RPA members are using claims of a mandate and of overwhelming community and electoral support to justify their right to control the appointee to the City Council. That claim just doesn’t stand up when you actually look at the numbers.
It is, of course, undisputed that RPA candidates won three seats in 2014, but two years prior, they won no seats. In the 2014 election, both Jael Myrick and I received more votes than any of the three successful RPA candidates, and we both received a majority of votes cast, something that no RPA candidate has ever received. In 2012, three candidates, Nat Bates, Gary Bell and I, all received more votes than any RPA candidate, including the current top RPA choice, Marilyn Langlois, who was not even a runner-up. I have been top vote-getter twice in recent history, and Nat Bates was top vote getter in 2012. Nat’s 13,592 votes in 2013 are the most votes ever received by a City Council candidate in Richmond. No RPA candidate has ever been top vote-getter except Ritterman in 2008 or ever received a majority of votes, and RPA members have never held a majority on the City Council.
The point I am making is that the progressive City Council of the last few years has always been and continues to be a collaboration among like-minded individuals, with non-RPA members of the coalition consistently polling higher and therefore rightfully claiming more community support than the RPA members. Election of RPA members, while often successful, is also routinely tenuous.
The RPA continues to characterize the achievements of the last few years as an RPA-led renaissance when, in fact, a more accurate representation might just as well be a renaissance that began a long time ago with people like Rosemary Corbin and me, and even Jim Rogers, who were always looking for a little help from our friends and found it in the RPA and Jael Myrick.
We progressives now constitute a solid five-person progressive majority, and the lack of a serious schism among us is demonstrated by 6-0 or 5-1 votes an all non-routine items on last night’s agenda.
The only significant issue now before the City Council that we disagree on is the best person to fill the empty seat. I sense that the difficulty in making that otherwise successful collaboration work in this appointment is rooted in the RPA’s newly-found sense of entitlement, which has no basis in fact.
The RPA’s first choice was Marilyn Langlois, who is a white female and has already experienced voter rejection in the 2012 election, her only run for office. Then they switched to Claudia Jimenez, touting her vast but unproven (at the ballot box) popularity and her status as a female Latina – quite a jump from the ethnicity their first choice.
Myrick and I have also offered a female Latina, Raquel Donoso, as a candidate, and Jovanka Beckles even endorsed her for WCCUSD Board in the 2014 election, but now she is apparently unacceptable. Donoso got 11,064 votes in her 2014 WCCUSD bid, trailing the winner by only a little over 3,000 votes.
Here is what former Council member and current RPA member Jeff Ritterman had to say about it on Facebook:
Jeff Ritterman The money is a shame, but I wouldn't feel any differently if it was $100K or even $50K. There is absolutely no reason for this impasse. I haven't wanted to speak out clearly as I hoped the process would resolve itself by now. Marilyn has a lot to offer, but it is hard to argue with anyone who notes that she was basically Gayle's Chief of Staff and folks might find that a problem since they pretty much agree on everything. Marilyn is very familiar with city politics from her years of service, but it seems like an blind spot for the RPA not to see how folks, and particularly Tom, might want someone not from the RPA inner circle. To continue to push for her aggressively seems to be a mistake and a misreading of what the community wants and needs (my view). Many of us haven't wanted to speak out because we like Marilyn and appreciate her years of service, but we also understand why she would not be acceptable to some and feel that it’s a mistake for the RPA to dig its heels in on this issue rather than to compromise. As for Claudia, she has a lot to offer particularly around immigrants rights, but it's hard to argue with Tom's point that all of the candidates he and Jael put forward have vastly more experience. Sorry to disappoint those who see it differently, but that's the way I see it. Good luck council.
It’s all very mysterious, but I hope we get over it and compromise instead of holding a half million election.
Richmond City Council fails to fill vacant seat for a second week
Sheryl E. Lane and Vinay Pimple were nominated on Tuesday night but both failed to get four votes to be appointed to the empty seat. Photos were taken on February 10. (Photo by Larry Zhou)
By Bonnie Chan and Larry ZhouPosted 3 hours ago
On Tuesday night, for the second week in a row, the Richmond City Council failed to agree on a candidate to fill the vacant council seat. Following motions to appoint Sheryl E. Lane and Vinay Pimple, neither of which passed, Mayor Tom Butt postponed the decision to next week.
The vacant seat was created last month when Butt, a former councilman, ascended to the mayoral seat. The six current councilmembers are empowered to appoint someone to fill the seat, with four votes needed to confirm an appointment. Eighteen candidates have applied to fill the seat.
Unlike at last week’s meeting, Butt used his discretion to allow councilmembers to make remarks about candidates before the nomination process. No further public comments about candidates were allowed, as the agenda item was already open to public comment at the last meeting.
