There has been a great deal of speculation about who will be running for the Richmond City Council in November, and on Thursday, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which has been the strongest political force on the council in recent years, announced the names of four candidates who will be running in what promises to be a series of hotly contested races against large corporate interests, labor unions, and well-funded candidates.
The RPA refuses all corporate contributions, and in past elections has been remarkably successful in running bare-bones campaigns that rely on grassroots organizing. The RPA-dominated council also has been bold in challenging corporate interests who have large amounts of money to defeat the RPA members and their causes at the polls. In 2012, Chevron and the soda industry outspent the RPA 28 to 1 by throwing a record $4.2 million at political action committees, candidates, nonprofits, and top shelf political consultants who mobilized to defeat RPA candidates and the RPA’s Measure N, which would have levied a one cent tax on sugary drinks (total RPA spending for candidates and Measure N was $148,000). Measure N and RPA’s candidates lost in that in election.
The coming election cycle promises to be just a difficult for the RPA with national real estate interests and major banks expected to oppose RPA council candidates over a controversial proposal to relieve struggling homeowners by taking over underwater mortgages through eminent domain. With five seats open on the seven-member council, there is an opportunity for Chevron and other corporate interests to regain control of the council and they will likely spare no expense in winning as many seats as they can.
The RPA’s candidate for mayor is Mike Parker, a newcomer to politics who is running his first campaign for public office. Parker is an author and retired industrial electrician for the Chrysler Group. He served as a national delegate for the United Auto Workers and currently works as an electrical instructor and Los Medanos Community College. Parker said his focus will be on job training. “It’s the issue that speaks to the needs of Richmond resident,” he said. “Better job training will attract better jobs.”
While the deadline for officially announcing is not until August 8th, Parker is expected to be running against at least three candidates, including longtime West Contra Costa County school board member Charles Ramsey who has been steadily collecting labor endorsements and money for the past year. As of the end of December, Ramsey has already collected nearly $100,000 in contributions — mostly from unions. Also expected to run are Councilmember Nat Bates, a veteran of Richmond politics who is a staunch supporter of Chevron, and Uche Uwahemu, the CEO of a local business consulting firm.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a RPA founder and perhaps the organization’s most popular elected official, will be termed out of the mayor’s office in 2014, though she has announced that she will seek another term as councilmember. McLaughlin has led the council by challenging the Chevron refinery — which exerted unchecked influence over city politics for decades before the RPA began winning council seats in 2004 — over issues such safety (particularly in relation to a 2012 refinery explosion and fire), underpaid taxes and an environmentally problematic refinery upgrade. McLaughlin also caught the attention of the national media when she championed a plan to deter blight and help homeowners by taking over underwater mortgages through eminent domain.
Running for reelection is Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles who has been a strong advocate for reintegrating ex-offenders into the workforce. She was the author of legislation that prevents the city from disregarding municipal job applicants due to previous incarceration. Beckles, a lesbian, also was the target of homophobic taunts and harassment during a council meeting by a nonprofit group closely associated with pro-Chevron Councilmember Corky Boozé. Boozé has since publicly renounced the verbal attacks.
Rounding out the RPA slate is Richmond Planning Commissioner Eduardo Martinez, a retired elementary school teacher who narrowly lost a bid for city council in 2012.
Other candidates who have unofficially announced their intention to run for council this year are Councilmember Corky Boozé, who for decades had been a combative gadfly who was finally elected to the council in 2010 after nine failed campaigns, and Councilmember Jael Myrick, who was appointed to the council after Councilmember-elect Gary Bell became seriously ill and then died after winning a council seat in 2012.