West Contra Costa school board trustee Charles Ramsey sets sights on becoming Richmond's next mayor
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 07/09/2013 03:46:08 PM PDT
Updated: 07/09/2013 04:48:55 PM PDT
RICHMOND -- Longtime West Contra Costa school board trustee Charles Ramsey has his sights set on a new gig in 2014: mayor of Richmond.
Ramsey confirmed Tuesday that he moved to the city in December and has been laying the groundwork for his campaign in recent weeks.
"I think I would be a good match for the job and the residents of Richmond," he said by telephone. "I know Richmond, and I'm young enough to have the time and energy to put into being mayor."
Ramsey, 51, becomes the second well-known local figure to announce his intentions to lead West Contra Costa County's largest city. City Councilman Nat Bates, 83, has also declared his hopes to replace Mayor Gayle McLaughlin in November 2014.
McLaughlin, who was elected in 2006 and is the nation's only Green Party mayor of a city of more than 100,000 residents, will be termed out after serving two four-year terms.
News of Ramsey's entry into the race drew mixed reaction.
Councilman Tom Butt said he would support Ramsey, and he hailed the longtime school board member as a leader who could help bridge the divisiveness that has marred Richmond politics in recent years.
"Charles would not come into the race with a lot of baggage," Butt said. "He's not involved in Richmond politics and alliances on the down and dirty level; he comes in on a record of basically helping rebuild every school in Richmond, which is huge."
Councilman Corky Boozé, who along with Bates is often at odds with Butt and the more progressive wing of the council, dismissed Ramsey as "Tom Butt's candidate."
"Charles is making a mistake in trying to take on Nat," Boozé said. "He's in the race because Tom Butt wants to pit black against black."
Both Ramsey and Bates are African-American.
Ramsey's proponents note that he has credibility with the city's still-powerful black voting blocs as well as within other communities because of his work on the school board. At his best, Ramsey might be able to bridge the widening chasms in Richmond politics.
Last year, Ramsey raised eyebrows when he became the most high-profile black leader in the city to support Measure N, which sought to tax sugary beverages and was bitterly opposed by Boozé and Bates. Measure N was trounced by voters.
"African-American people aren't monolithic," Ramsey said. "Just because that is one issue a lot of people disagreed on doesn't mean they become political enemies. I like the fact that we had a difference of opinion on that; that's democracy."
Ramsey said that in recent days he has "reached out" to the influential Black American Political Action Committee, a group that has long supported Bates.
"Ramsey is out there searching for support," Bates said. "But I don't see any of my supporters abandoning me. They've known me for many years."
Ramsey said he grew up in Richmond and Berkeley. His father, Judge Henry Ramsey, taught at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall, helped integrate the District Attorney's Office in the 1960s and was a member of the Berkeley City Council in the 1970s. Ramsey's mother, Evelyn, ran for Richmond City Council in 1995 and lost to Bates.
"It feels good to be back," said Ramsey, who previously lived with his wife and two daughters in El Cerrito. Ramsey said he is going through a divorce, and his wife still lives in El Cerrito.
While Ramsey is lauded for his efforts leading bond measures that have funded a massive infrastructure investment in area schools, his past has not been without controversy.
First elected to the school board in 1993, Ramsey was re-elected in 1997 despite pleading no contest to a 1995 charge that he solicited an undercover officer posing as a prostitute in Oakland. The incident was expunged from his record in 2001. He unsuccessfully sought a state Assembly seat in 2002.
In the 2000s, he nearly got into a fistfight with a district sound technician and had well-publicized outbursts in which he publicly berated parents, a teacher, union leaders and school board candidates. But his proponents see Ramsey as a rare political talent who can advance big agendas.
"Charles is a leader in a truly political sense," said Karen Pfeiffer, who served with Ramsey on the school board from 2004 to 2008. "This is the rare leader who can communicate with different people in different ways in a way that brings them together toward a common goal."
Critics see Ramsey as brash, pugnacious and an emotional loose cannon.
Glen Price, who served with Ramsey on the school board from 1997 to 2006, said Ramsey has "matured" and "takes his role as a public servant very seriously."
"He's gotten a lot better at channeling that tremendous energy he has in a positive way," Price said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.
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