Feb 19, 2015
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The below statement, posted in Richmond Mayor Tom Butt’s e-forum, was written after Richmond City Council failed for a second time Tuesday to agree on the appointment of a seventh council member. The council is split down the middle on which of the 18 candidates should fill the post. Three Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) members want to appoint an RPA member or supporter so it will have a majority on council and the ability to pass any agenda item it wants, since the group votes as a bloc. The other three non-RPA council members, including Mayor Butt, believe an RPA majority would be a blow to democracy. If a seventh member is not chosen by March 13, voters will decide in a costly special election.

Mayor Butt:

RPA members are using claims of a mandate and of overwhelming community and electoral support to justify their right to control the appointee to the City Council. That claim just doesn’t stand up when you actually look at the numbers.

It is, of course, undisputed that RPA candidates won three seats in 2014, but two years prior, they won no seats. In the 2014 election, both Jael Myrick and I received more votes than any of the three successful RPA candidates, and we both received a majority of votes cast, something that no RPA candidate has ever received. In 2012, three candidates, Nat Bates, Gary Bell and I, all received more votes than any RPA candidate, including the current top RPA choice, Marilyn Langlois, who was not even a runner-up. I have been top vote-getter twice in recent history, and Nat Bates was top vote getter in 2012. Nat’s 13,592 votes in 2013 are the most votes ever received by a City Council candidate in Richmond.  No RPA candidate has ever been top vote-getter except Ritterman in 2008 or ever received a majority of votes, and RPA members have never held a majority on the City Council.

The point I am making is that the progressive City Council of the last few years has always been and continues to be a collaboration among like-minded individuals, with non-RPA members of the coalition consistently polling higher and therefore rightfully claiming more community support than the RPA members. Election of RPA members, while often successful, is also routinely tenuous.

The RPA continues to characterize the achievements of the last few years as an RPA-led renaissance when, in fact, a more accurate representation might just as well be a renaissance that began a long time ago with people like Rosemary Corbin and me, and even Jim Rogers,  who were always looking for a little help from our friends and found it in the RPA and Jael Myrick.

We progressives now constitute a solid five-person progressive majority, and the lack of a serious schism among us is demonstrated by 6-0 or 5-1 votes an all non-routine items on last night’s agenda.

The only significant issue now before the City Council that we disagree on is the best person to fill the empty seat. I sense that the difficulty in making that otherwise successful collaboration work in this appointment is rooted in the RPA’s newly-found sense of entitlement, which has no basis in  fact.

The RPA’s first choice was Marilyn Langlois, who is a white female and has already experienced voter rejection in the 2012 election, her only run  for office. Then they switched to Claudia Jimenez, touting her vast but unproven (at the ballot box) popularity and her status as a female Latina – quite a jump from the ethnicity their first choice.

Myrick and I have also offered a female Latina, Raquel Donoso, as a candidate, and Jovanka Beckles even endorsed her for WCCUSD Board in the 2014 election, but now she is apparently unacceptable. Donoso got 11,064 votes in her 2014 WCCUSD bid, trailing the winner by only a little over 3,000 votes.

Here is what former Council member and current RPA member Jeff Ritterman had to say about it on Facebook:

The money is a shame, but I wouldn’t feel any differently if it was $100K or even $50K. There is absolutely no reason for this impasse. I haven’t wanted to speak out clearly as I hoped the process would resolve itself by now. Marilyn has a lot to offer, but it is hard to argue with anyone who notes that she was basically Gayle’s Chief of Staff and folks might find that a problem since they pretty much agree on everything. Marilyn is very familiar with city politics from her years of service, but it seems like an blind spot for the RPA not to see how folks, and particularly Tom, might want someone not from the RPA inner circle. To continue to push for her aggressively seems to be a mistake and a misreading of what the community wants and needs (my view). Many of us haven’t wanted to speak out because we like Marilyn and appreciate her years of service, but we also understand why she would not be acceptable to some and feel that it’s a mistake for the RPA to dig its heels in on this issue rather than to compromise. As for Claudia, she has a lot to offer particularly around immigrants rights, but it’s hard to argue with Tom’s point that all of the candidates he and Jael put forward have vastly more experience. Sorry to disappoint those who see it differently, but that’s the way I see it. Good luck council.

It’s all very mysterious, but I hope we get over it and compromise instead of holding a half million election.