In her remarks, Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said her first choice of candidate was fellow Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) member Marilyn Langlois, but added that she could “see that there’s not a will [for Langlois] on this council.”
Speaking to her alternate choice of candidate, whom she did not specifically name, Beckles cited demographic information showing that Richmond’s Latino population grew to 42,600 people – about 40 percent of Richmond’s population – in 2013. “It seems to me that this council should represent the population of our community, should it not?” Beckles said. “So it seems to me that we need a woman, and we need her to be Latin American.”
Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin did not name any specific candidates but repeatedly stressed that her priority in a candidate was their community involvement. “I think we all bring our own criteria to this decision-making process, and to me it’s really important that the appointee has ongoing experience out in the community,” she said.
Vice Mayor Jael Myrick stated his support for Sheryl E. Lane, a public policy director at the nonprofit Earned Assets Resource Network (EARN), which advocates for low-wage workers’ financial success. “Ms. Lane has proven progressive and she has worked on every single major issue you would want someone to have experience with,” Myrick said. “She’s a Richmond product, a graduate of De Anza High School who’s raising a child as a single mother here in the community, and just to bring that perspective to the council is something that could be very, very powerful.”
The candidate appointment has stirred passionate debate among Richmond community members since the special council meeting on February 10, when the council first had an opportunity to appoint a candidate to the seat.
Earlier this week, Butt referred in his e-newsletter to the hubbub of “accusations, opinions and analyses with discussion of plots and subplots, blocs, mandates, disappointments, promises broken, betrayals, the Brown Act and entitlements” over the appointment to the vacant seat, adding, “I have received hundreds of emails.”
He denied in the e-newsletter that the city council is divided into two camps, with the RPA councilmembers on the one hand, and Butt and Myrick on the other hand. “The suggestion that there are two ‘blocs’ on the City Council is ridiculous,” Butt wrote in his e-newsletter. “If there is, in fact, a bloc, it consists of five of us, not three, and excludes only Nat Bates.”
Last week, at the first council meeting to discuss the vacant seat, eight candidates were nominated and only seven received a second motion to be put to the vote. The council voted and deadlocked on all seven candidates before adjourning.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, only two candidates – Sheryl E. Lane and Vinay Pimple – were nominated and put to a vote. Myrick moved to appoint Lane, with Butt seconding the motion. Martinez, McLaughlin and Bates abstained, and Beckles voted no.
Bates then moved to appoint Pimple, an attorney, writing coach and math tutor. Martinez seconded the motion. Myrick, McLaughlin and Butt abstained, and Beckles again voted no.
Butt then made the appointment an agenda item for next week’s meeting.
There was a strong show of support among the audience for candidate Claudia Jimenez, with many audience members holding yellow signs reading “Claudia Jimenez: Yes!” Jimenez, a former community organizer with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), said she put herself forward as a candidate because many community members asked her to do so. “Many of the leaders I have worked with, many of the immigrant communities I have worked with, they are so engaged,” Jimenez said. “And they are learning how these processes go. We need that in the city. Some of them say, ‘Oh Claudia, I cannot vote, but these processes have allowed me to have a voice that otherwise I didn’t have. And now these processes have allowed me to come and speak on behalf of who I want to put in that seat.’”
Candidate Sheryl Lane, when asked about McLaughlin’s priority for a candidate with credentials in community involvement, said she coordinated the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative, which addresses affordable housing and foreclosure issues, and is currently chair of the Richmond Planning Commission. “I don’t think there’s one way to work in the community,” Lane said after the meeting. “I still work with low-income, low-wage families [at EARN]. That’s my work. It’s not here in Richmond, but it impacts people throughout the Bay Area.”
The city council has until March 13 to make an appointment. If the council does not decide before the deadline, the decision will be put to voters in a special election. Including matching funds for candidates, a special election would likely cost $500,000, according to City Clerk
February 18, 2015 News & Opinion
Cracks in Richmond's Progressive Unity
Mayor Tom Butt and the Richmond Progressive Alliance are at odds about who should replace him on the council and whether one group should dominate city politics.
By John Geluardi
In November, a broad coalition of Richmond progressives banded together to defeat Chevron's $3 million campaign to regain control of city government. The stunning victory over the corporate giant captured the attention of the national media and created a citywide sense of euphoria. But just four months later, progressive harmony has dissolved into backbiting and mistrust as one faction makes a bid to gain control of the city council.
The fracture occurred over a routine appointment to the council seat left vacant by Tom Butt when he was elected mayor in November. The council needs to appoint a seventh councilmember to make itself whole. The problem is that the council is split, with three of its six remaining members — those who represent the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) — insisting that only two of eighteen applicants for the job are acceptable. At last week's special meeting, the council voted on seven of eighteen applicants and each ballot failed to produce the four votes necessary to make the appointment.
