Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
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  RPA Runs the Table
November 6, 2020

With three for three in the November 3 election under the new district system, the RPA now claims a majority on the City Council. Although I am disappointed in the outcome, I am taking the news philosophically. I probably have more in common with the RPA than in conflict, and this is not the first time the RPA has controlled the City Council. From late 2017 to January 2019, the RPA had a supermajority on the City Council, and even when they had only three members, Jael Myrick made up a nominal fourth.

I served 12 years with Gayle McLaughlin and four years with Melvin Willis and survived, and we got a lot done.

In the past, I have worked with RPA members successfully on many environmental issues, including climate change, and I see no diminution of that collaboration. Regarding Chevron, don’t forget that I won the 2014 mayors race as the ant-Chevron candidate. From Rachel Maddow on November 5, 2004:

OK,  Let me tell you a story. This man is named Tom Butt, Butt with two T`s. If part of your mind is permanently 8 years old like mine is, the fact that his name is Tom Butt is a constant source of delight when Tom Butt is in the news. You know, if that is your last name and you choose a life that`s going to keep you in the public eye, having a giggle-inducing last name like that is probably both a blessing and a curse. I mean, sure, just like they have since elementary school, people make fun, they point it out to their friends when they see your name, right?

But it`s also a very memorable name. They also remember your name. And when you`re running for public office people remembering your name is a really important thing. I would say name recognition in this case is an asset but his name is Mr. Butt, so I don`t want to say asset. Sorry. In any case, nobody has to call him Mr. Butt anymore because now what you should call him is Mr. Mayor. Last night, against all the odds in the world, Tom Butt was elected mayor of Richmond, California -- working class, blue collar city just northeast of San Francisco where the oil company Chevron has operated a huge and sometimes troubled refinery for over a century now.

A couple years ago there was a huge explosion and fire at the Richmond refinery that sent more than 15,000 local people to the hospital. And if you didn`t like the time in 2012 when it caught fire and blew up, there was also the time it caught fire and blew up in 1999. And if you didn`t like the time in 1999 when it caught fire and blew up, there was also the time in 1989 when it caught fire and blew up.

That Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, has been kind of a nightmare. When the latest explosion and fire and thousands of people going to the hospital disaster happened there a couple of years ago the city council and the mayor in that little city, in the more impoverished part in of the San Francisco Bay Area, folks in that little city, their elected officials decided they wanted more assurances from Chevron. They wanted more safety precautions. They did not just want to wait for this refinery to catch fire and blow up again in their little town. The mayor and the city council started pushing Chevron. And so, Chevron decided that they would buy themselves a new mayor and a new city council in that town.

Buoyed by the Supreme Court`s decision that corporations can spend infinitely not only on federal elections but also on little local elections anywhere in the country, the giant oil company Chevron decided that they would spend infinitely in Richmond. They would spend infinitely to elect their own preferred slate of pro-Chevron city counselors in Richmond and a new pro-Chevron new mayor in Richmond. They dumped more than $3 million into the little local elections in this town to try to elect three new city counselors and to elect their own preferred candidate over Tom Butt. Tom Butt raised something like $40,000 total for his campaign as of mid-October. Chevron dumped more than $3 million into that town to defeat him.

And last night, Tom Butt won. He beat Chevron. All three of the city counselors who Chevron spent all those millions of dollars to defeat, they all won.

Chevron had more than $220 billion in revenue last year. They`re one of the largest and richest corporations ever in the history of corporations. Chevron spent millions of dollars to buy themselves their own little city government in this small town. Last night, their opponent has no way to compete monetarily with that, and nevertheless, those little Davids fighting that Goliath, they whomped Chevron in every single race in the city that Chevron was trying to buy.

And now, Richmond is going to have a mayor who, one of the richest companies on the history of the Earth, has emphatically not bought and paid for -- and his name is Tom Butt. And that happens last night. That
happened last night.

I’m not sure what McLaughlin is referring to when she said in the following interview, “I ran to get Richmond back on track,“ and, “the current mayor and the current council majority were making things worse for regular working families in Richmond.”

