Tom Butt
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  Jael Myrick Rips RPA for "Corporate Free Council" Rant
October 12, 2016

In response to the RPA statement about a "corporate-free" Council--

Once again the Richmond Progressive Alliance is today repeating the disingenuous and insulting suggestion that their candidates are pure and literally everybody else in town is corrupt because they do not take corporate contributions. Let’s put this nonsense to bed once and for all.

I am uniquely qualified to respond to this accusation, because despite taking money from diverse sources in the 2014 election, I have a voting record that shows independence from corporate influence and a willingness to vote against people who have contributed to me. But we’ll talk about me later.

First, I want to talk about the three candidates in this election who genuinely are running small shoe-string budget campaigns. Unlike Melvin Willis or Ben Choi, none of these three have benefitted from the amazing political infrastructure and fundraising capacity that RPA provides its candidates. These candidates are Cesar Zepeda, Uche Uwahemu & Vinay Pimple.

Now I know, it’s not smart politics for me to speak positively about three of my “opponents” during an election, but I can relate to the situation Cesar, Uche & Vinay are dealing with because I was in the same place in 2012.

Richmond politics are unfortunately skewed against first-time candidates who are not connected to groups like the RPA or Chevron. Incumbents like Bates and myself, former incumbents like Rogers & Booze and RPA candidates are immediately considered viable and competitive in Richmond elections. But for Cesar, Uche and Vinay this will be a steep climb.

Just look at their 460 contribution forms. None of these candidates posted above $15,000 total year to date. None of these candidates are being backed by any well-funded IE that I am aware of. These candidates aren’t being backed by big money. They are barely scraping by.

Now let’s contrast that with Ben & Melvin. Weeks (if not days) after Melvin announced his candidacy in early August there were Choi/Willis signs all over town. The only candidate whose signs went up quicker was Corky Booze (whose had the same orange signs since the mid-90s). Those signs cost money, and RPA was able to turn them around quick because they’ve got the money. The most expensive part of a local campaign is mail. I’ve had one piece of mail go out so far, Rogers has had one and Booze has had one. Cesar, Uche and Vinay on the other hand have had no mail. But Willis & Choi, have had at least two pieces (“the Richmond Sun” and a “Working Families” IE mailpiece), more than any other candidate at this point. Through the “Working Families” IE they’ve been the first to have a strong digital media campaign as well. All these things cost money, and if RPA clearly has it.

Indeed, the RPA criticizing Cesar, Uche & Vinay for taking corporate money is like a stock broker criticizing a pot dealer for selling dime bags.

Now let’s talk about me. I have a voting record. Any reasonable review of my voting record would have to conclude it is independent and progressive.

Yes, I took money from the Police Officers Association in 2014, that didn’t stop me from supporting Police accountability and a stronger Police Commission. Indeed there has been no daylight between myself and the RPA Councilmembers on this issue. I took money from Richard Poe in 2014 (he even did an IE for me), that did not stop me from opposing Measures N&O, when he tried to bully the Council into approving his project last year without it even going to voters I did not support him and I stood with Menbre of Salute’s and was prepared (and am still prepared) to use eminent domain or whatever other tools are available to keep Salute’s open if the Poe family tries to evict her again.

As for this recent 460, yes, I took money from marijuana dispensaries, but the RPA Councilmembers have championed their cause much more vigorously than me. I took money from Levin Terminal, but I also voted in favor of Councilmember McLaughlin’s resolution to oppose the transportation of hazardous fossil fuels through Richmond. I’ve supported every effort to regulate the transportation of coal and petcoke.

I’ve had disagreements with RPA on several development projects over the past few years, but there are no contributions on my 460 from the developers of these projects. Robert Kagan of Laconia Development (Terminal One) did send me a $1000 contribution, but I sent that back on July 27th (this is reflected on my 460) because I didn’t want there to be any question about why I supported that project.

I am NOT a corporate Councilmember! And I take personal offense to any suggestion otherwise.

Two more points. First, like most candidates for office, I hate fundraising. It is something we do because we have to in order to be competitive, not because it is fun. I would love to work with RPA on ways to reduce the cost of elections in Richmond. One way to do that is District Elections. The larger the voter universe the more expensive it is for candidates to communicate with voters. But when I brought forward an item to simply study District Elections, all three RPA Councilmembers (to a person) voted no. As stated above, the current election format in Richmond favors RPA candidates as well as incumbents, but it also requires candidates to raise a heck of a lot of money just to be competitive. If RPA seriously wanted to get money out of politics, why wouldn’t they be willing to at least study a change that could dramatically reduce the cost of Council elections?