If the council cannot make an appointment by March 13, the decision goes to a special election next November at an estimated cost of $200,000 to Richmond taxpayers. In addition, it would be the first time in at least 25 years that the council will have failed to make an appointment, according to the Richmond City Clerk's Office. A special election could also impede city business for nine months while a divided, lame duck council engages in campaign-like upstaging and bickering.
Historically, the council has made appointments like this one without much difficulty, and has typically used the opportunity to select a unifying candidate. But this time, the appointment process has been characterized by political posturing and accusations among progressives, who for years have worked well together.
The council's three RPA members — Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez — are on one side. On the other is Mayor Butt, a veteran councilmember with a long record of opposing Chevron and advocating for good government policies; Councilmember Jael Myrick, who is also a progressive and was appointed to the council in 2012 before handily winning a four-year term in 2014; and Councilmember Nat Bates, a conservative who is Chevron's only remaining ally on the council.
A diverse group of eighteen people applied for the council appointment and roughly half of them have solid progressive track records and excellent qualifications. One applicant is Rosemary Corbin, a progressive former mayor of Richmond. McLaughlin admitted during last week's meeting that she had appointed ten of the eighteen applicants to various commissions during her two terms as mayor.
But at the last week's meeting, McLaughlin, an RPA co-founder, said only two of the eighteen candidates were acceptable to her. Her primary choice is fellow RPA member Marilyn Langlois, an activist who worked on McLaughlin's mayoral staff and has served for two years on the planning commission. "It's 100 percent clear that Marilyn Langlois is the stellar candidate. Everyone is great, but she shines a bit higher," McLaughlin said. "She shouldn't be discriminated against because she shares the values of the Richmond Progressive Alliance."
Myrick said he wasn't discriminating against Langlois and that she is certainly a qualified applicant. But he said appointing her would give too much power to one group — the RPA — without voter approval. Having four members of the council would allow the RPA to dominate the panel and greatly curtail Butt's authority as mayor. "I don't feel comfortable voting to appoint a fourth RPA member to this council," Myrick said. "And the reason is not anything against the RPA, it's just that if that much power is going to be concentrated in the hands of one organization, I think it needs to happen through the normal course of an election."
The RPA councilmembers also put forward Claudia Jimenez, a community organizer with strong ties to the RPA. Jimenez has worked extensively with Richmond's immigrant community, but she has limited government experience compared to the majority of the eighteen applicants. Butt has said publicly that he won't vote for Langlois and that he has concerns about Jimenez's lack of government experience.
Myrick and Butt put forward five other qualified applicants, all of whom the three RPA councilmembers refused to vote for. They included Corbin, an established progressive who was elected to the council four times with no corporate support, and Sheryl Lane, who is currently the chair of the Richmond Planning Commission. Lane has a master's degree in management and urban policy and worked as a policy analyst for the mayor of San Jose. Currently, she works for a nonprofit that serves low-wage workers. The RPA councilmembers also declined to vote for Ben Choi, an account manager who has served five years on the Planning Commission. Choi would have been a welcomed appointment to the city's Asian-American community, which makes up 12 percent of city residents and has been chronically underrepresented on the council.
RPA members have been acting as though the November election gave them a mandate to take the council majority even though they lack evidence to support that. Voter turnout was very low and it's not clear if the majority of voters were simply voting against Chevron's bold attempt to purchase city power, or for Butt, who has been building a progressive constituency for nineteen years. The other possibility is that the progressive victory was due to the RPA's accomplishments, such as holding Chevron accountable for polluting the city. However, the RPA also relied heavily over the years on the support of Butt, Myrick, and many others for most its achievements.
Several council watchers were shocked last week when RPA co-coordinator Mike Parker claimed the group was responsible for ending corruption related to a political machine run by former fire Captain Darrell Reese, a union boss who at one time controlled the council majority. "I want to point out what the RPA represents is people who have organized and fought for years because that is what it took to break the domination of this city by Chevron and by the corrupt Darrell Reese machine," Parker said in public comments to the council.
But Parker's remarks flew in the face of the city's history and ignored the efforts of Congressman George Miller, former Assemblymember Dion Aroner, Supervisor John Gioia, Councilmembers Butt, Corbin, and Dave McDermott — all of whom belonged to an organization, West County United, which was formed to end Reese's control over the city. Then there was the FBI, federal prosecutors, and the news media, which all contributed to Reese's conviction on tax evasion charges long before the RPA was founded. Parker also ignored the good government polices carried out by County Administrator Phil Bachelor and City Manager Bill Lindsay, which dramatically reformed Richmond's longstanding culture of government corruption.
Nonetheless, most agree the RPA has given an effective voice to Richmond's voiceless and it has inspired a new generation of Richmond activists. "The RPA deserves credit for establishing a political climate where the norm is progressive politics and the city, as a whole, has benefited from their work," said Myrick. "However, that does not mean that any organization deserves complete power."
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