Until COVID-19 hit earlier this year, Richmond had the lowest unemployment rate in Richmond history since WWII. Rents were stable, with increases trending even below the percentage allowed by the Rent Board. Minimum wage was at $15.00 an hour. Crime rates continued to trend down, and homicides remained much lower than in past decades. In the most recent biannual community survey (2019), “Overall Quality of Life” increased nearly 19% since 2017 and 123% since 2007. After backsliding slightly in 2017, “Overall Image” increased over 13% in the past two years, more than doubling since 2007. A majority of Richmonders felt the city was going in the right direction.

I think this election was less a referendum on the direction Richmond was heading than it was simply a contest among candidates in three new districts. There were also too many candidates. Except in District 1, where the margin was the smallest, voters who did not favor an RPA candidate split their votes among several candidates – a clear boon for the RPA candidates.

In any event, life goes on. I congratulate the winners and look forward to working with them.

Following is media coverage of the election:

Gayle McLaughlin, Chevron Antagonist, Poised to Return to Richmond City Council

Gayle McLaughlin at one time had a fairly high profile as the two-term Green Party mayor of Richmond, from 2007 to 2015.

In 2012, The New York Times described Richmond, a bayside city of some 110,000 people, as an "unlikely vanguard for anticorporate, left-wing activism ... having seized the mantle" from traditional progressive havens like Berkeley. McLaughlin lived up to her Green Party billing by becoming a major antagonist of Chevron, which operates a refinery in the city. McLaughlin, who is no longer a Green Party member, also did a stint in the City Council from 2015-17 and ran for California lieutenant governor in 2018, drawing over a quarter of a million votes.

Now, it looks like McLaughlin, 68, will be returning to the City Council, one that will have a strong progressive bent. At last count she had gained about 52% of the vote in the race for the District 5 seat, and McLaughlin told KQED's Julie Chang on Thursday that Ahmad Anderson, who is in second place, had already called her to offer his congratulations.

Below are excerpts from Chang's interview with McLaughlin, edited for length and clarity.

Why did you feel the need to run for City Council this election?

Gayle McLaughlin:
I ran to get Richmond back on track. I mean, we saw that the current mayor and the current council majority were making things worse for regular working families in Richmond. So I really felt it was important that we got our progressive direction  cemented in Richmond so we could help.

Our working families are struggling —the residents, who are a wonderful, diverse community with a lot of challenges given we have Chevron in our backyard, given we have a lot of low-income families.

What are some things that you want to tackle right away?

I want to tackle things like the many unhoused people we have, finding a safe place like a transitional village where people can set up their tents or their vehicles and perhaps some structures the city could build with services, so those without homes can get their lives back on track.

We want to address permanent affordable housing. We want to reimagine public safety. We want to really reassert pressure on Chevron. We want to show them that they need to be accountable and we need their pollution to stop. They need to pay their fair share of taxes.

And we want to protect renters and homeowners from foreclosure once the moratorium from the pandemic is lifted.

How would you describe Chevron's relationship with Richmond?

: Chevron is a major multinational corporation that is extremely powerful and makes billions of dollars in profits every year. And it causes Richmond the brunt of the pain and suffering from its pollution. You know, our kids shouldn't have to be dealing with inhalers when they're in school. Ultimately, we would like them to decommission the refinery.

Chevron taxes make up a big portion of the city's general fund. If it were to shut down, would that be a big problem?

: That is something we have considered, and I'm working with some environmental justice groups on it.
We want to set up a task force where we bring Chevron into negotiations and discussions about decommissioning the refinery in a phased way over the next 10, 15 years. We want them to understand that we have paid the brunt while they have been reaping the profits. We think they should pay more so that we have time to start diversifying our economy. We want to work with them.

Chevron did not respond to a request for comment.

Chang also spoke with Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who, you might guess from McLaughlin's criticism of him, did not support her or some of the other progressives who are poised to win seats. Butt said he had "major differences" with the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which was co-founded by McLaughlin and has now placed four of its members on the seven-member City Council.

Butt said the new bloc of progressives will likely slow down economic and housing development. As for Chevron, he said, "Everybody almost who's either on or been on the City Council recently, you could classify him as a critic of Chevron, including me."

