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Green Candidate’s Lead for Richmond Mayor Grows

By Richard Brenneman
Friday November 17, 2006

While the voting tally isn’t final and her opponent won’t concede, Gayle McLaughlin is confident she’ll be the new mayor of Richmond. 

And with the latest election results posted late Thursday afternoon, she has good reason to be confident. 

While returns posted the day after the election gave McLaugh-lin a 189 vote lead with 6,243 votes to incumbent Irma Ander-son’s 6,051, Thursday’s returns increased her lead to 279 votes, or 7,080 to 6,801. Gary Bell remains in third place, with his total increased from 4,382 to 4,834. 

Eight months of precinct walking, a small war chest and an enthusiastic crew of supporters helped the outspoken progressive and Green Party member score a significant upset over better-bankrolled opponents with strong name recognition. 

While McLaughlin refused corporate contributions, Anderson and Bell didn’t—but their massive outpouring of cash wasn’t enough to stave off the upset. 

While Anderson’s campaign and her industrial supporters spent about $200,000 and third place finisher Gary Bell, a former councilmember, spent about $80,000, McLaughlin spent less than $28,000. 

It wasn’t the first time she’d won against the big bucks. Two years earlier she’d been elected as the City Council’s first Green. 

While McLaughlin’s two largest donations this year of $2,500 each came from two divisions of the Service Employees International Union, ChevronTexaco—the city’s largest and most controversial employer—channelled $48,000 into support for Anderson and approximately the same sum bankrolling attacks against McLaughlin. 

Major recipients of Chevron largesse were the Committee for Quality Government and the Committee to Oppose Measure T. Both groups gave to the Coalition to Save Jobs, a creature of the Chevron-backed Council of Industries. 

The coalition spent $63,000 opposing McLaughlin. 

The Committee for Quality Government also gave $33,000 to the Black American Political Action Committee (BAPAC), which in turn gave exactly the same amount to Anderson’s support. Pacific Gas & Electric gave BAPAC another $10,000. 

PG&E also gave $4,000 directly to Anderson in three separate donations. 

Another Anderson donor was sometime Chevron lobbyist and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who gave $2,500. 

And that’s not counting the big bucks that poured into Anderson’s coffers from Democrats and developers—that new amalgam that played such a central role in Berkeley’s election. 

The Richmond Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee RichPAC also weighed in on Anderson’s behalf. 


Corporate concern 

Why such big money to target one candidate? 

Perhaps this statement holds the answer: 

“One of the special things about the job is that it comes with the ability and the responsibility to set a tone for the city,” McLaughlin said. “I can set a tone for important issues where the needs of the people rather than the needs of corporations come first, and I can use the position to really hone in on the needs and interests of the people.” 

And unlike Berkeley, where the mayor is merely first among equals and each councilmember appoints members to city commissions and committees, Richmond’s chief executive has the sole nomination power, though her choices must be ratified by the council. 

“The progressive movement has had a real problem in the past because we have not been able to get people on the commissions,” she said. 

And while Anderson wasn’t conceding in the days after the election, McLaughlin’s deep pocket foes were quick to adapt to the changed reality. 

“I’ve already had calls from the Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Industries saying they want to work with me,” McLaughlin said. 


Longtime activist 

McLaughlin’s been a political activist since her teens. A Chicago native, she was one of five daughters born to a union carpenter and his wife. 

In the 1980s, her progressive politics brought her into CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador—an organization targeted by the Reagan Administration as subversive.  

The future mayor-elect came west after finishing her psychology degree and doing graduate work. Settling initially in Vallejo, she moved to Richmond to be with her future husband. 

“I decided teaching wasn’t really my niche, so I went back into politics—I go through periods of trying something else, then back to politics,” she said. 

Peter Camejo’s run as the Green Party’s California gubernatorial candidate in 2002 provided the inspiration for her involvement in Richmond politics. 

“I got involved with the Greens and I jumped into things with both feet,” she said. “I opposed the PATRIOT Act, and the more I learned about the community, the more I became concerned about Chevron’s lack of pollution controls and their responsibility to pay a fair share of taxes to the city,” she said.  

She co-founded the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), which is an umbrella organization to bring together Greens, progressive Democrats, libertarians, Peace and Freedom Party members and others who are concerned about Richmond community affairs. 

“We came together in 2004 to say that we need to focus attention on local issues,” she said. 

Two RPA stalwarts ran for city council that November, McLaughlin and Andres Soto. McLaughlin won. 

RPA members took on a variety of local issues, including casinos and the proposed development of a housing project on a toxic waste site at Campus Bay. 

McLaughlin worked closely with activists like Sherry Padgett and Claudia Carr of Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development, and she introduced a resolution as a newly elected councilmember urging the state Environmental Protection Agency to transfer site jurisdiction to the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). 


Major goals 

In a racially divided city with a troubled economy and serious crime problems, McLaughlin said her creation of a Richmond Youth Corps will offer jobs and education. 

“My goal by the end of my term is to have 1,000 part-time jobs year-round,” she said. “It’s a real challenge and it will take a collective effort. We need to pull in people in the community who have an interest and then we have to explore funding. 

“But to tackle the problem of violence, we really need to think outside the box. The goal is to have 10 hours of work a week plus five hours of education and training. It won’t work unless we can really engage the kids, and for that we need mentors.” 

Another goal for her term is to continue her service on the Community Advisory Group (CAG) created by the DTSC to provide community input on the Campus Bay cleanup. In the time since the CAG was formed, the group has expanded its oversight to other sites in southern Richmond, including UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station—a move strongly resisted by UC Berkeley officials—along with Marina Bay and the Biorad plant. 

“Renewable energy is another important goal,” she said. 

McLaughlin already won City Council endorsement of Solar Richmond, a grass roots organization which hopes to generate five megawatts of power through rooftop solar panels on homes and business in the city by 2010 while also pushing for clean jobs. 

While Measure T failed—a ballot measure she endorsed which would have raised business taxes 10 percent and included a new raw materials fee on manufacturing business—she said she remains committed to seeing that industries pay their fair share of taxes to the city. 

Voters rejected the measure, which Chevron-funded hit pieces dubbed “Gayle’s Terrible T,” by a margin of 10,794 to 7,921.  

“While I didn’t propose the measure, I voted with five other members of the council to support it, and a few years back that wouldn’t have been expected,” she said. 

“I also want to partner with the city manager and the police chief, who is steering the city toward a less confrontational form of law enforcement,” she said. 

“I want to protect our hills and shoreline, and I will continue to oppose casinos because we don’t need the added crime and addiction they bring. They’re not healthy for our community, and they’re not long-term solutions to our needs,” she said. 

It’s an ambitious agenda, but it also comes from a skilled activist who’s proved that she can overcome well-financed opposition.