Tom Butt
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  Sacramento Legislative Update
April 27, 2024

November 2024 could be a watershed moment in Richmond politics, offering an opportunity to finally end the RPA domination of the City Council. Credible challengers to incumbents for all three open Richmond City Council district seats have announced their intent to file, and two ballot measures will offer voters a choice for ending the “winner take all” pattern of Richmond elections that has resulted in years of RPA winners who failed to receive a majority vote.

District 1 – Jamelia Brown

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Jamelia Brown, who will challenge incumbent Melvin Willis, grew up in the Iron Triangle and attended public schools in Richmond, including Coronado, Helms, and Richmond and Kennedy High Schools. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology California State University East Bay, a Master’s Degree in Human Development at Pacific Oaks College, specializing in Educational Leadership and Human Services, and a Doctorate in Social Work form the University of Southern California. She taught at Lavonya Dejean, Kennedy High School and other WCCUSD schools.

Brown serves as a national addiction counselor at FOCUS Reentry Project, Inc.  Beyond her roles in education and counseling, Dr. Brown is a fierce advocate for social justice and has worked alongside some fantastic organizations such as No Justice Under Capitalism, Essie Justice Group, USC Unchained Scholars, Sisters with Voices, Wrongful Convictions Club USC, and Justice for Pierre Rushing, among others, in an effort to dismantle systemic barriers and promote equality and fairness for all. She has also provided treatment and family reunification services for women with children, assisted in anti-human trafficking collaborations with San Pablo and Richmond Police Department through Community Violence Solutions as a specialist—Dr. Brown also passionately advocated for the mass release of low-level/nonviolent offenders to address overcrowding in state prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, she actively supports returning citizens through reentry services and fundraises for pro bono wrongful conviction cases. She also facilitates workshops and self-development training that connect residents with various other resources to ensure their successful reintegration into our communities. In these efforts, her activism spans multiple platforms, where she elevates the voices of marginalized groups and advocates for impactful justice reform.

Brown is the mother off four children, all of whom attended public schools in Richmond.

District 5 – Daniel Nathan Heiss

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Heiss, who will challenge incumbent Gayle McLaughlin, has lived in Richmond for four years and spent time in the city for some seven years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Communication from Washington State University where he was news director and director of alternative programming for Channel 8 Television. He earned a master’s degree in Sports Business, Finance and Economics at Georgetown University.  Heiss has been the associate director of development for UC Berkeley Athletics, executive director of development for Phi Kappa Sigma Educational Fund, Inc., Senior Director and consultant for CCS Fundraising, and an account executive for PredictHQ.

Between college at Washington State University and graduate school at Georgetown University, he worked in the entertainment industry focusing on comedy. He served as a volunteer on the Los Angeles Mayor’s Crisis Response Team and as a Commissioner on Richmond’s Economic Development Commission. Heiss lives in the Annex with his wife Maddy and dog Socks. See and (still under construction).

District 6 – Shawn Dunning | Collaborating for Richmond's Future

In District 6, Shawn Dunning is challenging incumbent Claudia Jimemez. Dunning announced and started campaigning last year. He claims to have met and spoken with every registered voter in his district. Having run for mayor in 2022, Dunning has the best name recognition of any challenger. Dunning has a well developed website,, that provides detailed information about his background, platform and an impressive list of endorsers. As a professional consultant in organizational development and conflict resolution, Dunning touts his “experience and expertise to bring together people of different backgrounds and create effective solutions for Richmond.”

In his own words, “ Shawn is the former chief operations officer of organizational development company Adventure Associates, Inc. During his tenure there, Shawn developed and facilitated leadership, team development, and conflict resolution programs for corporate, government, and nonprofit groups throughout the United States. Earlier in his career, he directed the Leadership Wisdom Initiative and also founded the Leadership & Training division for the international conflict transformation organization Search for Common Ground. Working from Washington D.C. and Jerusalem, Shawn led projects in the United States, the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa, and Southeast Asia that developed the capacity of emerging and elite political and civil society leaders to lead from a basis of common ground principles. Shawn is also an avid community organizer, volunteer, and nonprofit board member. He studied speech communication and psychology as an undergraduate at Cal Poly and holds a master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University, where he developed foundational theory and practice for Adventure-Based Conflict Resolution.”

Thank you to the Grandview Independent for bringing Richmond news back to Richmond. See the following articles:
Richmond Annex resident hopes to win a council seat in November
Linda Hemmila
Linda Hemmila
Apr 26, 2024 — 4 min read
Richmond Annex resident hopes to win a council seat in November

Daniel Nathan-Heiss is running for Richmond City Council, District 5. Image/

Daniel Nathan-Heiss thinks the Richmond City Council should prioritize its residents and that the only path to “Pride” and “Purpose” is through hard work.