But, he said, it was part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance's "schtick" to "talk about how they're going to run Chevron out of town and close Chevron down. And you know, at the end  of the day these things are not really going to happen."

Butt said that if Chevron "disappeared tomorrow and took their tax revenue with them, Richmond would be in bad, bad shape."

—Jon Brooks (@jbrooksfoy)

Progressive candidates, causes are on a path to victory in Richmond election

Voters approved a change to the city’s business tax structure

RICHMOND, CA – NOVEMBER 3: People walk into a polling place on Election Day in Richmond, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)
By Annie Sciacca | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: November 5, 2020 at 4:18 p.m. | UPDATED: November 6, 2020 at 3:40 a.m.

RICHMOND — This city leaned a little more left this week after three City Council candidates supported by the Richmond Progressive Alliance appeared to pick up election night victories, as did a union-backed ballot measure that’ll change the way the city taxes businesses.

With about 180,000 votes left to count in Contra Costa County, the three council candidates had strong enough leads to declare victory in the city’s first district-based election.

One of them, incumbent Councilman Melvin Willis, held a commanding 57% lead to apparently retain his District 1 seat representing a northern portion of the city, against challenger Eleanor Thompson, according to Tuesday night’s semiofficial results. The county will release its latest tallies on Friday.

Richmond City Council District 1 incumbent and candidate Melvin Willis Jr. was re-elected Tuesday. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)In a message to supporters posted on his website, Willis said, “With most of the votes counted, it looks like I will have the honor of continuing to serve as your City Councilmember. I am grateful and humbled that you have continued to put your trust in me.”

In District 5, which covers southeast Richmond, former mayor Gayle McLaughlin captured more than 51% of the vote, with candidates Ahmad Anderson, Mike Vasilas and Najari Smith behind.

And in District 6, community organizer Claudia Jimenez held 52% of the vote against challengers Vinay Pimple, a former council member, and La’Tanya Dandie, who goes by Ms. Dandie.

The candidates were celebrating their apparent wins in messages posted on social media and on their websites, expressing hope for the progressive majority that will make up the council come January.

“My two teammates, Councilmember Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez, have similar leads and together, along with Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, we will make up a strong progressive majority on the City Council,” McLaughlin wrote in an update to voters online. “We also will work with the others who remain on the Council (Mayor Tom Butt, Councilmember Demnlus Johnson and Councilmember Nat Bates) on issues of agreement.”

(Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group Archives)

McLaughlin said during her campaign that her priorities for the city include preventing renter evictions and homeowner foreclosures, building a community hospital and promoting sustainable, green jobs in the city.

Willis, too, has supported those efforts, and has urged for reallocating funding from the police to other emergency responses and services.

They also have expressed support for a ballot measure that was on its way to a win this week.

ALAMEDA, CA – SEPTEMBER 22: Richmond City Council District 6 candidate Claudia Jimenez poses for a photograph in Alameda, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

Measure U, which had more than 73% of the vote in early returns, authorizes the city to tax businesses based on their gross receipts instead of the number of employees.

Currently, businesses pay a flat annual license tax of  $234.10 plus $46.80 per employee up to 25 employees and $40.10 for each additional employee.

Under the measure, businesses would have to pay a percentage of their gross receipts earned in Richmond, with the amount depending on the nature of their business and at a rate assigned per industry. The measure drew support from workers and union members, who say the change would stimulate job creation because additional employees wouldn’t become a tax burden and would generate more revenue for the city.

But business owners in the community expressed concern in the months leading up to the election that it would be too burdensome after COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc on the local economy.

Mayor Tom Butt also opposed the gross receipts tax and has criticized the progressive candidates for supporting strong rent control and just-cause eviction policies and for accepting campaign support from local unions.

“This victory belongs to the broader movement of community organizations, activists, workers, and residents who share our vision of a city where we can all thrive and belong, especially those who are most marginalized,” Jimenez wrote in a message to her supporters.