Finally, this statement from the RPA repeats a disingenuous tactic they’ve used a lot recently. They cite a series of popular ideas with widespread support and falsely suggest that an RPA majority is the only way to achieve them. There are too many for me to go line by line so I’ll just highlight the four they said a “corporate free majority” could achieve:

• Expand job training programs
• Repair our infrastructure
• Press the county, state, and universities for a new hospital in West County
• Improve and strengthen our neighborhood public schools

I know of no candidate running who is opposed to any of these four things. Each of them are easier said than done because of logistical and funding reasons, but none of them are being opposed by any corporation I know of and certainly none of them are being opposed by anyone I know running for Council this year. What’s most disturbing to me is these are the very issues we should be using to unite people in our community. To try and turn these into wedge issues while attacking the integrity of fellow community members who would be delighted to see progress on any of these issues is just wrong.
Serving on the Richmond City Council as an independent progressive over the past four years, the consistently hardest part has been trying to work with people that share my values and goals, but seem to have some psychological need to constantly prove their moral superiority over me and the rest of the community. We need to get past this mindset. We all want to see Richmond succeed, let’s stop these petty attacks.

Jael Myrick
See RPA statement below


Why Richmond Needs a Corporate-Free Majority on the City Council ---RPA Statement
Across the political spectrum, voters are concerned about the damage that corporate money is causing in our democracy, and they want leaders who will fight for them by reducing special interest money in our elections. Here in Richmond, we see the continued power of Chevron and developers, who try to buy elections directly, then influence elected officials with lobbying and promises of support.
In 2014 Richmond voters fought back against corporate domination and elected three progressive city council members who are truly independent from the .01% billionaire class, rejecting all corporate money for their campaigns.
“Income and wealth inequality have reached obscene levels…and the billionaire class is now allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy the candidate they want. And it is up to us to stand up and fight back. If we stand together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.”
Senator Bernie Sanders
We deserve to feel confident that our council members put our people’s needs first. We need to know they aren’t keeping an ear or a hand out for donations from Chevron, lobbyists, developers, and the big apartment owners.

Which city council candidates have not refused to accept corporate money for their campaigns?

Bates, Boozé, Rogers, Myrick, Pimplé, Uwahemu, Zepeda

Who are the only candidates who reject all corporate money?

Ben Choi and Melvin Willis

The need to get money out of politics may be the one thing Americans agree on. Nearly everyone opposes “Citizens United,” the Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations to spend unlimited (and unreported) amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections.

But in Richmond, we’ve learned how to do something about it. We’ve fought corporate control of our politics through grassroots organizing and principled council members. Two years ago Chevron poured millions into the city council election, yet its candidates were defeated by the power of organized, fed-up citizens who helped elect three Richmond Progressive Alliance members. Since then these corporate-free progressives have worked hard to get the city to deal with the problems its residents face.

What would a corporate-free council majority mean for Richmond?

Concern: They would vote as a bloc and control the council.

Fact: All elected officials must abide by the Brown Act, which prohibits a majority of council members from communicating about agenda items outside the council meeting. This law assures that all points of view are heard in an open process.

Fact: RPA endorsed council members don’t agree on every single issue, but Richmond residents are guaranteed that each decision they make as independent thinkers is free from corporate influence.

A corporate-free council majority would share progressive values. What does this mean? It means they will respond to Richmond residents’ concerns, not those of outside corporate interests. They will apply progressive solutions to Richmond’s problems.

Corporate-free progressives on the council have supported these issues:

• Addressing the budget crisis by temporarily reducing salaries of top administrators so city services are maintained
• Increased civilian oversight of the police to improve community policing
• Passed rent control and just cause for eviction, and when the apartment owners succeeded in overturning the ordinance, supported putting it on this November’s ballot
• Introduced and implemented a higher minimum wage and “Ban the Box” legislation to end employment discrimination against formerly incarcerated residents
• Promoted development while insisting that it benefit Richmond residents with an enforceable Community Benefits Agreement
• Insisted on an open community process to determine the development of Pt. Molate
• Insisting that Chevron contribute funds to keep Doctors Hospital open
• Pressed Chevron to reduce pollution and danger to the community

A corporate-free majority on the city council could also:

• Expand job training programs
• Repair our infrastructure
• Press the county, state, and universities for a new hospital in West County
• Improve and strengthen our neighborhood public schools

Can Richmond move forward with progressive solutions, or will it be blocked by corporate influence? Will our city council have the strength to stand up to the enormous economic and social power of developers and corporations?

Richmond won national acclaim in 2014 when we defeated Chevron’s control over our politics. We have shown that there are progressive, compassionate alternatives to the politics of hate. The two corporate-free, principled city council candidates, Ben Choi and Melvin Willis, are young, prepared, and experienced. They will work hard to create the better Richmond we all deserve.

This November, let’s elect a city council that represents all Richmond communities, a council that reflects the diversity of our city. Let’s have each council member bring his or her own best and independent thinking to city government, with one characteristic in common: let’s have none of them be influenced by corporate money.

Richmond Progressive Alliance Steering Committee