Nathan-Heiss, who recently pulled papers to get on the ballot this fall, said he hopes to be the next District 5 representative because he feels, "We need progress, not platitudes. We need cleaner water, cleaner streets, faster internet, and more jobs."
Daniel Nathan-Heiss says he is "For Richmond. For Real."

"I want people to know that I’m not an activist; I’m their neighbor. I consider myself to be progressive, but not at the expense of progress. If I earn the privilege to represent Richmond and District 5, I promise to serve and lead with empathy, levity, and authenticity," Nathan-Heiss said.

Originally from southern California, Nathan-Heiss moved to Richmond from Oakland amid the COVID pandemic, settling in the Annex with his wife, Maddy, and their dog, Socks, in 2020.

Immediately, Nathan-Heiss started looking for ways to get involved in his new city. "Everywhere I've lived, I've always volunteered, gotten involved, and done something," Nathan-Heiss said.

Nathan-Heiss said he was instantly taken with how welcoming his new neighbors in the Annex were and said the neighborhood has a real suburban feel in an urban setting.

"This is a really friendly neighborhood; people came to welcome us immediately. But it's not really walkable in the sense that you need a car to get coffee or go out for food or drinks," Nathan-Heiss said. "Richmond also doesn't really have grocery stores, not big ones with everything you need like at Safeway."

After settling in, Nathan-Heiss set his sights on joining the city's Economic Development Commission, which he says was "a difficult process." Nathan-Heiss was frustrated with how long the application process took and then felt many of the issues coming before the commission had already been decided, leaving commissioners with little to do. Also problematic for Nathan-Heiss was that the commission’s city council liaison regularly failed to attend the meetings, something Nathan-Heiss heavily questioned.

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Photo/ Linda Hemmila

"I was told they have a full-time job; you can’t expect them to be there in the middle of the day. But If we were showing up in the middle of the day, why couldn’t they?" Nathan-Heiss said. It was a defining moment that Nathan-Heiss said helped him decide to run for city council.

"I decided to show up for Richmond in a bigger way: To seek the opportunity to serve the residents as a city councilmember," Nathan-Heiss said.

As much as Nathan-Heiss loves his Richmond Annex neighborhood, one issue he has is that he's never had contact with the councilmember who represents his area of the city, and neither has many of his neighbors.

"When I lived in Oakland, I knew who the rep was, and they knew me and reached out," Nathan-Heiss said.

With a master's degree from Georgetown University, Nathan-Heiss's experience in city government began with work as a member of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Crisis Response Team, a role that required 12 weeks of extensive training in crisis care, intervention, and learning to work in collaboration with city departments.

Nathan-Heiss said his role was to provide support and resources to survivors of traumatic events and help put them on a path to recovery. Of that experience, Nathan-Heiss said, "It was about knowing how to help people who are literally having the worst day of their life."

Following his work on the CRT team, Nathan-Heiss spent the next 10 years working for non-profits, first, as a fundraiser for the University of California, and later as a senior consultant for an international fundraising firm.

Nathan-Heiss says he's not a politician and "doesn’t believe you need a shirt and tie to make a difference, you just need to work hard and have an opportunity," and promises he will "work tirelessly to modernize Richmond and offer a new perspective to a chamber in desperate need of change."

Heiss For Richmond

Heiss For Richmond
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Nathan-Heiss says he wants to hear from Richmond voters so he can learn what issues are critical for them and what they'd like to see from their elected officials.

"I would love to hear from Richmond residents about what is important to them. They can connect with me on my website, via email:, or on Instagram @HeissForRichmond"

Richmond City Council weighs different election reform measure
Soren Hemmila
Soren Hemmila
Apr 27, 2024 — 4 min read
Richmond City Council weighs different election reform measure
Fresh off the Richmond Election Reform Act petition certification, the Richmond City Council will now consider placing its own election reform measure on the November ballot.

Voting reform organization California Ranked Choice Voting will present a report on instant runoff voting to the council at the April 30 meeting.

Cal RCV says ranked-choice voting leads to a more effective and representative local, state, and federal government.
Staff says Richmond’s voter turnout history and unique political situation require a new voting system reflecting its electorate. Richmond uses a plurality voting system to elect city leaders, which election experts have concluded is not the best way to achieve a truly representative democracy.

