E-Mail Forum
Media Focuses On Richmond Election
October 22, 2001
Richmond's Mayoral and City Council race is drawing a lot of media attention.

* Today's West County Times has an excellent story on the BMW hit piece. See http://www.contracostatimes.com/community/wct/stories/hit_20011022.htm

* The Chronicle included a column on the effect of terrorism on interest in local politics; see http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/10/22/MN95737.DTL

* Finally, there was a nice story "Richmond Political Update, The Race for Mayor - Councilmember Tom Butt," in a recent edition of the Richmond Post. The Post is a very interesting free weekly, part of Post Newspapers, that is a newspaper of general circulation with a special orientation to the African American Community. Vernon Whitmore is editor of the Richmond Post, which is a very good source of news on everything in Richmond. I pick up my copy every week in the Lobby of City Hall. If you would like to contact Mr. Whitmore or write a letter to the editor of the Richmond Post, his email address is vsw@citycom.com.

All three articles are reproduced below.

Richmond political flier draws fire
The Black Men and Women mailer alleges racism by mayoral candidate Tom Butt

Published Monday, October 22, 2001
By Peter Felsenfeld

RICHMOND -- Residents opened their mailboxes last week to find an extensive hit piece issued by an influential political action committee against mayoral candidate Tom Butt.

Last-minute smear pieces have become the norm in Richmond, but many believe the nine-page, full-color mailer put out by the BMW (Black Men and Women) goes too far.

"I'm in shock. It's absolutely the worst gutter politics I've ever seen," said Councilwoman Mindell Penn after opening her mail Friday afternoon. "This gives the city a bad name."

The flier/pamphlet accuses Butt, who is white, of racism, unscrupulously winning city contracts for his architectural engineering firm and single-handedly initiating a recent FBI probe into city corruption.

Butt has been a city councilman since 1995; one of his trademarks is his independence from Richmond's longtime political power brokers, namely the BMW; the Firefighters Union, Local 188 and their consultant Darrell Reese.

Both the BMW and Local 188 have endorsed Nat Bates for mayor; Richard Griffin, Jim Rogers and Maria Viramontes for the four-year council seat and Lynn Wade for the two-year seat.

Butt said the flier is largely an amalgam of past hit pieces leveled against him by BMW and Local 188.

"The most damaging thing to the city is to take an election that should be about issues and people's ability to do a job and turn it into a bald-faced effort to pit one racial group against another," Butt said. "This is a racially-driven piece trying to convince African-Americans I've done something wrong against them."

The pamphlet starts with accusations that Butt told the FBI that several local African-American elected officials and Reese were guilty of taking bribes. The FBI was unable to find evidence of political payoffs in Richmond after an intense investigation, which began shortly before the 1999 election.

The mailer ends with a vague, full-page account of a heroic deed Reese accomplished as a firefighter in 1960.

"This is one of the most offensive pieces I've ever seen. It's definitely a hit piece," said former Richmond City Councilwoman Lesa McIntosh, one of the officials mentioned.

BMW president Lonnie Washington said he frowns on negative campaigning and called the piece "a waste of time and money."

Washington said he has no evidence to support the many inflammatory charges leveled in the mailer because facts were researched and compiled by various members of an informal committee, whose members he would not disclose.

Also, the FBI accusations are secret and impossible to obtain, Washington said.

He said he allowed the piece to go forward because of "oblique statements" Butt made about his involvement in the probe.

"I heard Tom admit he made allegations," Washington said. "He didn't say what they were or who they were against, but I saw enough validity to justify (the piece) and allow it to happen in BMW's name."

The mailer lists 136 checks, the most recent in 1992, that the city paid to Interactive Resources, Butt's firm, and claims the jobs were awarded without a competitive bid.

Washington said he had no documentation to back this up because Richmond officials denied his group access to records.

Rich McCoy, Richmond's Public Services Agency director, said the city is not required to accept the lowest bidder for professional services work. Instead, the city performs a qualifications-based selection process and chooses whoever is best suited for the job.

Butt also was targeted in a hit piece generated by mayoral candidate Bates, which singles out Butt for his vote when the City Council passed an ordinance (14-00 NS) protecting the city from lawsuits resulting from injuries caused by damaged sidewalks.

In his cartoonish flier, Bates inaccurately calls the legislation the "Sidewalk Liability Transfer Ordinance," and infers that Butt encouraged people to sue homeowners.

Under state law, property owners are usually responsible for maintaining sidewalks abutting their property, but cities can be held liable if an accident occurs.

