Despite the air of finality in the Richmond Confidential story below, it’s not exactly time to say “good-by” and ride into the sunset yet. I have about one year and four months left in my final term as mayor. That’s about 60 City Council meetings, over 100 appointments and reappointments to boards and commissions, 500 votes on City Council agenda items and numerous meetings of ad hoc committees, ribbon cuttings, grand openings and other speaking engagements.
For the next 16 months, I will continue to serve as a board member on the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee (WCCTAC), Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Executive Board, Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and the Local government Commission (LGC). I represent Richmond and chair the board of MCE (Marin Clean Energy), which provides renewable electricity to over half a million accounts in four counties with a budget of over half a billion dollars. I am slated to chair the Contra Costa Mayor’s Conference in 2022. That’s over 100 meetings combined for those agencies.
I also represent Richmond on the League of California Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
So, you will have to put up with me a while longer.
Mayor Butt says he’s leaving public life after term ends
Nazmul Ahasan on September 16, 2021
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who has spent more than a quarter century in public office, said Thursday that he won’t run for office again after his term ends in January 2023.
“No, no, I’m done,” he told Richmond Confidential, when asked about his political future. “I have no plans to run for anything anymore when my term as mayor ends.”
“I have been doing this 26 years. It will be 27 by that time,” he added. “It’s a long time.”
The longest continuously serving council member in Richmond’s history, Butt has been on a collision course recently with his progressive colleagues, whose bloc—the Richmond Progressive Alliance — holds the majority. His relationship with top city officials including City Manager Laura Snideman and City Attorney Teresa Stricker also has soured, significantly constraining his ability to press ahead with his agenda.
“I’m pretty much a lame duck,” he said. “You know, I don’t have a City Council I can work with. I don’t have a city manager I can work with. Yeah, there’s really not a lot I can do.”
Butt, 77, is finishing his second term as mayor, and under the city charter, could not run for another term. But he could run for City Council, where he served for 20 years before becoming mayor.
A Vietnam veteran from Arkansas, Butt came to Richmond in 1973 and set up the architectural firm Interactive Resources. He was elected to City Council in 1995 and ran successfully for mayor in 2014. The mayoral election was seen as a David and Goliath contest, with Butt — then the progressive candidate — defeating Nathaniel Bates, whose campaign was heavily supported by Chevron’s Richmond refinery, the city’s largest employer and a recurring source of pollution. Butt made national headlines with the win and, for a time, enjoyed a honeymoon period on council.
Since his reelection in 2018, the political tides have turned, putting him at the losing end of many council votes. As Butt has moved more to the center, the council has shifted to the left, with the Richmond Progressive Alliance winning a majority in the last election.
Ironically, Butt’s staunchest ally has been his former rival, Bates.
In the past few months, Butt has become even more isolated, after pushing unsuccessfully for the resignation of both the city manager and city attorney. He has accused them of using taxpayer money to investigate whether he steered city business to his architectural firm — a claim that hasn’t been made publicly and which Butt denies. The council voted 5-1-1 in June to retain Snideman and Stricker, with Butt casting the only negative vote.
In this 2014 file photo, Tom Butt (center), with his wife and campaign manager, reacts as unofficial election results show him winning Richmond’s mayoral seat.
Butt has taken a particular interest over the years in preserving Richmond’s history and has had a hand in rebuilding and preserving some of Richmond’s iconic historic sites — the Hotel Mac, the East Brother Lighthouse and the SS Red Oak Victory, among others.
He has long been involved in the Richmond Rotary Club, Boy Scouts of America Herms District and many veterans’ causes. When the Richmond Unified School District declared bankruptcy in 1991 and closed the schools six weeks early, Butt and other parents successfully sued the state to keep the schools open.
Butt followed his father and grandfather into public service. His grandfather was the mayor of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a small city in the Ozark Mountains, and a state senator. His father was a longtime Arkansas judge. Butt’s public service started when he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1966, and he later served in Vietnam. That tradition of service carried into the next generation. Butt’s son, Andrew, who also is an architect, has served on Richmond commissions and boards, as has Butt’s wife, Shirley. His other son, Daniel, is a lawyer in Richmond.
After leaving office, Butt intends to keep working as an architect, saying, “There’s a great deal of satisfaction doing a project and seeing it completed and being able to move on to the next one.”
That, he said, is very different from politics, where “nothing ever gets completed.”
Editor Christine Schiavo contributed to this report.
Mayor Tom Butt
450 Civic Center Plaza
Richmond, CA 94804
Tom Butt Political Website: http://www.tombutt.com/
Board member and past chair, Local Government Commission
Commissioner, former chair, Contra Costa LAFCO
Member, League of California Cities, Environmental Quality Policy Committee
Member, West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee (WCCTAC)
Commissioner, former chair, Contra Costa Transportation Authority
Board Member, Richmond Representative, chair, MCE (Marin Clean Energy)
Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge, Executive Committee
Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Executive Committee Member
Messages that in some substantive way relate to the conduct of the public’s business may be subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act.