Richmond's chamber and mayor square off about her job performance
By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Contra Costa Times columnist
Posted: 02/27/2010 05:33:00 PM PST
The "If you sue me, I'll sue you!" tiff between Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the city's Chamber of Commerce looks like the unofficial start of the brewing fight for control of the city's top post.
The latest spat started after McLaughlin's state of the city address, when Chevron Richmond Refinery Manager Mike Coyle whined in a letter that the mayor left the business community off her list of groups that had contributed to the city.
McLaughlin's blah-blah response — —... the time constraints of the presentation do not enable me to mention every contributor "... " — drew fire from Chamber of Commerce President Judy Morgan.
In an indignant missive to her members, Morgan accused McLaughlin, who is expected to run for re-election in November, of looking for ways to hike business taxes and said the mayor's inaction cost the city 1,000 jobs when a judge shut down Chevron's upgrade project.
McLaughlin imperiously demanded a retraction.
The mayor cautioned Morgan from "distributing future potentially libelous communications under the chamber letterhead about me or any other public servant. To do so puts the chamber at serious risk of legal liability."
McLaughlin tosses in another zinger, writing, "In these times of economic strife and job loss, it seems to me that you would have better things to do than spreading false and politically motivated communications to your membership."
The chamber's lawyer responded in kind: "If you ever bring a lawsuit against anyone arising from public criticism of the way you do (or don't do) your job as mayor of the city of Richmond, it will be defended vigorously and after it is dismissed, you will be sued for malicious prosecution."
On the same date, the chamber sent McLaughlin an invite (insert straight face here) to break bread and discuss how her office "has helped promote new business and jobs for Richmond."
Oh, for pity's sake.
McLaughlin's libel taunt is absurd. If the courts entertained lawsuits every time someone mischaracterized a politician's views — well, you get the point.
As for the content of Morgan's letter, it is only partially accurate.
Yes, the mayor does support the imposition of new taxes on businesses.
But no, McLaughlin is not personally responsible for the lawsuit brought by environmental groups and the subsequent judge's ruling that stopped the Chevron project and put 1,246 people out of work.
On the other hand, McLaughlin's critics can be forgiven for blaming her.
She is an ardent environmentalist who voted with the minority against Chevron's project. She called the judge's ruling a victory for Richmond. She marched in a protest outside Chevron's gates.
Business interests, trade unions and Chevron, which hold a tenuous 4-3 vote on the City Council, would love to kick McLaughlin out of office. But there is no consensus on who they would put up to replace her.
Richmond Councilwoman Maria Viramontes is reportedly bobbing back and forth between running for mayor or for re-election to her council seat. She could make her decision public as early as Monday.
Councilman Nat Bates is telling people he will likely run for mayor.
Veteran Richmond political observers say Viramontes has the better odds in a head-to-head matchup with McLaughlin although private polls reportedly show the incumbent mayor with a nearly insurmountable lead.
The potential of a three-way race worries the anti-McLaughlin camp.
The mayor won in 2006, in large part, due to a split in the black and business vote between then-Mayor Irma Anderson and chamber favorite Gary Bell.
The Chevron project is not the only influence in the mayor's race.
The city is scheduled to vote within a few months on the controversial Indian casino at Point Molate and anti-casino signs targeting some members of the council have already gone up.
Richmond continues to struggle with violent crime and residents have grown increasingly frustrated with government's inability to stop it.
And some members of the city's influential Black American Political Action Committee are reportedly threatening to withhold their endorsement of any mayoral or council candidate who does not support the firing of City Manager Bill Lindsay or police Chief Chris Magnus in a dispute related to a racial discrimination lawsuit against the city.
It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the popularity of McLaughlin and her sustainable communities platform, said Councilman Tom Butt, who has been the mayor's chief defender against recent attacks.
"This so-called business community, mostly Chevron, may have a lot of money but I'm not sure they have a lot of votes," Butt said.
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, email@example.com orIBABuzz.com/politics.