City Attorney Malcolm Hunter said he drafted the ordinance, which shifts liability to the homeowner, to avoid costly lawsuits directed toward the city.

Peter Felsenfeld covers Richmond. Reach him at (510) 652-9826 or email pfelsenfeld@cctimes.com.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 2001
Local politics ignored as electorate's focus goes global

Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer

Richmond councilman Tom Butt, in a four-way race for mayor, uses e-mail to get his message out.

About 700 people per day get the Tom Butt E-Forum delivered to their computers and can read Butt's views about refinery safety, who should run the city sewer system and other issues.

Although Butt started the forum in January to counter what he calls a dearth of local news in the newspapers, it has become an essential tool since Sept. 11.

"I think that as time goes on those events in New York will become less a compelling part of people's lives, but clearly it is affecting the election," he said. "It's hard if you are trying to get your message out right now."

Chronicle staff writers Ilene Lelchuck, Rachel Gordon, Suzanne Herel, Meredith May and Bill Workman contributed to this report. / E-mail Carla Marinucci at cmarinucci@sfchronicle.com.

Richmond Political Update
The Race for Mayor - Councilmember Tom Butt
Richmond Post, October 3, 2001

Tom Butt has proven himself to be a leader and a man of action, not just in the six years he has served on the City Council, but for the 28 years he has lived and run a business in Richmond. "We didn't end up in Richmond by accident," recalls Butt, "Shirley and I moved here right out of graduate school because we saw Richmond's opportunity and unrealized potential."

Butt, 57, is one of four City Council members aiming to succeed Rosemary Corbin as mayor of Richmond when she retires in November.

Butt is the only mayoral candidate whose political career did not arise from a close relationship with any of the traditional Richmond political factions, such as labor, Firefighters Local 188, BMW, BAPAC or the so called "West County machine." He is the only one of the four candidates who has not been endorsed by any of the Richmond public employees unions, and he is also the only one who has not, at some time, enjoyed a cozy relationship with and support from well-known Richmond political operative and convicted felon Darrell Reese.

Although he has a friendly working relationship with many groups, including business, labor and the environmental community, Butt remains neither a product nor a protégé of any of them. He entered the political arena in the early 90's, Butt says, in order to advocate more effectively for the neighborhood and quality of life issues h was already fighting for as a community activist.

"Tom Butt would make an excellent mayor," said Lillie Mae Jones, a longtime community activist and resident of Richmond's Iron Triangle neighborhood. "He gives people his word. He follows through on what he says he's going to do. He stands up for what he believes in regardless of what anybody else thinks. He has a mind of his own. That's rare. I think a great deal of him."

While his opponents all come from long careers in government, Butt has a long and vital background as a private sector leader. A licensed architect and general contractor, Butt founded an architecture-engineering firm in Richmond in 1973 and has served as its CEO ever since. The firm provides comprehensive professional design services to clients throughout the western states, including cities, counties, the State of California and a host of federal government agencies. Working with dozens of diverse government agencies has given Butt insight into how Richmond can put its own public works house in order, Butt says.

For nearly three decades, Butt has been touting Richmond's unique resources, particularly the 32 miles of shoreline, which exceed that of any other city on San Francisco Bay. Asked what has been his most important accomplishment, Butt cites bringing America's newest national park to Richmond as the catalyst that will ultimately change Richmond's image from crime-ridden industrial suburb to that of a waterfront destination city.

Richmond Mayor Rosemary Corbin, one of Butt's many endorsers, called him a highly effective leader. "Tom Butt has proven his capability to lead by consistently getting out in front on major issues that impact Richmond's economy, environment and infrastructure," Corbin said. "His ability to frame and advocate for important, and even controversial issues, has given him amazing legislative success. This is what leadership is all about."

One of Butt's greatest strength is his independence from Richmond's fractious political factions. "I find it liberating not to be tied to any special interests," Butt says. This independence has given Butt an opportunity to confront controversial issues head on even as Butt's detractors try to characterize him as someone who cannot get along with his colleagues and a person who lacks the ability to build coalitions.

"Tom is a straight shooter," said Clarence Van Hook, a Richmond resident and electrical/general contractor who has known and worked with Butt for more than 25 years. "He's a man of integrity. He's a man of honesty. He's even handed. He's his own person," Van Hook said. "He makes his own decisions, but when he does so it is with the city's interest in mind."

