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SF Chronicle on Richmond Inauguration
Green Party mayor takes the reins
She promises to start jobs program, cut homicide rate

- Jason B. Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Richmond became the largest city in the nation with a member of the Green Party as its elected mayor Tuesday when Gayle McLaughlin was sworn in during an emotional inaugural ceremony at City Hall. McLaughlin, 54, pledged to launch a new jobs program to employ 1,000 at-risk youth, and to lower the city's homicide rate.

"The roots of crime are systemic in nature -- poverty and the lack of real opportunities," she told 300 people who attended the ceremony. "We must make more of an investment. Let us rise to this challenge."

To pay for her youth jobs program, McLaughlin has said she'll seek to secure state funds and increase tax revenue from Chevron and other manufacturers by changing the way business utility tax payments are calculated.

After her swearing in, she asked the audience for a moment of silence in memory of the most recent homicide victim in Richmond, 25-year-old Victor M. Ramirez.

"We still have to deal with 2006 and the pain of seeing so many young people in caskets," noted Van Jones, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. "The pain of so many funerals in Richmond, and Oakland, and Bayview-Hunters Point."

McLaughlin's victory has been hailed by fellow Greens as a sign of the party's growing strength, but local politicians and community leaders say her triumph in November's election and her continued success depend on issues like crime, jobs and schools.

"We have mothers who have lost their babies to gun violence on the streets of this city," said the Rev. Andre Shumake, head of the Richmond Improvement Association. "If it takes a Green Party candidate to come here and make it happen, so be it. It doesn't matter if you're black, green, white, yellow or polka-dot."

McLaughlin, who was elected to the City Council in 2004, defeated incumbent Mayor Irma Anderson in a hotly contested three-person race decided by roughly 300 votes. She is one of 26 Green Party officials holding elected positions in the Bay Area.

Her victory was featured prominently on the Green Party's official Web site, and last month she shared a stage with former Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader and former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Gonzalez.

The party is known for its strong pro-environment stance. It also supports the impeachment of President Bush.

Gonzalez said having McLaughlin head a city as ethnically and economically diverse as Richmond will help change the party's image as being an environmental movement that only caters to white voters.

He and other McLaughlin supporters say her campaign theme of economic justice for the poor and fighting crime is a "Green message."

"It's the first time the Greens have ever won a mayor's race in a city (that big). It's a little bit of a milestone for us," said Gonzalez. "With each of these accomplishments, people feel a bit more comfortable with the idea of us being leaders."

With a population of about 100,000, Richmond has long been home to shipyards, the Chevron refinery and other heavy industry. In recent years it has sought to transform itself by adding commercial businesses and more upscale residential housing.

County Supervisor John Gioia, whose district includes Richmond, said McLaughlin's victory was helped by voter discontent over rising crime rates -- there were 42 homicides in the city last year, a higher per-capita rate than Oakland's.

"The state Green Party wants to make a lot out of the victory. I don't think that's the case at all," said Gioia. "I think most voters didn't know her party registration.

"Issues in Richmond are the bread-and-butter issues of fighting crime and helping create jobs and improving the schools. One's party is less of an issue. It's about solving those issues."

E-mail Jason B. Johnson at jbjohnson@sfchronicle.com.