Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2018  
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  Richmond's Mayor - A Choice Between Moving Forward and Moving Backwards
October 18, 2018

In the race for Richmond mayor, two leading East Bay newspapers, the East Bay Times and the East Bay Express, have both endorsed me. The East Bay Times is part of the Bay Area News Group, the largest publisher of daily and weekly newspapers in the Bay Area and, for this area, a relatively conservative voice. The East Bay Express, on the other hand, is known for its ultra-liberal viewpoint and engagement in advocacy journalism.

To be endorsed by media on completely opposite ends of the political spectrum is testimony that action speaks louder than words and experience is more important than ideology. While the national political scene grows ever more contentious over ideological differences on such things as abortion, immigration and taxation, people in cities are more focused on non-partisan issues that they pretty much agree on, like reducing crime, paving streets, and providing jobs and affordable housing. People in cities want a mayor and City Council members who can get things done, not just spout ideology.

In the last couple of years, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) has tried to construct a myth, bolstered by two books written by RPA members, Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City and Winning Richmond: How a Progressive Alliance Won City Hall, that their ultra-progressive brand of politics dramatically changed Richmond for the better and saved it from spiraling into self-destruction.

The truth is that Richmond was headed towards a more progressive future long before the RPA even knew our city existed, and I was an integral part of that movement. In their endorsement editorial, the East Bay Express recognized that truth: “Tom Butt deserves a ton of credit for his 20-plus years in Richmond City Hall, fighting Chevron long before others, working to preserve the city's rich heritage, and pushing for renewable energy programs.” (

While the East Bay Express praised my progressive bona fides, the more conservative East Bay Times recognized the value of my practical side, a product of decades of experience in both business and government: “In the mayoral race, Butt understands the problem… he stands head and shoulders above his competitor, Councilman Melvin Willis, who is banking on still more tax revenues to solve the city’s financial problems.”(

In a companion article separate from the endorsement, the East Bay Express went into more detail about both my political history and why I should be elected to a second term:

The question is not whether Richmond will grow, but how that growth will be managed. That question will be answered in part by who voters elect for mayor on Nov. 6. The choice is between current mayor, Tom Butt, a 23-year council veteran, and Vice Mayor Melvin Willis, a relatively new councilmember who was elected in 2016.

For his part, Butt has spearheaded numerous projects during his two-plus decades in office. Before winning the mayor's seat in 2014, he spent 19 years on the council, where he earned a reputation for being a good government official. He makes himself readily available to the public and never shies away from controversial or tough questions. Butt's E-Forum, which is regularly emailed to roughly 4,000 residents and dozens of media outlets, has been a powerful source of news and information for Richmond residents — especially during the decline of newspapers.

In his early years in City Hall, Butt was in the council's progressive minority. He was often the lone voice against Chevron's authoritative influence that held sway over the council for decades. In the 1990s, Butt organized, with a handful of other elected officials, to challenge Darrell Reese, a corrupt Richmond fire captain and union official who, like a Tammany Hall boss, controlled the city council through bullying and intimidation
Butt is an accomplished architect and has used his professional skillset to help preserve Richmond's rich history of World War II shipbuilding structures. Nearly all of those buildings have been repurposed to draw tourists, generate local pride, and spur economic development
A shortlist of his preservation work includes helping to establish Rosie the Riveter WWII National Park, and he was a key factor in the preservation of the Ford Plant where military tanks and Model Ts were manufactured. Now the Craneway Pavilion, the building is a thriving office park crowned by an entertainment and convention venue that overlooks San Francisco Bay. Butt lead the effort to preserve the Riggers Loft, now a popular bayside wine bar. He also contributed his architectural skills to the preservation and restoration of Nystrom School, a two-story wood schoolhouse built in 1943 to serve the children of Kaiser Shipyard workers.

Butt advocated for decades to bring a Richmond-San Francisco ferry to the waterfront, and a new ferry system is scheduled to begin operation on Jan. 10, 2019. City officials predict the ferry will add to Richmond's new cachet as a commuter city and create a surge of development on the waterfront near the terminal.

Butt has led the city's efforts to expand renewable energy use, and along with Councilmember Jael Myrick, he established Richmond Promise, which provides funding and support for underprivileged youth to attend college. Butt authored Measure T, which is expected to raise nearly $3 million for homeless services.

Richmond's new ferry system demonstrates a key difference between Willis and Butt. Willis is cautiously supportive of the ferry. He worries that it will accelerate a rise in home prices, which will deplete the affordable housing stock and create more gentrification.

Butt takes a different approach. He said the best way to generate funding for affordable homes is through building market-rate housing. He added that Richmond, like all cities, relies on property taxes and sales taxes to pay for homeless programs, affordable housing, policing, and road maintenance. "Every time we build market-rate housing, it provides for affordable housing through our inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires affordable units or in lieu funds to build affordable housing at another location," Butt explained.

There is another important aspect of being a mayor that is often overlooked. Richmond is not an island. We are an integral part of the greater Bay Area with a population in the millions, and most of our challenges and opportunities are shared with our neighbors, including transportation, housing, homelessness, employment, environment and climate change. I serve on multiple regional boards and commissions and work with my peer elected officials in the Bay Area every day on solving problems and seizing opportunities that are good for Richmond. We learn from each other, and we help each other. That’s why virtually all of them have endorsed me. ( My opponent, on the other hand, pretty much lives in a bubble, taking counsel and direction almost exclusively from the RPA and their “allied organizations.”  

Again, people want a mayor who can get things done to make Richmond a better place. My opponent, Melvin Willis is a pessimist, a negativist and a cynic. In his RPA world, all corporations are evil, all landlords are greedy, and profit is a dirty word. Willis believes the ferry is of questionable value because it will gentrify Richmond. He voted against hiring our new city manager, Carlos Martinez. He opposes developing Point Molate. He wants only low cost housing in Richmond. He wants to move Richmond backwards to a time when crime, blight, and pollution made our city so undesirable that no one wanted to live here, but rents were cheap.

Keep Richmond moving forward. Reelect Tom Butt as mayor.