“In almost every plurality election, many voters are represented by someone who they did not help elect. This may lead to a lack of confidence and less faith in elected leadership,” the report states.

This voting system is susceptible to the spoiler effect, where a losing candidate can change the winner by siphoning off votes or “splitting the vote.”

Staff says plurality voting encourages people to vote for a candidate they think can win even if it is not their favorite candidate in the race, and makes it difficult for new candidates to run for office successfully.

The report says the Richmond Election Reform Act by a political action committee called Richmond Votes Matters would worsen representation. The measure would increase election costs for the city and candidates or allow primary voters to select winners without a runoff.

Richmond Election Reform Act headed for November ballot

A petition to introduce primary municipal elections in Richmond City elections has been certified by the Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder-Elections Department. Backers of the Richmond Election Reform Act submitted 15,139 to the election’s office on March 20, said Helen Nolan, Assistant Registrar-Contra Costa County. “The petition was determined

A blue circle with a white circle with a blue text    Description automatically generatedGrandview IndependentSoren Hemmila
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Incumbents running for re-election would also be focused on campaigning, meaning less attention would be paid to their constituents and city business.

As of January 31, 2024, the last campaign disclosure available, Richmond Votes Matters, has raised $171,000 from several union PACs. This includes $25,000 from the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers Local 549, $20,000 from the Richmond Police Officers Association, $25,000 from Steamfitters Local 342, and $25,000 from Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159. Richmond Police Officers Association President Benjamin Therriault is listed as a principal officer of Richmond Votes Matters on campaign disclosure forms.  

The measure’s leading proponent, Don Gosney, says a campaign strategy has developed to split the votes in Richmond.
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An explanation of vote-splitting by

Gosney pointed to Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin’s 2006 winning election for mayor and Mayor Eduardo Martinez’s successful election in 2022.

“They got elected with less than 39 percent of the voters. That is not exactly a mandate of the people,” Gosney said.

Gosney isn't a fan of rank-choice voting calling it the least democratic process he’s ever seen. 

“The example here is the first time it was used in Oakland. State Senate Pro Tem, a longtime senator and assembly member, Don Perata, was running. He received far more votes than anyone else. But because so many people were running, he didn’t get 50 percent. With rank choice, he lost,” Gosney said.

The staff report suggests adopting an instant runoff voting system to avoid the extra election costs and the low turnout issues of a primary. Neighboring cities, including Albany, Oakland, and San Francisco, have adopted IRV.

Under IRV, there is only one municipal election in November. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference instead of picking just one candidate. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes, that candidate wins. 

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, an instant runoff happens. Using election software, whoever is in last place is automatically eliminated, and those voters’ second choice is counted.

If a voter’s first choice gets eliminated, the vote goes to the voter’s second-choice candidate. If there is still no candidate with more than 50 percent, the process is repeated until someone gets a majority of the votes.

According to Ballotpedia, only one can be approved by voters when measures with conflicting provisions compete. If both competing measures receive the required number of votes for approval, the measure with the most votes supersedes the other. 

In some instances, neither of the two competing measures receives the required number of votes, defeating both measures.

Council moves forward with ranked choice voting ballot measure
Soren Hemmila
Soren Hemmila
May 1, 2024 — 5 min read
Council moves forward with ranked choice voting ballot measure
The Richmond City Council advanced a proposed ranked choice ballot measure to be added to the 2024 General Election ballot after a presentation at a special meeting Tuesday night.

The item directs the city attorney’s office to draft language for a ranked-choice ballot measure and an ordinance to allow the council to place the ballot measure language on the November ballot. 

Ranked choice voting, also called instant runoff voting, allows voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. In a ranked-choice election, a candidate must earn more than half of the votes to win. 

In most parts of the United States, voters select a single candidate for each position on their ballot. The candidate with the most votes wins. This is known as a single-choice winner-take-all, which can sometimes result in the election of a candidate who has only earned a small percentage of the vote, even when the majority of voters supported other candidates. 

In a ranked-choice election, all first choices are counted; if a candidate has a majority, then they win just like any other election. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who pick that candidate as number one will have their votes count for their next choice. This process is continued until a candidate earns a majority and is declared the winner.
According to the presentation, in the United States, the candidate with the most first-choice votes wins 85 percent of the time.
No other Contra Costa cities have adopted ranked choice voting yet, according to Contra Costa County Assistant Registrar Helen Nolan. 

“Richmond would need to pass a measure by the voters to adopt RCV,” Nolan told Grandview. “There would be an additional cost to the city if we were to conduct a RCV election on their behalf.”