From the Open-Publishing Newswire
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Big wins for progressives in Richmond’s City Council
by Lynda Carson (newzland2 [at]
Thursday Nov 5th, 2020 3:11 PM
Photo of Melvin Willis, Claudia Jimenez, and Gayle McLaughlin of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, who won their seats on November 3, 2020 on the Richmond City Council.

original image (1026x529)
Big wins for progressives in Richmond’s City Council

By Lynda Carson - November 5, 2020

There are some big wins in Richmond for Gayle McLaughlin, including Melvin Willis, and Claudia Jimenez for the Richmond City Council.

All three progressives are members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, founded by former Richmond Mayor, and City Council member, Gayle McLaughlin.

According to Wikipedia, “the Richmond Progressive Alliance supports various community efforts including campaigns to force the local Chevron refinery to pay higher taxes and reduce pollution; opposition to racial profiling; and opposition to urban casino development in Point Molate. It supports candidates for the nonpartisan races in the city.”

Former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin has been featured on Democracy Now numerous times for her activism, and is a staunch supporter of tenant’s rights in Richmond.

During a brief phone discussion with Claudia Jimenez a moment ago, she thanked me for reaching out to her, and she wanted to thank Richmond voters for voting for her, and she said, “Thank you, to everybody who trusts me and my campaign. Thank you very much to all of you who voted for me in District 6! Your votes were not just for me, but they were votes for everybody in the City of Richmond.”

In an email I received earlier today from Gayle McLaughlin, she said, “Hi Lynda,  So sorry I didn't have a chance to send you a quote.  If you haven't written the article yet or can edit it, please feel free to include this (or any part thereof):”

Message received from Gayle McLaughlin on November 5, 2020, see below.

Dear District 5 voters, friends and supporters,

Although there are still some remaining votes to be counted, it is clear that our campaign has won the District 5 Richmond City Council seat! We currently have a 22 point lead and I am deeply honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the people of Richmond once again.

My two teammates, Councilmember Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez, have similar leads and together, along with Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, we will make up a strong progressive majority on the City Council. We also will work with the others who remain on the Council (Mayor Tom Butt, Councilmember Demnlus Johnson and Councilmember Nat Bates) on issues of agreement. Part of the work of campaigns is to educate and challenge. We hope that much has been learned in this campaign season and that we will have many points of agreement with those who have opposed us. And if we find ourselves on different sides of fights, so be it.

This was a dynamic campaign season. I want to thank all our mighty District 5 volunteers (with a special thank you to key campaign strategist Juan Reardon, to Kay Willis and to my wonderful husband Paul Kilkenny), as well as to the many grassroots organizations, progressive unions and community leaders and activists that endorsed our District 5 race. See our long list of endorsers HERE. Most importantly, I want to thank the voters of Richmond for casting your votes for change.

In addition, I want to thank the other District 5 candidates (Ahmad Anderson, Mike Vasilas and Najari Smith). It is not an easy task to run for office, and I thank them all for running, putting forward their campaign messages, and for the stimulating debates we had. Democracy is always strengthened when candidates speak their minds to the people they seek to serve.

We have multiple challenges in front of us and the road ahead will be long and hard, but we are already laying the groundwork for new solutions to bring forward once sworn into office on the second Tuesday of January 2021. Issues of health, safety, justice and sustainability must be addressed with bold solutions. We are ready to tackle them all, bringing in all segments of the community to chart a pathway to continue Richmond's transformation.

We will be serving in Richmond in an overall national political landscape that remains rocky and uncertain, but we know from history that change begins at the grassroots and that all politics is local. The progressive movement in Richmond, made up of many grassroots organizations, unions and individuals, will be working together to face our challenges head on. And we are not alone in Richmond. There are many other progressive groups and individuals throughout our state of California and beyond who are allied with us in this fight for the long haul!

I will be taking a short period of time for rest and reflection and will be back in touch again soon!

In solidarity,

I wish to thank Gayle McLaughlin for her friendship and support of the people of Richmond and the Bay Area. I wish the best for her during her new term on the Richmond City Council in these deeply troubled times of political upheaval causing instability across the nation, and the deadly coronavirus covid-19 pandemic that seems to have no end in sight after killing over 240,000 loved ones in our nation, and infecting over 9,900,000 others in the U.S. Over 100,000 Americans were infected yesterday by the deadly virus, being the most infections in one day in the U.S.

Lynda Carson may be reached at newzland2 [at]