As a public servant and a Richmond businessman, Butt has a proven track record of tirelessly working to improve the quality of life for all the residents of Richmond. He is the only mayoral candidate who has the experience of starting and running a successful business over a period of years with multiple employees. He has served as the "principal-in-charge" or "project architect" for a large number of local building projects including the Hotel Mac rehabilitation, the Winters Building rehabilitation, Point Richmond Tech Center, the Richmond PG &E Service Center, Mariner Square, Baltic Square and alterations to the Social Security Federal Building.

Now under construction in Point Richmond, Baltic Square is going to include a unique Starbucks that will be opened in partnership with Earvin "Magic" Johnson's development group. Urban Coffee Opportunities (UCO) is a 50/50 joint venture between Starbucks Coffee Company and Johnson Development Corporation (JDC) to open Starbucks stores in under-served communities throughout the United States. This joint venture store will serve as a business stimulus, foster local economic growth and create financial empowerment in the Richmond area. The store will work closely with local non-profit organizations and contract with minority vendors to develop long-term relationships that will benefit the community.

Currently Butt, in partnership with longtime Parchester resident and former Interactive Resources employee Jelani Dotson, is volunteering his time to serve as project architect for a cafe and grocery store in the ground floor, street front portion of the low-cost senior housing building on 3rd Street in North Richmond.

Some of the important issues that Butt has successfully advanced include the Lobbyist Ordinance, the Industrial Safety Ordinance, the future of the city's ailing Wastewater Treatment Plant and access to public information in the city. While all these efforts had detractors and have been the subject of vigorous debate, the initiatives pursued by Butt prevailed and eventually were approved by a City Council majority.

Butt can compromise when necessary and is particularly gifted at crafting ordinances and resolutions that eliminate fringe opposition while keeping the principal objective intact.

When former City Council member Donna Powers was nearing retirement, she turned to Butt to shepherd the Rosie the Riveter memorial and the Rosie the Riveter Homefront National Park, a federal designation which the city wouldn't have gotten without Butt's involvement, Powers said. "Certainly no one is better than Tom Butt for carrying the ball on a project or an issue," she said. "He'll stick to it like glue. He's really carrying the full weight of the Rosie the Riveter Trust and national park on his shoulders."

Not always in the winning column, Butt has lost on a vote more than once, but when a principle is at stake he is tenacious and persevering. For example, when the City Council voted on whether to abandon Richmond's Affirmative Action Ordinance in the wake of Proposition 209, Butt was the only dissenting vote.

In his first year on the City Council, and in probably his most heated fight with several of his colleagues, Butt held out against selection of a particular planning consultant for Point Molate because he sensed the involvement of Darrell Reese and a hidden agenda when the consultant rated sixth out of seven by staff was chosen by the City Council majority to execute the reuse plan. When he could not reverse the City Council, Butt went straight to the Department of Defense, which had the entire selection process thrown out due to the council's failure to follow federal procurement regulations. The City Council's original selection was reversed, and Butt was vindicated.

"In a city with strong political factions, anything controversial is going to generate heat," said Michael Ali. " Because Butt is willing to move in close to the fire, he has taken the brunt of attacks by opponents. While this may make him look like a loose cannon to some, you have to also look at his successes for a true measure of his effectiveness."

Butt has a long history of leadership, outside of his political activities. At age 23, he was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and served in Vietnam as a combat engineer. Not only has he led a successful business for many years, he founded and still leads two local non-profit corporations -- one operates and maintains East Brother Lighthouse as a public service, and the other serves as a non-profit partner for the Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park.

Butt has been president of the Richmond Rotary Club, chairman of the Richmond Economic Development Commission, Chairman of the West County Agency, president of the PTA at his sons' Richmond elementary school and president of a neighborhood council. Professionally, Butt has been widely published in technical journals, and his peers have recognized him as a leader in the architectural profession by electing him to the prestigious American Institute of Architects College of Fellows.

Butt's list of political priorities is almost identical to that of the other three mayoral candidates and includes improving infrastructure, fighting crime, serving youth and promoting economic development. What Butt claims to offer, however, is a style of leadership that is more aggressive and more effective than his opponents. "He works harder than any council member or for that matter either of the two mayors I worked with," Powers said. "He's tenacious. He always does his homework on anything to do with city business. I have no doubt that as mayor he will run the city as smoothly as he runs his business. He's aggressive as far as issues before the city council."

He follows through on things he says he's going to do," said Cornell Lacy, of C&J Towing, Richmond. "He has stuck beside me. I've seen him stick beside other people to. He takes care of the residents and business of Richmond like no other council member."