I’m not sure whether I should be flattered or offended as the subject of a special October 7 missive from the Chamber of Commerce (see below) labeling me as an “anti-establishment radical progressive” and challenging my selection of the Chamber of Commerce and Chevron as my favorite bête noirs of the Richmond establishment.
This unusually intense diatribe went on to accuse me of spreading falsehoods and baseless accusations, but the Chamber failed to reveal exactly what those falsehoods and baseless accusations are.
Ironically, the business I own is one of those “800 or so business members” that I am accused of overlooking. I have been a member of the Chamber of Commerce for several decades, and I am a former director, so I do know something about it. As I recall, I was on the Chamber board when the current president, Judy Morgan, was first hired.
It would seem that instead of making me their radical progressive anti-establishmnet poster child, the Chamber would be honoring me as the only member of the City Council who actually owns and operates a real business in Richmond, thus providing my colleagues with some unique and valuable insight into the challenges and needs of local small businesses. I keep waiting for that recognition, but I don’t think I’ll hold my breath.
The fact is that the Chamber of Commerce is a good organization that provides many valuable services for both the business community and the community at large. One I particularly appreciate is the Home Front Festival, which the Chamber manages and coordinates.
The Chamber's Achilles heel, however, is its obsession with politics and what it euphemistically calls “business friendly” candidates. To be a “business friendly” candidate, you have to answer the following questions affirmatively and take an oath to remain committed forever:
· Will you unequivocally support anything and everything Chevron does or says and condemn those who don’t?
· Will you oppose any increase in fees or taxes by the City of Richmond, regardless of the justification, the ability of those who are subject to pay or the end use of the proceeds?
· Will you demean anything “green,” including green jobs, the Green Party, and green energy (except, of course, green “grass,” because illegal marijuana dealers are dues paying Chamber members and valued members of the business community)?
· Will you support an urban casino at Point Molate no matter what adverse impacts it has on Richmond residents and no matter how bad the design is?
· Will you despise Mayor Gayle McLaughlin (and all she stands or and all others she supports) with all your soul, with all your heart and with all your mind?
In fact, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce has become essentially the Richmond chapter of the Tea Party. Its aim is to unseat all non-business friendly Council members and replace them with toadies of big business and big oil who are both predictable and controllable. With Tom Waller as its orator and Josh Genser as its scribe, the Chamber Tea Party would make sure that the City of Richmond is once again set on a straight path. No more of this nonsense about a balanced budget, highest per capita solar installations in the state, plummeting homicide rate, declining crime overall, hiring cops instead of laying them off and high profile public works projects. These are all diversions and distractions from Richmond’s real mission – sucking up to Chevron and Jim Levine.
Finally, the Chamber noted that I had skipped out on their Economic Summit, which in fact, I did for a very old fashioned reason – I had to work. They also maintained that I refused to speak at any Chamber event, which is ludicrous. I was a speaker at the Chamber’s “Green is Gold” event a couple of years ago before green became an official Chamber profanity. Beyond that, I have never been invited except once when they called shortly before a breakfast meeting and needed a replacement speaker at the last minute. I had a conflict and declined. I am, however, available to address any Chamber event at any time.
In a poll of its members several years ago, the majority of respondents felt the Chamber was too political, but they did not listen, except to themselves.
Once again, the best advice I can give you is to vote for anyone but the Chamber’s slate of endorsed candidates.
Setting the Record Straight for Business
A Message to the Richmond Chamber
Membership and the Community
Councilmember Tom Butt is well known for his opinions and viewpoints, and nearly always obliges readers of his e-forum with his radically progressive political leanings and his anti-establishment rhetoric. As many of his readers will attest, his two favorite targets are the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Chevron. Are either of these so-called "establishments" above reproach and immune to constructive criticism? Certainly not. However, when Councilmember Butt uses his e-forum to spread falsehoods and write baseless accusations against the Chamber and its 800 or so business members, he needs to be called out.
First, here's a few facts about the membership of the Chamber: Approximately 70 percent of our members are considered small businesses - that is, businesses with less than 10 employees. Large businesses, like Chevron, Kaiser Permanente, Doctors Medical Center, Costco, West County School District, Contra Costa College, Richmond Sanitary and others, make up only 4 percent of our members, having over 100 employees each. It's the diversity of our member businesses that we believe is our greatest strength. If Councilmember Butt had bothered to attend our recent and very successful Economic Summit, he would have seen this diversity in action.
Contrary to comments made by Councilmember Butt on his e-forum, the City of Richmond and the Chamber of Commerce enjoy a strong and growing partnership, and the City served as one of the primary sponsors of the Economic Summit. Perhaps he didn't attend the Summit because it was too "establishment" for him. Perhaps it was because he feared there would be too many viewpoints expressed that didn't align with his own views. Or perhaps he didn't attend because he was simply out of town. We don't know because he never responded to our invitation to attend.
Councilmember Butt believes Chevron controls the Chamber and that we are merely an extension of their business objectives. Let me assure you that this is simply untrue. Chevron is part of the community of businesses in Richmond, large and small, of which the Chamber of Commerce is comprised. Chevron has only one vote, no more than any other member. On the other hand, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce refuses to disavow or become antagonistic toward Chevron merely to satisfy Councilmember Butt's amply and often demonstrated hatred of the City's largest private employer.
It so happens that, on some issues, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Chevron agree. On others, the Chamber and Chevron politely and respectfully disagree. Polite and respectful disagreement is difficult to come by in this town, where, apparently, agreeing with Chevron on anything is considered the same thing as being its toady. The Richmond Chamber of Commerce suggests that Tom Butt and other Councilmember's have much to learn from the relationships among Richmond businesses that is the Chamber of Commerce, that mutual long-term interests are more important than politically-driven rhetoric.
Or maybe we've gotten Councilmember Butt all wrong. As we do with all our City Council members, Tom Butt has a standing invitation to speak at one of our many luncheons and business-building breakfasts. Sadly, I can't recall a time when the councilman has accepted our offer.
President and CEO