Rank choice voting has been adopted in more and more places, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro. 

Ken White a Richmond resident and California Ranked Choice Voting volunteer, said Contra Costa County uses Dominion Voting Systems which have an Instant Runoff RCV module that can be turned on easily.

“Other counties have paid $25,000 to $85,000 to have Dominion Voting systems turn on the ranked-choice voting feature that is already in place in those machines,” White said.

White said ranked-choice voting reduces vote splitting, allows candidates to run in coalitions, and allows endorsing organizations to support multiple candidates. According to White, Richmond has a unique opportunity to lead by putting instant runoff voting measures on the ballot in November.

“Richmond City Council Elections are currently decided by a plurality where the candidate that gets the most votes in each district wins even if that candidate gets less than 50 percent of the vote,” White said. “Almost all cities in California use plurality voting, and it always has the same disadvantages.”

Another voting scheme, the Richmond Election Reform Act, would add a primary election to the council race. RERA backers recently completed a successful petition campaign drive.  If voters pass both proposals, the one with the most votes would be implemented.

Richmond Election Reform Act headed for November ballot

A petition to introduce primary municipal elections in Richmond City elections has been certified by the Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder-Elections Department. Backers of the Richmond Election Reform Act submitted 15,139 to the election’s office on March 20, said Helen Nolan, Assistant Registrar-Contra Costa County. “The petition was determined

A blue circle with a white circle with a blue text    Description automatically generatedGrandview IndependentSoren Hemmila

White says the Richmond Election Reform Act has some basic problems because it adds an additional election with an additional cost for the city and the candidates who would need to run two campaigns. 

"This would likely freeze out less well-funded candidates,” White said.

Richmond primaries have a lower turnout than the general election and tend not to be very reflective of the city compared to general election voters, White said.

“Since primary voters could select a winner without a runoff, a third of Richmond voters would essentially be disenfranchised. If a runoff is needed, most voters will not have a say in who will compete in that runoff,” White said. “Under RERA, races would be decided either outright or in poorly attended primaries, and the two runoff candidates would be selected by a minority of voters.”

Marcela Miranda-Caballero, California Ranked Choice Voting Executive Director, said instant runoff voting has become the fastest-growing non-partisan voting reform in the nation, with more than 11 million voters having voted with ranked ballots in the US since 2004. 

Rank choice proponents say the process will lead to more representative and equitable outcomes with more women and candidates of color elected.

 “In the Bay Area, there are four cities that currently have 61 percent of their elected offices held by people of color. Before IRV that was 38 percent,” Miranda-Caballero said. “Oakland has never elected a woman mayor in its 160-year history before IRV. Now that it has IRV it’s elected three women in a row as mayor.”

Based on the July 2022 US Census Population Estimate, Richmond’s population comprises 114,301 individuals. Latinos constitute a significant portion, accounting for 44 percent of the city’s residents. Additionally, Black residents comprise 18.3 percent, followed by white non-Hispanic individuals at 17.5 percent and Asians at 14.2 percent.

Voter registration data from April 2024 shows that Richmond has 58,355 registered voters. In terms of racial demographics, 25.6 percent are Latino, 24.2 percent are Black, and 9.8 percent are Asian. Notably, the data does not include a specific category for white voters. However, voters who do not identify as Latino, African American, or Asian comprise 40.3 percent of the registered electorate.

One reason for the increased number of candidates is the reduced cost of running in an instant runoff election compared to an election with a primary and general election. Fewer barriers to entry make it easier for candidates to participate in the electoral process.

“The amount of money candidates have to raise is significantly less, and it is helpful for candidates who might not have a big funding apparatus,” Miranda-Caballero said.

In recent times, there has been an improvement in civil discourse among candidates in ranked-choice elections. To win, candidates require enthusiastic and broad support, meaning they need a strong number one voter amongst voters; however, that also means they may need a number two and number three voter to achieve a majority.

“It means you should avoid negative campaigning. It is an unwise tactic. You want to work with other candidates for their support. This, in turn, leads towards more civil campaigns that are focused on substantive issues that matter to voters,” Miranda-Caballero said.

Mayor Eduardo Martinez said the rank-choice voting system would ensure that Richmond voters are heard and that elections are decided by its residents, not corporations and special interest groups.

“We as Richmond leaders know that our residents have the knowledge and political awareness to rank candidates and vote for them on their merits, their integrity, compassion, and vision for the future of the city of Richmond,” Martinez said. “Instant runoff voting is the opposite of other initiatives that seek to disenfranchise voters and once again open the doors to big money into Richmond’s political arena.”