|Who's In In 2010?
January 10, 2010
Disclaimer: I have never understood Richmond politics and have never understood why some people win and others lose. But it’s always fascinating to ponder the subject and discuss it. I welcome feedback on this E-FORUM, and I will try to share all of it I get.
With only a little more than 10 months to go until the next Richmond City Council and mayoral election, the campaign trail is unnervingly quiet. Perhaps it’s because the world will end in 2012, so why bother? As far as I know, only two candidates (Jovanka Beckles and Rhonda Harris), both challengers, have publicly acknowledged they are entering the race. Corky Booze has told me privately that he will be there.
Running for office in Richmond has historically been a contest between populists and establishmentarians, and the existing City Council is roughly divided that way. Generalizations are always risky, but a populist is generally a candidate associated with a political philosophy that favors social and political system change that favor "the people" over "the elites." The Establishment, generally, is the traditional conservative ruling class and its institutions. Some organizations, such as labor unions, may reject being lumped with the ruling class, but in Richmond politics, there are strange bedfellows.
While the populace is the source of votes, the establishment is the source of money. The Richmond establishment includes the public employee unions, the construction trade unions, a few members of the Council of Industries that actually put up lots of money, including Chevron (and its phony PACs, “independent committees”), with names like Committee for Industrial Safety, Richmond First Committee, The Committee to Oppose Measure T and Committee for Quality Government), the Chamber of Commerce (and RichPAC), which talks loudly but is cheap, real estate developers (recently a dying breed), City vendors and contractors and organizations that front for the establishment, like BAPAC. This isn’t necessarily to say that one is good and the other is bad or that there are aren’t overlaps or mergers of interests among them, but it is a simplified way to begin to understand Richmond politics.
An incumbent, however, who is likely to be successful can often transcend the typical dichotomy of traditional interests and find supporters in both camps.
One of the highest profile issues in the 2010 election is likely to be Point Molate. Incumbents Viramontes, Rogers and Lopez, who are all up for reelection, could, along with Bates, be called the “Casino Four,” a reminder of the “Chevron Five” of 2008, which lost 40% of its five members (Marquez and Sandhu) in the last election. Regardless of the vast benefits touted for Point Molate, nothing at all will happen there before the 2010 election except maybe some more historic buildings will fall down. Point Molate supporters will be able to show no fruits of their support for the project before election day – only dreams – which makes it a risky campaign issue.
Here are the people to watch:
· Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is likely to run for a second term. Word on the street is that she maintains an electable popularity that may have even expanded since her razor-thin win over former Mayor Irma Anderson and Gary Bell in a three-way 2008 race. Business and industrial interests generally do not like her, but they never have – and they generally don’t vote because they don’t live in Richmond. McLaughlin has consistently opposed the Point Molate Upstream project.
· Current City Council member Maria Viramontes is rumored to be more than just leaning towards challenging McLaughlin. She is well tied in with the establishment, most of whom would be glad to see McLaughlin go away. If this is a two way race, it would be a classic showdown between two, particularly with the element of mutual personal animosity that goes beyond just politics. Viramontes voted against the original LDA with Upstream Point Molate in 2004, but she has been a steadfast and increasingly vocal supporter ever since.
· Nat Bates may make another run at mayor. Being in the middle of a four-year term, he can join the fray without risking his council, seat. Bates would also be a spoiler for Viramontes, possibly siphoning off critical support from his long-time establishment supporters who otherwise might, sometimes reluctantly, support Viramontes. He could also pull some the African American vote that might otherwise go to Mclaughlin. Speculation is that not running with Obama this time will provide somewhat of a headwind. Bates has been the most consistent and least critical supporter of the Point Molate Upstream project from the beginning.
City Council Race
· Jim Rogers, who works hard at blurring the line between populist and establishment and bridges the gap adeptly, was the top vote getter in 2006. This seems to work for him, and he is a good bet for reelection. Rogers has been a stalwart supporter of the Upstream Point Molate project, and this may cost him some votes, but the hard core opposition is probably a lot less than most people think.
