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Pastors Decry Use Of Names In Mailer
October 28, 2001
The debunking of the now infamous BMW mailer aimed at discrediting me and rehabilitating Darrell Reese is nearly complete. The following story appeared in the Sunday edition of the West County Times. It is a sad commentary on Richmond politics that the entire campaign strategy of major candidates and political organizations is built entirely on malicious lies. It is even more upsetting that those lies are intended to ignite racial animosity and prejudice in a city that "values diversity" and in whose pulpits racial harmony, tolerance, respect and understanding are often preached. I wish to publicly thank those pastors who willingly came forward and exposed the lies to which their names were unwittingly attached.

West County Times, October 28, 2001
By Peter Felsenfeld: 510/262-2725, email pfelsenfeld@cctimes.com

3 Richmond Ministers Say They Were Misled into Signing a Letter Against Mayoral Candidate Tom Butt

RICHMOND - Three prominent local ministers were shocked to find their names attached to a recent campaign mailer aimed at mayoral candidate Tom Butt.

The critical mailer, issued by the Black Men and Women political action committee, includes a letter from five religious leaders chastising Butt for bringing "shame" and "loss of honor ... to Richmond's African American Neighborhoods" by accusing elected officials of taking bribes.

Shortly before the 1999 election, the FBI questioned many Richmond officials about influence peddling at City Hall. No indictments resulted from the probe.

Signed by five pastors, the letter concludes, "The African American Community can never forgive Tom But."

The Rev. Orenzia Bernstine, of the New St. James Missionary Baptist Church, said he was aware of the letter's contents and willingly agreed to have his name attached.

However, the Revs. Yaahn G. Hunter, Edward G. O'Neal and Tommie Bradford said they were misled into signing the document and have no ill will toward Butt.

Hunter, of New Faith Cathedral, was taken aback when the Times sent him a copy of the letter.

Hunter authorized use of his signature in a general statement denouncing racism in America, he aid. The BMW representative who approached Hunter made no mention the letter would be used for political purposes or to single out an individual, Hunter said.

"I was led to believe I was taking a stand against racism," Hunter said. "And I am against racism in every form, but I have no knowledge of Butt being a racist. I had no idea this was about him in any way.

Similarly, Bradford, of the Independent Community Church, said he was tricked into signing a piece of paper that didn't have a letter attached.

"I have nothing bad to say about Mr. Butt," Bradford said. "I like him and as far as I'm concerned, he's a fine guy. I would never make a statement against him."

Butt recently gave a presentation at the Independent Community Church, and Bradford said he was welcome to come back.

O.Neal, of the North Richmond Baptist Church, also aid he signed the letter without knowledge of its contents,

The Rev. Dr. C.W. Newsome, the other minister mentioned in the letter, could not be reached for comment.

BMW President Lonnie Washington said he approved the letter after the signatures were compiled and had no knowledge of any wrongdoing.

"If there is an element of deception here I'll try to get to the bottom of what it's about," Washington said. "My presumption was that these men were making a statement. I would be upset, too, if a letter was altered after I signed it."

Washington distanced himself from the mailer when it came out, saying he disapproved of negative campaigning but approved the piece because of pressure from BMW members. The group is backing Bates for mayor.

Listing unsuspecting ministers on campaign mailers is a tactic BMW used against him in 1995, Butt said.

"They'll go to any means to disparage somebody, and the truth has no value whatsoever," Butt said. "They try to feed on whatever racial animosity is there and use it to turn votes."

The letter is one element of a lengthy anti-Butt mailer that includes a statement from Jim Russey, president of Richmond's firefighters union, Local 188, and a page proclaiming the innocence of Darrell Reese, the main subject of the FBI probe and a political consultant to the firefighters.

BMW and Local 188 are backing the same slate of candidates: Bates, Richard Griffin, Jim Rogers and Maria Viramontes for the four-year Council seat; and Lynn Wade for the two-year seat.

Butt said he never told the FBI that city official were taking bribes, though he did file complaints with the state attorney general and the Fair Political Practices Commission against Local 188. The union was fined $17,000 earlier this year for filing false campaign finance statements.