The following story by super reporter Robert Rogers in the Contra Costa Times accurately condenses a three hour love fest at the City Council meeting that is not likely to be repeated in future meetings. Although compliments were intermingled with criticisms, even the digs were couched subtly like inside jokes. You had to be in the know to realize what they really were.
Now Robert Rogers is a great reporter, certainly the most prolific I’ve ever known to take the Richmond beat, but I am going to take issue with his characterization of Council factions being “pro-business,” or, by insinuation, its opposite. It’s not just Rogers; almost every story on Richmond politics uses the pro-business characterization to describe Bates and Booze and their supporters (BAPAC, Chamber of Commerce, etc. , at least insinuating that the rest of us are anti-business. Roberts wrote, “Martinez, a progressive candidate with a starkly different platform than the pro-business one on which Bell was elected…”
I am taking on this overused, misused and erroneous characterization of councilmembers attitude towards business as one of my missions of 2013.
Just because a candidate or a council member describes him or herself as pro-business does not necessarily mean that the person is any more pro-business than others or that others are anti-business.
I have written about this many time in the E-FORUM over the years, including most recently, SF Chronicle - Richmond Councilman Ill, Won't Take Office, January 8, 2013, and New York Times - Together a Century, City and Oil Giant Hit a Rough Patch, January 3, 2013. But the myth has taken firm hold and is difficult to dispel. It’s almost as if “anti” (business, Chevron, you name it) has become a new first name for some of us.
First of all, there is no basis for the contention that any of us are anti-business. The California economy is fueled by innovation, whether it is biotech, computer tech or green tech. When the Bay Area’s last conventional automobile manufacturer closed down, it was replaced by Tesla, an electric car manufacturer. That’s the direction the City Council majority wants to go and the direction we are trying to take Richmond. In my book, that’s pro-business.
In California, we grow our economy by exporting innovation. I know this personally. From our Richmond office, our firm provides engineering support for solar projects all over the United States and several foreign countries. Why? Because we are better and cheaper than the competition. We are exporting innovation and creating jobs in Richmond. That’s what California is about, and it’s what Richmond should be about.
Instead of continually referring to the RPA and other progressive councilmembers and candidates as “anti-business,” why don’t we ever see Bates and Booze referred to as anti-technology, anti-environment, anti-health, anti-historic preservation, anti-Richmond Museum, anti-pedestrian, anti-bicycle and anti-greenhouse gas reduction? Maybe even anti-growth (Bates and Booze voted against the dramatically pro-growth and pro-development Richmond General Plan 2030).
I’m not saying Bates and Booze are anti-business; they just have a much narrower perception of what is good for business than the rest of us. Their definition of business starts with a “C”, ends with an “N” and has seven letters.
So, any journalist who falls into tired old anti-business or pro-business clichés in the future can count on hearing from me.
Richmond leaders lean toward future, lament absence of fallen Councilman-elect Gary Bell
By Robert Rogers Contra Costa Times
Posted: 01/08/2013 09:34:32 PM PST
Updated: 01/09/2013 07:08:26 AM PST
RICHMOND -- It was a night to celebrate and look ahead, but a solemn air hung over Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony for the new City Council.
Re-elected incumbents Tom Butt and Nat Bates thanked supporters and pledged four more years of service, while outgoing Councilman Jeff Ritterman highlighted the efforts of those who helped him during his four years on the job.
All took time to ask for prayer and strength for the election winner who was not there, Gary Bell. Bell won't be able to serve and remains in a coma following a severe sinus infection and two neurosurgeries, according to his family.
"Tonight is both a happy occasion and a sad occasion," said Bates, the 81-year-old official first elected to the City Council in the 1960s.
Bell, 54, was hospitalized in the days following his Nov. 6 election. On Nov. 10, his condition worsened and he was rushed to a Kaiser facility in Redwood City for emergency surgery to relieve swelling on his brain. His family announced Jan. 3 that Bell would not be able to serve his term.
According to the city charter, the council can appoint a replacement or call for a special election within 60 days. The council is divided on whether to appoint Eduardo Martinez, the fourth place finisher in the race, or a different candidate or call a special election.
A coalition of Bell's supporters led by the Black American Political Action Committee announced Monday that they oppose the appointment of Martinez, a progressive candidate with a starkly different platform than the pro-business one on which Bell was elected.
But the political maneuvering was largely on hold Tuesday as officials and a chamber packed with residents congratulated the victors and thanked Ritterman.
One by one, Ritterman's colleagues praised the former cardiologist for his work on a variety of issues, including negotiating a $114 million tax settlement with Chevron, wooing the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to build a new campus in the city and leading a failed campaign to tax sugary beverages.
Butt said Richmond is "better off fiscally and physically thanks to your work."
Councilman Jim Rogers compared Ritterman to Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan and Richard Nixon for his ability to negotiate with Chevron and to "make us all better."
Even Corky Booze, Ritterman's harshest critic, offered measured praise of his fiercest opponent.
"Richmond is a better place because you were a councilperson," Booze said. "I'm really going to miss you because I am not going to have anybody to fight with anymore."
Ritterman himself delivered lengthy remarks, urging continued emphasis on health initiatives in the city and challenging leaders to ween themselves off dependence on tax revenues from Chevron, which runs a major local refinery and provides about a third of the city's tax base. He said local government must continue to support education and focus on long-term planning to reduce emissions and brace for the effects of climate change.
Ritterman praised his colleagues and hailed the work of the last four years, noting that then the city seemed on the cusp of opening a massive casino, yet now is attracting high-tech investment and green energy jobs.
"We changed the course of the city," Ritterman said.
In their remarks, council veterans Butt and Bates defended their records and praised the last four years. Butt said his most recent term was the best of his nearly two decades on the dais, especially his work on the new General Plan.
Bates said he garnered more votes than any council candidate in city history, and pledged to use his clout to re-elect his ally Booze in 2014. Contrasted with the progressive leaning council, Bates said Richmond must embrace Chevron, which he said was to Richmond comparable to what high-tech industries are to the Silicon Valley.
"I do not apologize for working closely with Chevron," Bates said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers