Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2015  
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  Choosing My Replacement
February 15, 2015

Much has been made about the ongoing effort to appoint a person to fill the City Council vacancy created with my election as mayor. There are hundreds of Facebook postings, including play-by-play sports-themed commentary as the process unfolded at last week’s City Council meeting. The RPA website (see below) includes three editorials, one of which, demands a retraction by Chip Johnson for his column in the Chronicle.

The Internet is rife with accusations, opinions and  analyses with discussion of plots and subplots, blocs, mandates, disappointments, promises broken, betrayals, the Brown Act and entitlements. I have received hundreds of emails, some simply supporting one candidate or another and some trying to lay a guilt trip on me (“ I voted for you, so I expect you to do the right thing.” “I worked on your campaign, so vote for _______.”

This is clearly a passionate issue for a lot of people, but it is not for me. I just want the best person, and  have suggested five stellar candidates in an effort to provide a range choices, get the job done and avoid an election.

Until now, I have pretty much avoided commenting on it publicly, but here goes.

At the end of the day, I am obligated by both ethics and law to simply vote in a way that I feel is best for the public.

At last week’s City Council meeting, there were eight persons nominated. Seven of those received seconds and were voted on. I voted for five of the seven, simply because I felt the five I supported were the best choices. That doesn’t mean I believe the others are bad people or unqualified, or that I don’t respect those supporting them.

I have been asked to explain my lack of support for those nominations on which I abstained. I don’t feel obligated to do that, and I don’t intend to other than saying that I did, in fact, meet with Claudia Jimenez because she was one of only two candidates of whom I had no prior knowledge, and I wanted to get to know her. I did not meet with any other candidate prior to the vote, nor did I feel the need to.

I have no hesitation, however, to say why I continue to support any of the five who include Ben Choi, Sheryl Lane, Rosemary Corbin, Kate Sibley and Raquel Donoso.

  • They all have either held local elected office, run for office and been subjected to the public scrutiny and rigors of a campaign, or they have served with distinction on one or more City of Richmond boards or commissions. I believe this level of public scrutiny is essential for people to really know a candidate and what he or she stands for.
  • They are generally well-known to a cross-section of Richmond residents who pay attention to civic matters.
  • They live in a variety of neighborhoods.
  • They represent diversity, including men and women, Latina, Asian, African-American and white, gay and straight..
  • They are all progressive-minded candidates whom I believe will support the successful direction that the City has been heading over the last few years.
  • Three of the five were appointed to a board or commission by former Mayor McLaughlin.


There is no schism between me and the RPA members who serve on the City Council. I endorsed all of them in the 2014 election, and I have endorsed them in previous elections. I endorsed both Marilyn Langlois and Eduardo Martinez in 2012 (, and I voted for Eduardo Martinez to fill the seat vacated by Gary Bell in 2013.

The suggestion that there are two “blocs” on the City Council is ridiculous. If there is, in fact, a bloc, it consists of five of us, not three, and excludes only Nat Bates.

There have been representations that the RPA is responsible for my election, first by Mike Parker’s decision to withdraw and second because of the campaign support they provided. The idea is that I therefore have an obligation to vote for an RPA-selected candidate or that I made such a promise as a quid pro quo for Parker’s withdrawal. The fact is that I did not, and had I done so, it would have been unethical if not illegal. See for a discussion of quid pro quo deal making. What I did was agree to campaign for and endorse the RPA candidates, which I would have done anyway, and to work with the RPA to find a suitable replacement in the event that either Bates or I were to be elected mayor.

It has also been suggested that the RPA support for me in the 2014 campaign and Mike Parker’s withdrawal were responsible for my success .I have also been criticized for waiting until the last minute to file, thus thwarting Mike Parker’s candidacy and similarly creating an obligation. My entering the race was no surprise to the RPA. As early as July 8, 2014, I emailed Gayle McLaughlin, “ The biggest decision I face is whether  to enter the race myself. If I don't, of course I will endorse Mike.”

The fact is that my campaign and the RPA campaign enjoyed great and ultimately successful mutual support, but I reject the idea that the RPA campaign was more responsible for getting me or even the four of us elected than was my campaign and my endorsements. I have been winning elections in Richmond for twenty years, (twice as long as the RPA has existed) including beating Nat Bates five of the six times we competed. I have been top vote-getter twice. There were 19,449 total votes cast in the 2014 election, and of those, 9,790 (50.3%) voted for me, while only 8,754 (45.0%) voted for McLaughlin, 8,754 (42.8%0) for Beckles and  7,629 (39.2%) for Martinez. I am ecstatic to have these three as my City Council colleagues, but I reject the proposition that this represents a mandate to choose a fourth member of their choice.

We will continue the effort on Tuesday to choose a new City Council member, and I hope mutual respect and consensus will prevail and be successful. I will continue to support the five persons whom I voted for last Tuesday. Five is a lot of choices for a possible compromise.


RPA Steering Committee Statement
City Council Appointment

The Richmond Progressive Alliance takes the matter of filling the Richmond City Council vacancy very seriously and has given a lot of time to interviewing candidates and discussion. While there are many fine people who have put themselves forward for this office, only one can be selected. Our preference is based on several considerations, which we will outline below.

Clearing the Air
Before we outline these considerations, we feel that it is important to comment on the current discussion that is taking place. We regret that the discussion has turned from a serious discussion of who will best meet the needs of Richmond into a debate about the Richmond Progressive Alliance. We feel it is important to respond to some of these issues.

1. Three candidates-Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles, and Eduardo Martinez (Team Richmond)-won last November's election against very serious, well-funded opposition and an expensive negative attack campaign. They were supported by the Progressive Alliance and others, but they make their own decisions. Their positions should be treated with respect.

2. The idea that the Richmond Progressive Alliance discusses each of the issues that come to the council and determines the position councilmembers take is totally false. The reality is that the Progressive Alliance discusses very few matters that come to the council. Discussions focus largely on big issues, such as affordable housing or the minimum wage, and on how we can work with the city council and other groups in the city to bring about change in these areas. Our positions on these issues are made public.

3. Councilmembers who are Richmond Progressive Alliance members make up their own minds on how to vote after looking to the community for input.
4. The Progressive Alliance has a long history of collaborating with others to achieve unity and move Richmond forward. Two years ago the Progressive Alliance councilmembers who had been supporting runner-up Eduardo Martinez agreed to appoint Jael Myrick. In the fall of 2013, we offered to support Tom Butt for mayor. He declined, and in February 2014 we decided to run Mike Parker as a progressive alternative. In August, when Tom entered the race at the last minute, Mike Parker agreed to withdraw so as not to divide the progressive vote. The Richmond Progressive Alliance has consistently put the interests of Richmond first.

5. Membership in the Richmond Progressive Alliance is open to anyone who believes in progressive values and the idea that the only way to challenge the obscene and unfair influence of corporate America on our politics is to organize independently to challenge that power.  

Considerations for Filling the Vacancy
Does the candidate have progressive values on issues of urban development, immigration, racism, minimum wage, housing, environment, labor rights, grassroots democracy, sustainability, andPt. Molate development?  

Does the candidate improve the diversity of the council so it is more responsive to the needs of Richmond?

The Council Decision
Adherence to the Brown Act means that councilmembers cannot all discuss this issue with every other councilmember except at council meetings. This means that a decision of such importance may take several meetings, or it may require a special election. Everyone would like to avoid a special election if possible, but the primary focus should be on making ours a council that can address the serious issues facing Richmond.  

We support Marilyn Langlois because we believe she is the best candidate for the job at this time. We fought hard for her and made the best case we could. We offered to have discussions with councilmembers on procedures that might solve their fears about "bloc voting." We tried to convince councilmembers to support Marilyn. That is democracy. When it became clear to us that we could not move other councilmembers, many of us urged support for another candidate, Claudia Jimenez, who is not a Progressive Alliance member and who would add important diversity (geographic, gender, cultural, and age) to the council. We had good reason to believe she was acceptable to other members of the council. At the last minute this turned out to not be the case.

  Statement by Steering Committee 2/13/15 

To SF Chronicle
RPA Asks Retraction

To: Editor, SF Chronicle
     Chip Johnson

Chip Johnson's Column of February 9 is built around a completely false statement:

"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."

His source for this non-fact is not stated, but we know he has consulted none of the Council members who belong to the Progressive Alliance nor any member of the RPA Steering Committee. This non-fact is being circulated widely in Richmond by people who oppose the RPA.   

The reality is that the Progressive Alliance discusses very few matters that come to the Council. Discussions focus largely on big issues, such as affordable housing or the minimum wage, and on how we can work with the city council and other groups in the city to bring about change in these areas. Our positions on these issues are made public. Council members supported by the RPA make their own decisions after getting input from a wide number of sources.

Nor is his description of Marilyn Langlois correct. She is known in Richmond for her hard work and abilities to bring people together to unify and improve the city. Instead Chip quotes from 2012 hit piece mailers funded by Chevron.

We deserve fairer treatment. We are a grass roots organization without a PR firm to respond to false accusations.. We have just beaten an extremely well-funded attack in the election, but the attacks continue behind the scenes. Richmond is a small city, but at least for now it is a place where major local and national issues are being played out.

The Richmond Progressive Alliance  requests the following:
            1. A retraction/correction by Chip Johnson.
            2. An Op-Ed piece where we can explain the Richmond Progressive Alliance and Richmond politics.
            3. A meeting with the editors of the Chronicle so they can better understand what is happening in Richmond and the importance of accurate reporting.

Mike Parker
for Richmond Progressive Alliance Steering Committee 


As we say in every issue: Signed articles represent the views of the author and not necessarily those of the RPA." We invite and encourage other views.
On the Vacant Council Seat
At the City Council meeting of Tuesday, February 10, 2013 there was no resolution as to who would win appointment to fill the council seat vacated when Tom Butt became Mayor. Four members of the City Council are required to make the appointment by March 13, 2015 or a special election must be held (probably in November of this year).

Of the field of 18 applicants those nominated and receiving a second were: Ben Choi, Rosemary Corbin, Raquel Donoso, Claudia Jimenez, Sheryl Lane, Marilyn Langlois and Kate Sibley. Although none of them received enough votes to be appointed, this is only round one in a process that will make everyone uncomfortable for its duration.

In a factually inaccurate and provocative editorial in the SF Chronicle of 2/10/15, Chip Johnson attempted to sully the name of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), council members Beckles, McLaughlin, Martinez and candidate Marilyn Langlois. Mayor Butt proceeded to promulgate this misinformation by sending it out on his widely read e-Forum.

To set the record straight on the Chip Johnson hit piece: Council members McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez make their own decisions when they act as council members. They may seek the advice of RPA members but are not obliged to seek their approval. The RPA Steering Committee meets monthly and rarely discusses council business.   For obvious reasons, the issue of the vacant council seat was discussed, but at no time were there four council members involved in the discussion, which would have constituted a Brown Act violation.   Erring on the side of extreme caution in this regard, Councilman Martinez has not and will not attend any meeting where the vacancy is discussed. Johnson's hit piece was pumped and timed to try to cut off any support for RPA supported candidate Langlois. Mr. Johnson made no attempt to ascertain the facts before deciding to do a favor for Mayor Butt.

The bigger question is, why are Mayor Butt and Councilmember Jael Myrick so dead set against appointing Marilyn Langlois? After all, they have decided to consider themselves "progressives" and their success at the polls in November was in no little part due to the work of the Team Richmond campaign.   Months before he joined the City Council race as a mayoral candidate, members of the RPA asked Mr. Butt if he would run so as not to just give the position to Chevron friendly Councilmember Bates. Mr. Butt allowed many to believe that his support for Team Richmond was sincere. He allowed people to think that if Team Richmond Mayoral Candidate Mike Parker withdrew from the race so as not to "split the progressive vote" that as mayor, he (Butt) would be an ally. Parker's sacrifice by doing just this, when just before the filing deadline Butt decided to run for mayor, was a decisive boost for Butt's last minute campaign. It should also be remembered that in 2012 when faced with an appointment decision, RPA councilmembers supported the appointment of Jael Myrick.

At the Council meeting of February 10, Council member Myrick stated that he would not support Langlois: "If so much power is going to be concentrated in one organization [the RPA], I think it needs to be done through an election."

The implication is that there is a cabal, which dictates and controls the councilmembers, which it supports and that said council members would vote as a bloc in lock step. History has shown that the RPA councilmembers frequently disagree and do not vote the same way, even as recently as the last two regular city council meetings.

By voting for dedicated community organizer Claudia Jimenez, who is not a member of the RPA, for the vacant council seat, Councilmembers McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez demonstrated their willingness to embrace an "outsider" because they respect Claudia Jimenez for her values and commitment to grassroots democracy. Apparently this was enough to deny her votes by the other council members. Let's hope they can be more flexible in their thinking.

Nor is this about Marilyn Langlois being "too radical".   She is strong, intelligent and dedicated to serving the interests of the people of Richmond.   It is possible that Butt and Myrick feel threatened by this. Perhaps Mayor Butt has something to gain by passing amendments to the General Plan and thinks that one of the other candidates might more easily be persuaded to vote with him. Perhaps the prospect of "pet projects" not always winning is irksome to him. Council member Myrick seems to be taking his cues from the Mayor, perhaps he thinks that political relevancy lies that way. Mayor Butt and Councilmember Myrick should remember that it was the people of Richmond who elected "RPA candidates" and those who they supported.  

--Tarnel Abbott