officer who gave up his seat on Richmond City Council when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2001, says he wants to “restore Richmond back to the days of full service with a full employment workforce” with “responsible spending and balanced budgets” to end the city’s “identified $35 million deficit.” He is expected to count on Richmond’s growing Latino population as one of his major bases of support. Last November, he helped rally close to a thousand Latino residents who turned out to the Richmond City Council to protest a proposed yard fence height limit ordinance.
Kaiser Permanente Optical Lab supervisor, Library Commissioner, and former Parchester Neighborhood Council President Eddrick Osborne was once awarded an Environmental Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for his work with the EPA brownfields project in the Richmond area. Running on a platform of “One Richmond” (“we can no longer afford to be divided as a city over policy issues”), he lists affordable housing and employment as his key concerns.
Gayle McLaughlin and Andrés Soto should be considered serious contenders for the council, if only for their endorsement by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a coalition of progressive Democrats, Greens, and independents.
Andrés Soto, a UC Berkeley graduate, legislative policy director, and jazz saxophonist, is best known in Richmond for his lawsuit against the City of Richmond because of alleged mistreatment by the police department during a 2002 Cinco de Mayo festival. He says that “change is exactly what Richmond needs.” His filed Candidate Statement of Qualifications refers voters to his website “to learn more about my experience and my stands on the issues,” but the website presently only presents a single campaign banner announcing “Andrés Soto For City Council.”
Gayle McLaughlin, an educator, describes herself as a “lifelong social activist who has participated in movements for peace, social justice, civil rights, and environmental protection.” She lists securing the city’s financial health, re-establishing a “full services city” (rehiring laid-off employees), and promoting environmental health as her key concerns.
The remaining candidates for Richmond City Council, still in the “possible” category, are Herman Blackwell, Courtland “Corky” Boozé, Bill Idzerda, Arnie Kasendorf, Kathy “Storm” Scharff, Deborah Peston Stewart, and Tony Thurmond.