· If she doesn’t run for mayor, Maria Viramontes will probably try to retain her City Council seat. In 2006, she ran a close second behind Jim Rogers, separated by less than 300 votes. Whatever taint she may have left over from the Chevron Five will probably fade from Richmond short memory syndrome. She has a history of support from the construction trades unions and is working hard at cultivating support from Police and Fire Unions. She may not be their dream candidate, but watch the establishment fall in behind her. Add the Latino community, and she looks like a winner.
· As far as we know, Ludmyrna Lopez will go for reelection. She ran #3 behind Rogers and Viramontes to win a seat in her first try in 2006. Probably the most vulnerable of the three incumbents, she has yet to establish herself as a strong voice for any particular interest. Watch her get into campaign mode this year by taking on high profile causes. She was one of the Chevron Five and appears to be a charter member of the Casino Four. The establishment owes her.
· Definitely a populist candidate, Jovanka Beckles almost beat me for third place in the 2008 election. She was only 0.6 a percentage points and 458 votes behind me and 0.7 percentage points and 465 votes behind Nat Bates. She was the first 2010 candidate to declare and has been quietly campaigning for months. She is closely tied to the Richmond Progressive Alliance with which Gayle McLaughlin most closely identifies. Jovanka opposes the Point Molate Upstream project.
· John Marquez, another Chevron Five member, is likely to try again to regain his seat. In 2008, he ran 5th, nearly 1,500 votes behind Jovanka Beckles. A traditional establishment candidate, Marquez has counted on support from the growing Richmond Latino community, but in the last election found himself in a ménage a trois, caught between his support by the Richmond Police Officers Association and suspicion of law enforcement by immigrants wary of traffic and vehicle law enforcement. In 2008, the incumbent Marquez eked out a fifth place showing, 1,463 votes behind Beckles. Marquez is a frequent attendee at City Council meetings and a speaker on one or two agenda items, a sure sign of an ambitious candidate.
· I would have bet on Harpreet Sandhu to run again, but his attendance at City Council meetings has waned in recent months, a sign that his interest may also be waning. Sandhu was a definite establishment type when he last served after being appointed to take Tony Thurmond’s place. He was one of the Chevron Five and ran in seventh place in 2008, garnering only 7.65% of the vote.
· Corky Booze, a perennial populist candidate who has run every race since anyone can remember says he’s back again. Booze was the runner up in 2006 with 3,182 votes, just 263 votes behind Lopez who joined Viramontes and Rogers as winners. In 2008, he didn’t do as well, running in sixth place, but he logged 7,382 votes, more than twice as many as in 2006 and more than enough to have gotten him elected in 2008. Voter turnout and who votes will be key to Booze’s chances in 2010. Booze has taken lately to criticizing the Upstream Point Molate project.
· Gary Bell has shown some recent interest in a City Council campaign. He came in third in the three-way race for mayor in 2006 that left Gayle McLaughlin as the winner. Bell, as did I, voted for the Point Molate LDA in 2004 but was out of office during the entire Chevron debacle. Historically, he is an establishment candidate, but in 2006, the establishment deserted him to support Mayor Anderson. If he goes for it, will they back him?
· Rhonda Harris will be perhaps the only entirely new candidate but not a new face in Richmond. She is a 34-year Richmond resident, a member of the Community Development Commission, president of the Contractors' Alliance of Richmond, executive director of the Richmond Community Based Employment Collaborative, vice president of the Santa Fe Neighborhood Council, and served on the Steering Committee member of Richmond Groundworks Trust. She is CEO of R.F. & Associates Inc. (RFA), a real estate developer, general contractor and community improvement advocate. Harris has worked hard to insure City of Richmond construction contract dollars go to local residents and businesses, but if she is elected, conflict of interest laws will bar her company from doing any business with the City of Richmond. Although Harris has a foot in the populist camp, she looks like an establishment candidate with close ties to BAPAC.
· Tony Thurmond’s name has been mentioned, but he will not be running.
· Virginia Finlay, Planning Commissioner and President of the Marina Bay Neighborhood Council.
· Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Executive Director, Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc.
· Rock Brown, the 8th Place finisher in the 2008 City Council race.