Richmond’s first Latino mayor sees the problems—and the potential
History was made in Richmond with the finalization of the November election. In the mayor’s race, current city council member Eduardo Martinez bested three other contenders, becoming Richmond’s first Latino mayor.
Born in Dumas, TX, Martinez moved to Richmond in 1993. He taught elementary grades in city schools for 20 years, before running for city council in 2014 as part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) slate that is credited with exposing and disrupting Chevron and other industries’ domination of city politics. His mayoral campaign refused to take corporate donations, and his platform included creating more jobs for Richmond residents (including green jobs), supporting small businesses, improving public transportation, “development without displacement” and “traffic calming,” through measures such as roundabouts and Botts Dots.
The East Bay Express spoke with Mayor-elect Martinez about his campaign, the election and his priorities for the city.
East Bay Express: Why did you decide to run for mayor?
Eduardo Martinez: I ran because there is so much that needs to be done in Richmond. I have been on the council for eight years, and I’ve seen all that needs to happen. Because of redistricting, I am termed out in 2023, and I wanted to continue to work for change.
EBX: Why do you think you won?
EM: People know what I stand for. They agreed with my vision.
EBX: Yet a substantial amount of money was spent on dis/misinformation. Why was that?
EM: I believe the status quo wants to maintain the status quo, ensuring, for example, that industry doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes, and allowing rent rates to continue to increase. (Note: As explained on Martinez’s campaign website, a flyer referring to him as a “loyal Marxist” was traced to the RichPac, and funded by the CEO of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.)
The Police Union also objected to the reallocation of city money for other services. (Note: This included forming a new community crisis response team, homeless services, youth programs and the expansion of the department’s violence prevention office. A flyer claiming Martinez “led the fight to defund the police” was traced to the Police Union.)
EBX: After the election, numerous voices are calling for Richmond to adopt ranked-choice voting, as Oakland and other cities have. Do you support that?
EM: I believe in democratic processes. Ranked-choice voting is more democratic, and so, yes, I do think it would be good for Richmond. (Note: As of 12/02/22, final results on the official Contra Costa County election website showed Martinez at 37.2%, Shawn Dunning at 29.12%, Nat Bates at 27.84% and Mark Wassberg at 3.83% of the total vote.)
EBX: Turning to what you will do as mayor, what are the major issues facing the city?
EM: Number one is the budget—how much can we spend, and what do we need to spend it on. [Much of the budget now is spent] on public safety, funding the fire department and the police. Forty percent of the budget is spent on the police. This leaves little for libraries, parks, maintenance and other items. We need to expand the vision of what public safety means, providing mental health resources, more jobs for youth and more venues for recreation.
We will be able to raise more revenue through sales receipts coming in from Measure U, and will be in a better financial situation. (Note: Passed in 2020 and becoming effective in 2023, Measure U changes the business tax calculation methodology, basing it on gross receipts in the City of Richmond instead of the number of employees. The measure was openly opposed by Chevron and other industries.)
EBX: What about the ongoing issue of the unhoused?
EM: This is a regional issue. I’ve been speaking about it with Supervisor John Gioia, and we need to address it alongside neighboring cities. Just treating the symptoms will not help get people off the streets permanently. Richmond needs a safe place for an encampment, where people can get services, and there is follow-through. If they are just placed in temporary housing, when the money runs out, they are back on the street…it’s a vicious cycle.
EBX: Another issue is more housing, and especially more affordable housing.
EM: I do not think we need more housing along the shoreline that is too expensive for most Richmond residents. We should focus on “infill” housing, and look at community land trusts, where the property belongs to the city, to build affordable housing.
EBX: Your position on a full clean-up of the AstraZeneca site?
EM: Two city council cycles ago, that council reversed the mandate that had been passed for a 100% clean-up of the site. Then contracts were signed that tied our hands. I am 100% behind protecting the health of the city of Richmond, and we are going to find ways to untie our hands.
EBX: You were a vocal part of the “No Coal in Richmond” movement. Coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) shipping through the Levin-Richmond Terminal is supposed to cease by the end of 2026. What will you do if, despite the legal settlement, the terminal and coal industry try to drag the issue back into court?
EM: The City of Richmond has police powers to enforce the settlement. And we should be doing more now to monitor that what is supposed to be happening in the interim is actually happening.
(Note: This includes reducing coal-dust emissions by placing a canopy over the rail site where shipments are unloaded, and the installation of wind fences over coal stockpiles. In addition, the major coal supplier is supposed to continue use of a “binding chemical” to help prevent release of coal dust during shipment. Refinery Phillips 66 also agreed to act to prevent emissions from petcoke trucked to the terminal from Rodeo.)
EBX: Do you think any of the criticisms voiced about the RPA, such as being too soft on curbing fireworks and sideshows, are valid?
EM: No. We can’t have police on every corner to try and stop fireworks, nor can we ask landlords to be responsible. We need to try and find a way to prevent people from buying them in the first place. With sideshows, we can employ traffic “calming” solutions, but also take sideshows off the streets into a controlled, restricted venue, where the laws already in place can be enforced.
EBX: What does your election as the first Latino mayor mean to the community?
EM: I think it’s of major importance in a city that is verging on 50% Latino population. It helps to develop a sense of cultural pride in that part of the city’s population, having a mayor who understands the needs of the Latino community. I will also be a mayor who goes out into that community and continues to solicit their voice.
EBX: Will your campaign, and its success, encourage more members of that community to become involved in the political process?
EM: Yes, I do think it will. As I went door-to-door during the campaign, I know we activated people to vote, and I believe that will carry over as we move forward.
EBX: You are elected to a four-year term. But where would you like to see the City of Richmond be in 10 years?
EM: First, I think the Richmond City Council can cease being the toxic venue it has been for a number of years. I would like to use my bully pulpit as mayor to help stem the tide of dis- and misinformation about city politics. I want to see our Planning Department become more proactive, instead of reactive.
I would like to see a city which has converted its empty buildings and lots into housing and retail. I’d like to see a downtown that is bustling with people on the street. There has already been investigation of creating neighborhood “commercial nodes,” small districts that meet the commercial needs of each area.
We need a “here here,” creating reasons for people to spend their disposable income in Richmond. (Oakland native Gertrude Stein famously said of her changed neighborhood in that city, “There is no there there.”)
And I’d like to give a shout-out to all the grassroots organizations here that have put Richmond on the map as a city of volunteers. They are helping to create a city that is for everyone.