Feb 4, 2015
1 comment

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.

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to speak in Richmond

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown

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:

“I was asked by Chevron-funded 4Richmond to publicize a visit by Willie Brown to Richmond hosted by 4Richmond to celebrate Black History Month. We will be honoring a  number of African-American Richmond residents at our next City Council meeting to recognize Black History Month, but as far as I know, Willie Brown will not be among them.
First of all, he is not a Richmond resident, but that is not the main reason.
Willie Brown has appeared in Richmond a number of times over the last few years, but mostly for the wrong reasons.
In 2004, he appeared to lobby for Chevron.
In 2010, paid by PG&E, Brown lobbied for Proposition 16 and against Consumer Choice Aggregation, the electrical energy program that brought MCE to Richmond and saved Richmond ratepayers $2 million in 2014.
In 2012, Brown appeared in Richmond to campaign against the soda tax, against the Richmond Progressive Alliance and for Nat Bates and Corky Booze.
Robert Rogers of the Contra Costa Times wrote, “He [Brown] railed against the current political coalition, backed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and told supporters that he felt more disdain ‘from progressives than conservatives when he led San Francisco. Brown praised Councilmen Nat Bates and Corky Booze, whom he called “the most resilient cat I know.’”
In 2014, he endorsed Nat Bates for mayor.
As it turns out, None of Brown’s candidates won their elections.
There is no question that Willie Brown is an icon, but he is not Richmond’s icon. We have plenty of home grown icons and great leaders and do not have to import Brown for Black History Month.
You would think that 4Richmond would be more sensitive to the current political leadership in Richmond and not shove Brown in their face.”


  1. I’m still having trouble with Mayor Butt’s comment that because WIllie Brown is not from Richmond and that he has baggage that this would disqualify him from any honors bestowed by Richmond. It was juts a couple of weeks back when Mayor Butt took it upon himself to honor Chicago native Jesse Jackson when he came to town. Not only did Mayor Butt (without bringing it before the Council for their consideration, made that Sunday Jesse Jackson Day on Richmond and gave him a plaque so stating. We even sent 11 police officers to San Francisco to make sure that Mr., Jackson did not get lost or run into any trouble as he drove past Oakland and Berkeley.

    Mayor Butt’s comments were, in my opinion, out of line and uncalled for. As a citizen he can write anything he chooses but as the Mayor he’s representing the people of Richmond and what he wrote made us look petty, vindictive and it reeked of the nasty side of politics.

    And his insistence that we honor only people from Richmond (even though Tony Thurmond spent most of his life outside of Richmond) made a mockery of why we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.–who never set foot in Richmond.

    This was never about Willie Brown–this was about demonstrating to the people who’s in charge and in control. And more importantly, it was a harsh reminder of exactly WHO is NOT in charge or control.

    Don Gosney | Feb 4th, 2015

About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.