Mayor Tom Butt received an earful from some black residents at Tuesday’s council meeting for criticizing a local nonprofit’s decision to invite former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to speak in Richmond later this month.
Brown is scheduled to speak at a For Richmond event on Feb. 25 in honor of Black History Month. The nonprofit, which receives funding from Chevron, said it invited Brown due to the success of his fellowship program and hopes Brown can apply his same vision in Richmond.
Hoping to get the word out about Brown’s visit, For Richmond Executive Director Kyra Worthy sent an email notice to Mayor Butt asking him to promote the event in his popular e-forum newsletter.
While publicizing the event, Butt blasted the nonprofit’s decision to invite Brown (see the full post below). In his post, Butt acknowledged Brown is an icon but complained that he is not from Richmond and argued that other black leaders in the city could have been invited.
Butt also complained the former SF mayor supported his political rival, Nat Bates, in the November mayoral election, has lobbied for Chevron in the past and opposed past initiatives Butt and his progressive allies had supported. For Richmond should have picked someone who was friendlier to the current council, Butt added.
“Why not pick someone that is either embraced by the city leadership or at least has no baggage with them?” Butt said. “That’s like inviting Bill O’Reilly to address the Young Democrats about how to use media for political impact.”
Butt’s critics, however, say the only person who is making Brown’s visit political is Butt.
The mayor’s arguments, they said, contradict his decision last month to honor the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s visit to a Richmond church. Butt declared that day “Jesse Jackson Day,” even though he acknowledged Jackson has little to no connection to Richmond.
During open forum at Tuesday’s council meeting, resident Eleanor Thompson called Butt’s comments about Brown’s invite “unnecessary,” while resident Jackie Thompson described the missive as politically motivated.
“We would like an apology,” said Wesley Ellis, a local minister and member of the NAACP.
Butt was unapologetic when we asked him for comment Wednesday.
“If 4Richmond is looking for people to inspire young African Americans, why not look close to home for local success stories like Tony Thurmond, Marshawn Lynch and many others who actually live and/or work in Richmond?” he said. “And young people are much more likely to relate to them than Willie Brown.”
Butt also criticized For Richmond for tending to “restrict themselves to people with Chevron connections…while proclaiming their independence.”
“It doesn’t do their credibility much good,” Butt said.
Thompson said she doesn’t believe For Richmond was “trying to shove Willie Brown in anyone’s face.”
“You can’t put the black community against the black community,” Thompson told the mayor. “It won’t work.”
Here is Mayor Butt’s controversial e-forum post in full: