Darrell Reese behind Richmond attack ad, some say
Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writer
To supporters of Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the flyer that landed in voters' mailboxes earlier this month revealing her 1990s hospitalization for depression and her defaulting on college loans carried a familiar scent.
The ad seemed designed not just to discredit the candidate, but to destroy her. For years, that strategy was the hallmark of one of the groups behind the ad - the Richmond firefighters union and its leader and political kingmaker, Darrell Reese.
It was once all but impossible to win election to the Richmond City Council without the backing of Reese and his union. Reese is retired now - he's 73 and left the union shortly after he was convicted of tax evasion in 2001 - but he still casts a shadow over Richmond politics from his home a few miles up the road in Rodeo.
"I would suspect that's probably the case," McLaughlin, a member of the Green Party, said when asked whether she thought Reese was behind the attack. "I, myself, do not engage with this person. ... But this is the last gasp of it. It's the last gasp of an old power base that can't really address these issues, so they resort to this."
Reese denies it
Reese says he had nothing to do with the broadside against the mayor, who angered the firefighters and police unions - the other group behind the attack flyer - by failing to support their budget requests.
"At one time in my life, it was very important to me," Reese said of Richmond politics. But he says he's long since ended his affiliation with the unions or any candidates.
Reese's reputation clings to the city of 103,000 in an election year when campaign spending on city races and measures is expected to exceed $1 million for the first time.
Besides the mayoral race, in which the firefighters and police unions are backing City Councilman Nat Bates, residents will cast an advisory vote on a proposed $1 billion, Las Vegas-style resort and casino at Point Molate. Money is pouring into that contest from local card rooms and Nevada casinos, which see the project as competition, and the Indian tribe that would build it.
Jobs for hard-hit city
The Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, who would build the resort, says the project would bring 17,000 jobs to a city where unemployment is nearly 20 percent. Opponents say it would attract the societal ills of gambling addiction and petty crimes.
McLaughlin is against the casino, while Bates supports it. A third mayoral candidate, John Ziesenhenne, said he will wait for the advisory vote results before he announces a position. A new City Council will probably vote on the development after the New Year.
To Bates, the suggestion that Reese was working behind the scenes to damage his opponent reeks of paranoia.
"It's always nice to throw Darrell's name around these days," Bates said. "It's supposed to taint the person he's associated with."
Bates was once among the council members whom critics dubbed "Reese's pieces" for their allegiance to the union leader.
During an FBI investigation into alleged City Hall corruption a decade ago, two contractors told a federal grand jury that Bates and another councilman had solicited $20,000 payments to their political action committee in exchange for a city road construction job, according to news reports.
Bates was never indicted. But the allegations, coupled with Reese's tax evasion conviction that grew out of the probe, left a tarnish that has been difficult for the councilman to shake.
"You always make the big headlines when you're being investigated," Bates said. "But when they find nothing, they don't write the headlines so big, 'Didn't Find Anything.' It just quietly goes away."
If Bates wins, there will surely be murmurs that the October mailer played a role in McLaughlin's loss, and some will believe Reese called the shot.
Bates said he has not spoken to his friend in about a year.
"In this city, people are always looking for something that will reveal your character," he said. "We're an open book."
Half-time on hay farm
Reese said in an interview that he was aware of his legacy in Richmond. But he said he's left that world, and that the only donation he's made this year was a $99 check to council candidate Virginia Finlay.
Six months out of the year, Reese said, he lives on a hay farm in Virginia, "where all I see is open fields and forest."
But when he's in California, he admits he takes a strong interest in the direction of Richmond, where he served as fire captain for more than 40 years.
He supports the casino. "With the right kind of resort, it could be an icon on San Francisco Bay and be part of the city's tourism package," Reese said. "It could bring a new, beautiful image to the city of Richmond."
But he stops short of contacting people, he said. He's no longer conceiving media blitzes and talking strategy, and in the case of the McLaughlin mailer, he found some humor that people in Richmond lay the blame on him.
"It's a different world for me now," he said. "And there's nothing I can say. If they think I'm involved, I'm involved. But I'm not."
E-mail Justin Berton at email@example.com.
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Richmond council candidates want jobs, youth activities, better crime control
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 10/15/2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Updated: 10/18/2010 04:53:33 PM PDT
Three seats. Nine candidates.
As the crowded race for Richmond City Council shifts into its final weeks, candidates are rolling out mailers, doorhangers and billboards to woo voters.
Each says they have the leadership to guide Contra Costa County's second largest city into a robust, economically viable future. Each promises new jobs and revenue in a city that craves both. The difference lies in how they believe Richmond can get there.
Incumbents Myrna Lopez, Jim Rogers and Maria Viramontes seek re-election, saying Richmond is on the road to improvement. They point to budgets balanced without major layoffs, neighborhood schools spared from closure and completion of big renovation projects such as Civic Center and the Plunge.
Six challengers argue they can do a better job: businessman and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Corky Booze; violence reduction worker and Planning Commissioner Jovanka Beckles; real estate agent and planning commission veteran Virginia Finlay; developer and Community Development Commissioner Rhonda Harris; retired teacher Eduardo Martinez; and lab technician Harry Singh.
A 10th candidate, former councilman Gary Bell, withdrew in August because of family reasons. His name remains on the ballot.
The candidates say they are committed to reducing crime, which will help boost Richmond's image and entice businesses to locate here.
Booze points to town hall meetings he holds in Parchester Village, which he said has helped cut crime along with community policing. The city should identify troubled citizens and hot spots and be more aggressive with crime prevention programs in schools.
Crime is down, proof that community policing is working, Beckles said. The city must get to the problem's roots: despair and hopelessness. Richmond needs to create models and opportunities for youths and expand key institutions such as libraries, after-school programs, recreation, job training and neighborhood schools.
Finlay said she supports a fully-staffed police department equipped with the most up-to-date technology used in tracking and enforcement. She supports prosecuting offenders, community policing and job creation.
Harris says the city should partner with organizations that provide activities for youths and young adults. Officials should work with high schools to reduce the dropout rate and provide more tutoring, sports and other activities. She said she supports public safety, crime prevention, job creation and job training programs.
Lopez says bringing more jobs to the city is key because a strong economy will enable the city to afford more police. The city also needs to plan for the 300 parolees who return to Richmond annually and it must work more closely with neighborhood crime watch groups.
Martinez wants additional staffed community centers and supports encouraging more neighborhood resident patrols to increase community cohesiveness. He backs activities for youths, a program to help released prisoners become contributing residents and training and employment opportunities.
Attracting and keeping businesses that offer livable-wage blue-collar jobs will help reduce crime, Rogers said. He wants to put more police on the streets, require problem liquor stores pay for police patrols to curb loitering and crime and to keep neighborhood schools open to address the dropout rate and decrease in test scores.
The city should increase police, jobs and job training for youths, Singh said. It should also promote community involvement and expand community policing.
The average California city has 2.3 officers for every 1,000 residents; Viramontes said she wrote city legislation to equip high crime areas with three officers per 1,000 residents, which the council approved. She said she supports a comprehensive community effort, and will work to fund crime prevention, support crime victims, protect witnesses and seek prosecution of violent offenders.
See how the nine Richmond City Council candidates stand on local issues. Go online and click on the link with this story to access the chart.