|City Politics and Candidates Divided by
October 29, 2006
As the campaign nears its last week, one measure of Richmond candidates is their level of coziness with Chevron, which has mounted a fight to the death against Measure T and Gayle McLaughlin. There are two news stories today and some recent campaign mailers that shed additional light on this battle and where some of the candidates stand, either personally, or in the eyes of Chevron.
A story in today’s West County Times sets Anderson apart as the most pro-Chevron of all the candidates. “Anderson is the only mayoral candidate who does not support Measure T, a business tax amendment that would raise $8.5 million in new taxes, nearly all of which would come from Chevron. She also favors taking a conciliatory approach to dealing with Chevron's decision to reduce its utility tax payment by an estimated $4.5 million. Chevron, which generates much of its own energy, has so far declined to release data supporting the reduced payment.”
Two mailers arrived yesterday supporting Richmond City Council candidates, with funding from Chevron, the Council of Industries, or both.
These mailers were not mailed by the candidates. They were mailed by independent political action committees over which the candidates have no control. However, they do provide some insight into who the sponsors would like to see elected. As the campaign winds down, it may be worth examining why Chevron and the Council of Industries believe these two candidates would suit their interests in the four years to come.
Finally, “The Eye On the East Bay,” also in the West County Times, describes the clever use of the Chevron logo to deface Chevron-sponsored campaign posters:
Low-Budget Campaign: There is a sense of unfairness when well-funded political interests dominate an election debate simply because they can provide more money for slick ads and artful campaign advisors.
But in Richmond’s contentious local elections a mischief-making imp has devised a way to even the playing field a bit.
Last week, posters for mayoral candidate Irma Anderson, whose campaign has spent $105,000 compared with her lead competitor’s $13,500, were modified with an impudently placed Chevron decal pasted right between “Irma” and “Anderson.”
And poster reading “No on T, raises taxes, raises rents, posters, also funded by Chevron, were defiled with a copy of the same decal, cleverly placed over the “T.”
decal shenanigans say little about the merits of the candidate or
the measure, but a lot about the power of a 3-cent photocopy.
Posted on Sun, Oct. 29, 2006
On Nov. 7, Richmond voters will select a mayor who has the chance to set a productive tone for a city in a season of change.
Whoever is elected -- incumbent Irma Anderson, City Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin or former Councilman Gary Bell -- the next mayor should be able to use the bully pulpit, the office's only real extraordinary authority, to define the city's future as it takes tottering steps to reshape its image.
A chronically high homicide rate still plagues Richmond, but there also are many reasons for optimism in the county's second-largest city.
The city is recovering from a $35 million budget crisis in 2004, there are extensive redevelopment projects under way downtown, the prized Civic Center will soon be renovated, and there are the makings of a promising tourist industry based on thousands of acres of open space, 32 miles of waterfront and a unique World War II history.
"Richmond is going through a renaissance of sorts," said Judy Morgan, president of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. "We are losing manufacturing jobs, but new businesses are attracted by the availability of space, tax breaks in the city's enterprise zones and the presence of a ready workforce."
Perhaps the main source of optimism in Richmond is the quality of its new administration. In the past two years, the city has hired nearly all new department heads, including a city manager, a finance director and a police chief.
One way the next mayor can define Richmond's future is by distinguishing it from its recent past, which was characterized by deceitful or incompetent financial managers, negligent department heads and residents who were forced to stand in line behind the interests of large corporations and powerful city unions.
The city's chronic violence is foremost in many residents' minds, and the next mayor will have to put forth a comprehensive plan to stem the bloodshed. As of Friday, there had been 37 homicides in 2006, and Richmond could be headed toward its highest homicide total in more than a decade.
But the homicide rate should not distract the mayor from other critical issues such as the city's crumbling sewers and roads, a proposed Las Vegas-style casino, a shifting economy and an increasingly adversarial relationship with Chevron, the city's largest employer and taxpayer.
Anderson, 75, a retired public nurse, is seeking her second term as mayor.
She has been successful at raising grant money for after-school programs and summer jobs for youths. But her council colleagues criticize her as a poor consensus builder with a tendency to act as though she alone is running the city.
Despite the financial support of Chevron and the Council of Industries, Anderson is struggling to hold onto the gavel. She has spent $105,000 on her campaign, but polls show she has not been able to pull ahead of McLaughlin, who has spent a meager $13,500.
Anderson is promoting her "Safe Streets Now" program, which would earmark about $6 million of the city's general fund to hire new police and fund anti-violence programs. The council overwhelmingly voted the proposal down in August because money is already available to hire new officers. Anderson has vowed a petition drive to put her proposal before the voters in a special election.
Anderson is the only mayoral candidate who does not support Measure T, a business tax amendment that would raise $8.5 million in new taxes, nearly all of which would come from Chevron.
She also favors taking a conciliatory approach to dealing with Chevron's decision to reduce its utility tax payment by an estimated $4.5 million. Chevron, which generates much of its own energy, has so far declined to release data supporting the reduced payment.
McLaughlin, 54, is a Green Party member who was a newcomer to the council in 2004. She has a background as a political activist, nonprofit employee and clinician for children with special needs.
In 2004, the political neophyte stunned pundits when she refused to accept corporate contributions and was carried onto the council with the third-most votes in a field of 15 candidates.
"It goes to show that the power of people can overcome the power of money," she said. "And people in Richmond are very committed to a new direction. That's what I brought to the council, and that's what I believe I will bring into the office of mayor."
Like she did in 2004, McLaughlin's mayoral campaign relies on house gatherings and precinct walking. Her low-key approach has tapped into a deep undercurrent of voter dissatisfaction with elected officials whom they see as putting their corporate interests first.
Some of McLaughlin's colleagues on the council worry that she might be too inexperienced to be an effective mayor and that her principled stance on some issues may be an obstacle to building necessary consensus.
To reduce violence, McLaughlin proposes the Richmond Youth Corps. The corps would provide 1,000 part-time union jobs and education for at-risk youths. McLaughlin said the program would cost "millions," which would come in part from increased taxes on large business.
McLaughlin is a supporter of Measure T and says the city should demand Chevron turn over its utility tax information like other businesses and residents. If it continues to withhold the information, she supports filing a lawsuit.
"We need a mayor who doesn't represent Chevron," McLaughlin said. "We need a mayor who represents the people of Richmond."
Bell, 48, was a member of the 2004 council, which was criticized for being asleep at the wheel as the city headed toward financial ruin. Sensing weakness, 10 challengers ran to unseat five incumbents in the 2004 election.
Bell was the only council member to lose his seat. The irony was as chairman of the Finance Committee, Bell was perhaps the only council member warning the city of impending financial doom.
He was criticized for spending nearly $3,000 of taxpayer money after he was voted out of office but before his term was up. He took his wife to Las Vegas for three days to attend an affordable-housing conference.
The three-day trip wasn't illegal, according to the city attorney's office; however, it wasn't well-received when a third of city employees lost their jobs because of a $35 million budget crisis due in part to poor council oversight.
Bell had spent $60,700 to regain a seat on the council but has had trouble catching Anderson and McLaughlin in polls.
He has been working with the Richmond Improvement Association on the Richmond Project at San Quentin. The project's goal is to establish relationships with inmates before they are released so community members can help them find housing, education, job training and substance-abuse programs.
Bell also is a proponent of zero tolerance for people who carry or use guns, and he supports stronger enforcement of loitering and truancy laws.
Like Anderson, Bell favors a friendly approach to dealing with Chevron, though he does support Measure T.
"Chevron is a very good corporate citizen," Bell said. "We want them to pay their fair share, but we have to decide if we want to be right, or do we want to get the results we want."
Reach John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.