My favorite journalistic curmudgeon, Tom Barnidge of the Contra Costa Times, suggests that Richmond isn’t doing so well and might benefit from the election of a mayor with no record and no prior experience. This is not a bash of Uche Uwahemu, who is a polite and soft-spoken candidate who promises a better Richmond if he is elected.
But this is a response to the proposition that Richmond is broken and has to be fixed, preferably by someone who has no prior experience in local government.
Richmond, in fact, is doing remarkably well, particularly in the areas most important to residents. All of the following are taken from credible statistical sources:
- In 2013, Richmond had the lowest homicide rate in 33 years. In 2014, homicides are down another 33% from 2013! (Richmond Police Department)
- Crime continues to fall every year - violent crime is down 21% and property crime down 19% from last year! (Richmond Police Department)
- Richmond residents have gained 4,300 jobs in the last 4 years! (California Employment Development Department)
- Richmond’s Pavement Condition Index has risen 32% since 2007 (Metropolitan Transportation Commission)
- In the 2013 National Citizen Survey Richmond residents increased their rating of Richmond since 2007 by:
- Overall Quality of Life: +76%
- Overall Appearance of Richmond: +55%
- Overall Direction Richmond is Taking: +36%
- Quality of Services Provided by City of Richmond: +100%
The reputation the City Council has gained or being dysfunctional is based on the process, not the results. The City Council has been remarkably effective, closing out the pre-break 2014 session by approving a $1 billion Chevron Modernization Project that has the strictest regulations on a refinery in history, creates 1,000 jobs and provides $90 million of community benefits for Richmond.
The appearance of dysfunction and lack of civility is almost entirely caused by one rogue city council member and a half dozen regular spectators who imitate and encourage him.
Incidentally, Barnidge has me down for 15 years on the council; the right number is 19 years. And as far as running for mayor, I’ve only run once – in 2001. I came in second behind Irma Anderson and in front of Nat Bates. Now, Irma is endorsing me for mayor.
Barnidge: Long-shot mayoral candidate plans to fell both Richmond titans
By Tom Barnidge
Contra Costa Times Columnist
Posted: 09/06/2014 04:23:40 PM PDT
Updated: 09/06/2014 04:23:42 PM PDT
The Richmond mayoral race has been portrayed as a battle of the titans -- 15-year City Councilman Tom Butt vs. 36-year Councilman Nat Bates. Both are well connected. Both are well known. They cast such imposing shadows that you may not have noticed a third candidate.
That would be Uche Uwahemu, who gives new meaning to the word optimist. He plans to beat both of the Richmond Goliaths. Even David had to beat only one.
Uwahemu, who holds a law degree and an MBA, has been a lot of things -- social worker, adjunct professor, Democratic National Committee delegate, community organizer and owner of a small business. He and his wife, Adaku, have even found time to raise two sons, 2-year-old Lemuel and 10-month-old Isaiah. But this is his first run at a position in city government.
"That's actually a benefit," he said. "Sometimes when you come in from the outside, you can look at things in totality. You're not entrenched with the whole quid pro quo process that's gone on for decades. I'm coming in with clarity of thought and ideas."
Some might question that clarity, given the foes he has chosen to take on. Why would he launch his first campaign against the two most tenured politicians in Richmond?
"As iconic in name as they may be, do you know how many times they've run for mayor -- not been appointed, but run -- and how many times they've won?" he asked. "Their combined record is 0-for-5. There's a reason folks in Richmond have not elected them mayor. People here are smarter than we give them credit for."
Uwahemu, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Washington, D.C., has been a Richmond resident for 12 years. That's less time than his opponents have been on the council, but it's been long enough for him to see Richmond needs change.
"We are a community that has a lot of potential," he said. "We have the capacity to do better, but our economy is in disarray."
He cites 10.5 percent unemployment, empty storefronts and the flagging Hilltop Mall. Business development is a need that's been ignored.
"The candidates I'm running against say we are headed in the right direction," he said. "I wonder if they are drinking some Kool-Aid."
It's not that grand causes are foreign to Richmond -- Mayor Gayle McLaughlin's war against the mortgage industry was as grand as they get -- but the city's politics are more about hand-to-hand combat than lofty rhetoric. Is Uwahemu prepared for the gladiators' arena that passes for the City Council chamber?
"I'm the right person to be the referee, if I may use that word," he said. "It takes somebody with the skill to do it. It's OK to have a disagreement, but do it in a civilized way, and then do the people's business."
The words sound right, but the setting seems wrong. Civility is a foreign concept in Richmond politics -- as are newcomers in power -- but Uwahemu won't be dissuaded. He says long shots have won before. He said McLaughlin was a virtual outsider -- only two years council experience -- when she won her first of two mayoral terms eight years ago.
"This mountain is going to be rough," he conceded, "but we expected it to be rough because our name is not out there. What I tell people is when you go to the polls, look for the strange name on the ballot."
That's right, the one that doesn't seem to belong there.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.