In June, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin boarded a plane for Washington D.C. to lobby for the release of the Cuban Five, the five Cuban intelligence officers who were imprisoned more than a decade ago following espionage-related convictions in Miami.
During the trip, McLaughlin said she met with the state department regarding the jailed Cubans, who she said were “always in my heart.”
But some community members say the mayor has failed to keep in her heart the plight of Richmond’s most vulnerable residents.
The mayor did not use her D.C. trip as an opportunity to lobby for Richmond’s public housing tenants, despite February media reports exposing squalid conditions under an allegedly mismanaged and corrupt Richmond Housing Authority (RHA).
“What about pushing and advocating for Richmond?” outspoken resident Antoin Cloird said in a June 17 opinion piece on the community website Radio Free Richmond, adding, “the mayor ordered the immediate evacuation of the Hacienda, but she walked away as soon as the television cameras were off.”
Insect and rodent infestations, water leaks, mold and safety concerns were among the problems at Richmond’s public housing developments, particularly the Hacienda. The problems led RHA Executive Director Tim Jones to call the Hacienda “uninhabitable,” a declaration that moved City Council to vote to relocate its residents.
At the time, the mayor demanded swift action and stated she was “taking responsibility for assuring things continue to move forward without delay on all levels of review and action in regard to these Housing Authority issues.”
A half-year following that statement, however, the mayor has done little to urge swift action from the feds, and the Hacienda remains inhabited.
Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay says he was unaware of any meeting between McLaughlin and federally-elected officials such as Congressman George Miller on the housing issues. He was also unaware if the mayor had requested any such meeting, although he added he does not monitor her schedule.
The mayor and her political group, Richmond Progressive Alliance, have also neglected to campaign for the plight of RHA residents through their highly active website and social media networks.
Lindsay said the mayor did at one point sit in on a meeting held in Richmond that included an HUD regional director and members of Richmond’s city council, as she was part of an ad-hoc committee created after the problems were exposed.
Rather than seeking assistance from elected federal officials, the mayor has done more to insult them. In an interview with KQED, the mayor blamed President Barack Obama for Richmond’s poor public housing, saying the president has instead sunk “money into war” and “bailed the banks to the tune of $29 trillion.”
The quote comes at about the 6 minutes mark:
The video also shows a member of the mayor-chosen Richmond Housing Authority Commission attempting to stop a fellow commission member from speaking to the press about RHA mismanagement.
About a month after the KQED interview, Congressman Miller told the Contra Costa Times the blame for RHA’s problems lie with the mayor and city staff.
“‘For years, federal investigators have warned of deficient services, inadequate and dangerous living conditions and dysfunctional organization in Richmond,” Miller told the Times. “These issues existed and were apparent long before recent federal funding cuts. The mayor and other officials who oversee public housing in Richmond cannot make excuses; they must take responsibility for the need for a new, accountable approach to public housing programs.”
The mayor’s office declined an email request for comment.