|Chip Johnson - Unions' attack on Richmond Mayor a Power Play
October 9, 2010
Unions' attack on Richmond mayor a power play
Richmond's police and firefighter unions launched a vicious campaign attack this week where they portrayed McLaughlin as an unstable, irresponsible individual whose mental fitness for public office should be questioned by voters in next month's election.
In a 2003 bankruptcy filing to seek relief from unpaid student loans, McLaughlin described bouts with "serious psychological disabilities" dating back to her mid-20s that had continuously hindered her ability to work, and subsequently left her unable to repay the loans. She received disability payments for nearly a decade and was hospitalized for her condition twice in 1999.
The information was released by Richmond Firefighters Local 188, who paid a research consultant $15,000 to investigate the mayor's past.
Calls to fire union officials seeking comment were not returned.
But the Richmond Police Officer's Association, which stood shoulder-to-shoulder with firefighters, explained its motivation.
"The truth of the matter is the mayor is a relatively new resident in Richmond who moved here from Vallejo in 2003," said Joey Schlemmer, secretary of the police officers union. "I don't think anybody knew much about her or her background, and we wanted to find out what she was all about." McLaughlin, 58, served two years on the Richmond City Council until 2006, when her election as mayor made Richmond the largest U.S. city with a Green Party member as mayor.
"It's not the adversity one faces, but how they emerge from that adversity that defines them," McLaughlin said in a phone interview Thursday. "People in Richmond understand adversity, and overcoming it is something people in this city do all the time, in all kinds of ways. I stand with them in an urban community that has seen more than its share."
The police and firefighter unions have endorsed McLaughlin rival Nat Bates, who has served on the Richmond City Council for 30 years. John Ziesenhenne, a local businessman and a former council member, is also a candidate.
If the city's public safety unions are that interested in a walk down memory lane, it's only fair to peek at their past history in Richmond politics as well.
In 1997, the firefighters union was caught red-handed by The Chronicle doctoring the donor lists of its Political Action Committee, which made campaign contributions to city, county and school district elections.
Darrell Reese, a former union president and consultant, told The Chronicle the names were added to avoid a state law limiting individual contributions to $250.
So it's not as if McLaughlin is the only interested party in the Richmond mayor's race with a skeleton in her closet.
Seems like McLaughlin's dovish stance is what has put her at odds with members of the city's Police Department. Firefighters are also angry and say her refusal to hire an additional three firefighters has endangered lives.
"In 2005, after a series of shootings and a wave of violence, there was a (council) motion to declare a state of emergency, but the mayor voted against it," Schlemmer said. She has also failed to support the purchase of electronic surveillance equipment and other investigative aids used in modern-day law enforcement, he said.
She even tried to get a council resolution passed to condemn the war in Iraq.
"This isn't Berkeley," Schlemmer snapped. "This is Richmond."
It seems that once you cross a certain point in a political campaign - or a court case - the emphasis shifts dramatically from being right to being the winner.
At issue for Richmond voters next month is whether they have confidence in McLaughlin's ability to lead the city, and whether the low point in a person's life permanently impairs ability and function in the workplace.
So long as McLaughlin is able to maintain her health and perform her duties as mayor, she is no different from millions of U.S. citizens who use prescription medicine on a daily basis to treat a temporary or permanent medical or psychological condition.
Chip Johnson's column appears in The Chronicle on Tuesday and Friday. E-mail him at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle