18 vie for hot vacant seat dividing Richmond council
By Chip Johnson
February 9, 2015 Updated: February 9, 2015 4:22pm
Eighteen people are jockeying to fill an empty seat on the Richmond City Council, a vacancy created when Tom Butt was inaugurated as mayor last month.
It’s up to the five council members and Butt, who also votes on the council, to appoint someone to join them on the panel. But that likely won’t happen.
The council is split right down the middle, with three independents and three members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, so the appointment of a newcouncil member represents an opportunity for either side to hold a majority — and hence control of the council.
The council has until mid-March to fill the seat. If no one is appointed, a special election will be held.
It’s been a rough couple of years for the Richmond council. There have been obscenity-laced council meetings with some people spewing hate at Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who is lesbian and a member of the Progressive Alliance. Councilman Corky Booze, who was defeated in November, encouraged and led a hostile crowd at meetings where a police presence became a necessity. If that weren’t enough, in the November election, Chevron, which operates a refinery in Richmond, pumped nearly $3 million into political races trying to get refinery-friendly people elected. It didn’t work. All its candidates were defeated.
Among those vying for the council appointment are Jim Rogers, who lost his council seat in November, and former Richmond Mayor Rosemary Corbin, who was the city’s first female mayor when she was elected in 1992.
Marilyn Langlois, a retired community advocate, is the top choice of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, a slate of officeholders who vote as a bloc. In a nutshell, the alliance is a coalition of community activists that embrace liberal causes from immigrant rights to environmental concerns to government surveillance issues. Its members on the council are Beckles, Eduardo Martinez and Gayle McLaughlin, who was elected to the council in November after serving two terms as mayor.
Langlois is considered more of a liberal extremist than the group that supports her run for the council seat. She is known in Richmond political circles for her conspiratorial views on the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“Although there has not yet been a complete and thorough investigation of the events surrounding 9/11, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that 9/11 was an act of state-sponsored terrorism facilitated by elites within the US military-industrial complex,” Langlois wrote in a 2011 article published at transcend.org, the website for the peace organization Transcend International.
The rest of the field includes a business leader, high school security guard, a Chevron environmental engineer and a couple of lawyers.
Butt certainly has his favorites, and they include Corbin and Ben Choi, an account executive who wants to move the council beyond the “two-dimensional” thinking of environmental and public safety issues.
Richmond Progressive Alliance members, who carry forward decisions made by a steering committee, don’t have the authority to compromise on proposals without checking with their membership first. That’s not a good arrangement, and it smacks of trouble down the line.
If that group gained a majority, there would be nothing to stop it from deciding public policy from behind the doors of their offices on Macdonald Avenue, taking it to the council and simply dictating city policy.
While it may serve the interests of politicians and their supporters, it doesn’t do much to advance the idea of an open democratic process.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on a special election because with little more than a month before the council must appoint someone, the two sides couldn’t be further apart.
Chip Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. His column runs on Tuesday and Friday. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @chjohnson
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