|San Francisco Chronicle Slams
Reese, Firefighters And BMW
October 30, 2001
Today's San Francisco Chronicle weighed in
along with other media exposing the vicious campaign tactics of the
Firefighters and the BMW in the Richmond election. The story can be
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/10/30/MN85421.DTL and is reproduced below.
'Teflon Don' comes back in Richmond
Two years after an FBI probe into vote-buying at Richmond City Hall clouded city elections, the political consultant who took the heat is back in the thick of election politics.
Darrell Reese and the city's firefighters union, for which he consults, are backing one candidate in a four-way mayoral race and four of eight contenders for four City Council seats up for grabs next Tuesday.
Reese's trademark hit pieces are back, too. One of them demonizes mayoral hopeful Tom Butt, casting him as an enemy to the city's black community who tipped federal agents to false accusations of bribery.
A retired firefighter known as "the Teflon Don," Reese, 64, emerged virtually unscathed from the federal investigation. He was convicted this year of tax evasion for not reporting $40,000 he earned as a lobbyist, and he was sentenced to probation for three years with no limits on political involvement.
"I think a lot of people thought Reese was dead meat . . . but he has amazing resilience," said former City Councilman Jim McMillan, who formed the Black American Political Action Committee several years ago to counter another political group Reese backs, the Black Men & Women.
"People in Richmond really seem
oblivious to it, or they just don't care," McMillan said. "I wish I knew
In the midst of the federal investigation into City Hall contracts, only one of the five candidates Reese endorsed in the 1999 City Council election was elected -- current mayoral hopeful Nat Bates. That prompted Reese's opponents to dismiss him as a washed-up political kingmaker.
But Reese could prove them wrong. This month's vote for a new mayor and four members of the nine-member council will determine who runs the city of 100,000, which is showing signs of economic development as it deals with chronic problems of poverty and crime. Mayor Rosemary Corbin is not running because of term limits.
Despite claims in the last election of a Reese-free Richmond, the campaign is down and dirty like never before. Here's the latest:
* An eight-page mailer put out by a group associated with Reese accuses mayoral candidate Councilman Butt of single-handedly siccing the FBI on the city's black community two years ago.
* Butt has countered such accusations point by point, via the Tom Butt E- Forum he sends out to about 700 people daily.
* Bates, who is backed again by Reese and Firefighters Union Local 188, has accused his three rivals in the mayor's race of supporting five years of paid leave for a city planner, allegedly at the cost of hundreds of thousands of city dollars.
* Another mayoral hopeful, City Councilman John Marquez, chose a campaign theme of a toilet bowl over the slogan, "Flush the @#! out of City Hall."
* Councilwoman Irma Anderson has been using an out-of-state phone bank in an attempt to telemarket her way into the mayor's seat.
The firefighters union is also endorsing incumbent Richard Griffin, former Councilman Jim Rogers and Maria Viramontes, a two-time candidate for county supervisor and a former aide to then-state Sen. Robert Campbell.
In the race for the City Council seat vacated by Alex Evans, Local 188 is backing Chevron auditor Lynn Wade, who is married to a firefighter, against Rev. Charles Belcher, an incumbent councilman. Belcher does not support a proposed firefighter benefits package, and he ran unopposed until just days before the deadline.
For Rogers, also a former Contra Costa County supervisor, taking Reese's endorsement means avoiding the wrath of his hit pieces. Over the years, Rogers has been endorsed and attacked by the Reese camp, and he lost every time Reese countered him.
"His positive mailers are not all that persuasive, but his negative stuff is really effective," said Rogers. "If he's for you, I'm not sure you'll get a huge number of votes, but if he's against you -- you've got a problem."
Reese retains his power despite several setbacks. The FBI investigation came on the heels of another scandal: In 1997, the firefighters union was fined $17,000 by the state's political watchdog agency for listing circus ticket sales as union donations from retired firefighters. Reese later said he thought he had come up with a creatively legal way to get around $250 campaign donation limits.
Bates has amassed the largest war chest of the four mayoral candidates, according to campaign records. As of Sept. 22, he had pulled in $82,000.
The mailer accusing Butt of ratting on Reese to the FBI, put out by Black Men & Women, includes a letter shaming Butt and signed by several local black ministers, one of whom says he never signed it.
The brochure also includes a 1960 letter from Richmond's fire chief commending Reese for acts of bravery while he was a firefighter.
"I think it's unfortunate more people are not willing to stand up to him," said Butt, who took out a $20,000 loan from his own architecture firm to support his race. "I ignore Reese not because I can afford to. I'm not wealthy. I just don't care."