|New East Bay Express Article On
November 1, 2001
The following article appeared in today’s
East Bay Express in the “7 days” and may be found on the web at
There once was a day in Richmond politics when the initials BMW referred to a coalition of three African-American councilmembers: Nat Bates, Jim McMillan, and Lonnie Washington. And although Bates, who's currently running for mayor, has ostensibly resigned from the group, his foes wonder if he's still intimately involved in BMW. If so, that could be problematic. State campaign laws prohibit an independent expenditure committee from coordinating its activities with a candidate it's supporting. A recent brochure paid for by the BMW -- tapping into the current patriotic fervor by featuring a photo of Bates backed with an 11" by 17" American flag poster -- is raising more suspicions of collusion. The BMW piece tells recipients they can pick up additional copies at the Bates for Mayor campaign headquarters. At least, they could for a while. "Those things went out like wildfire," Bates tells 7 Days.
Of course, the limited supply of the brochure is not what bothers Bates' critics. "I think there are really issues about that being legal," says John Dalrymple, head of the Central Labor Council of Contra Costa County … "The question here is whether or not this was really an independent expenditure. ... It doesn't appear to be." Bates retorts that BMW produced the piece and dropped it off at his headquarters after printing it.
Meanwhile, Lonnie Washington, president of BMW, says he wasn't happy with the flag-waving piece, but not because it breaks any campaign laws. He's hacked off because not only doesn't the mailer ever ask anyone to vote for Bates, it doesn't even mention the date of the election. "I don't know if you could even call it a campaign piece," he sighs.
FYI to Richmond voters: The election is on Nov. 6.
The dispute over the legality of the flag brochure is the campaign equivalent of playful locker room towel-snapping. The other BMW piece that landed recently is a vintage Richmond election-time sucker punch. The mailer all but accuses mayoral candidate Tom Butt, who is white, of being a racist who got the FBI to investigate four "innocent" African-American politicians and power broker Darrell Reese by falsely accusing them of corrupt deeds. The glossy campaign hit also includes a letter supposedly signed by five black reverends. The ellipses-happy missive begins, "Tom Butt brought ... shame ... loss of honor ... families hurt to Richmond's African-American neighborhoods. His outrageous lies and allegations of African-American leaders taking bribes still resonates." It concludes: "The African-American Community can never forgive Tom Butt."
Butt says he was surprised to see Rev. Tommie Bradford of the Independent Community Church listed as one of the signatories. "I had visited his church only a couple of months ago on August 26," Butt recalls. "I found him and his congregation to be hospitable, and I found him to be a true gentleman." Butt called Bradford to find out why the reverend was dissing him all of a sudden. According to Butt, Bradford insisted "he had never signed such a letter and had no knowledge of it." Two other reverends listed on the faux letter -- Yaahn Hunter and Edward ONeal -- told the West County Times that they were duped into lending their signatures to the hit piece. "I was led to believe I was taking a stand against racism," Hunter groused to the Times. "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."
BMW prez Washington says he wasn't personally involved in soliciting the signatures so he doesn't know if the pastors were misled. The signatures were apparently gathered by a mysterious committee, the members of which Washington would not name (Butt suspects Reese is behind the piece). Still, Washington finds it hard to believe that the reverends had no idea what they were getting into. "I don't understand these people not knowing what they were signing," Washington says.
Asked how he will respond to the attacks, Butt's answer seems to be: I won't. "Over the last six years I have become so used to these ridiculous and pitiful pieces that it has become difficult for me to become worked up over them," he said. "In fact, I have come to anticipate and rely on their arrival so much that I would probably lose sleep if they stopped."