Contra Costa Times: Richmond's vacant council seat could prove pivotal


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blogimage.jpgRICHMOND -- With the mayoral election triumph Nov. 4 of Councilman Tom Butt, the question of where real power resides in the new City Council could come down to the decision of whom to appoint to the pivotal seat vacated by his ascent.

Three "Team Richmond" candidates from the Richmond Progressive Alliance won election to the City Council and, if they succeed in appointing an ally to fill Butt's vacant seat, their camp could control the council for years to come.

"It's not complicated," said longtime resident and political watcher Charles Smith. "Whoever has the majority four votes is going to be able to get pretty much whatever they want."

With the stakes high, the local rumor mill is in overdrive as to who is front-runner and what will be the political calculations by the six members of the next council in filling the seventh seat.

Various names have already floated to the surface, based on the neighborhood in which they reside, their stance on controversial issues and their ability to foster overlapping alliances on the council.

Not only will four votes be key on the next council -- it's a requirement to appoint the next member.

According to the city charter, the new council, which takes office in January, can appoint a member to fill the empty seat. If a majority can't decide, the seat would be filled by a special election, a prospect no one on the council says they welcome.

If the seat were to go to election, Councilman Jim Rogers, who came in fourth during the Nov. 4 election, would be the immediate front-runner.

"The new council will come to a consensus to fill the vacant seat," said Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, the second-highest vote-getter Nov. 4. "Absolutely, this is not going to require a special election."

But there may be divisions among the new council already with the Richmond Progressive Alliance threesome of Beckles, current Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Eduardo Martinez favoring someone from their camp while allies Butt and Jael Myrick want someone more moderate, according to sources close to both sides.

Councilman Nat Bates, who lost his bid to become mayor, is politically marginalized but could throw the balance in one side's favor if he could be persuaded to back a candidate.

Potential candidates for the appointed seat include Doria Robinson, a popular urban gardening advocate, 2012 council candidate and RPA member Marilyn Langlois, 2014 candidate Dameion King and Ben Choi, a planning commissioner.

All council members, with the exception of Myrick, live in the city's outskirt neighborhoods, raising the importance of a representative from the city's poorer, populous urban core.

Myrick said he has been "approached by many people" to gauge his interest in candidates since Nov. 4. He declined to say whether he would favor a member of the RPA but said he values "diversity, in terms of thought and some other forms of diversity."

Butt was more blunt.

"I'm looking for someone whose politics are as close to mine as possible, which I would describe as moderately progressive," Butt said.

Richmond's elected government has been one of the most progressive in the Bay Area since 2010 as candidates who eschew corporate donations and focus on environmental and other issues have ridden a wave of support and a strong volunteer voter outreach network.

In the past four years, Richmond has led on a host of public policies, including banning plastic bags at grocers, hiking the minimum wage, installing miles of bicycle lanes, supporting novel crime-intervention programs, pushing a failed measure to tax sugary beverages and suing Chevron's local refinery over a fire in 2012.

This will also be the second time in two years the council has an opportunity to appoint a new member. In 2012, Chevron-backed candidate Gary Bell died after falling ill with a severe sinus infection near the end of his victorious campaign. The council appointed Myrick after a field of several candidates lobbied for its support during public hearings.

Rogers, who led the effort to appoint Myrick -- the RPA wanted next-highest vote-getter Martinez, who finally won this year -- said there will be plenty of maneuvering in the coming weeks.

"There's a lot of different possible scenarios and it's not clear to me where it's headed," Rogers said. "The question is whether the seat goes to an RPA member or not."



Reposted from Contra Costa Times

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  • commented 2014-11-27 11:51:20 -0800
    Can anyone count to four? If you can’t then you can’t even get support to adjourn a Council meeting.

    The City and the Council is so polarized these days that finding someone suitable that four Councilmembers can agree on may be incredibly difficult.

    Mayor-Elect Butt says he will only support someone who thinks like him which means he would have to appoint one of his two sons and that would be objectionable to most of the Council.

    Team Richmond (minus Councilmembers Butt and Myrick) will only accept an RPA diehard but it’s unlikely that they could get a fourth vote. Whether they suggest Michael Parker, Doria Robinson, Juan Reardon, Melvin Willis, Marilyn Langlois or any other RPAer, getting that fourth vote may not be an automatic.

    Councilmember Nat Bates could suggest Michael Parker but because the suggestion comes from Bates Team Richmond would shout him down just on general principals (and to make sure he gets the message that he will be irrelevant for the next two years).

    Councilmember Myrick will want to show his independence and may suggest someone but may find it tough coming up with that fourth vote.

    One thing we can be sure of is that as the Council and their handlers are cutting their backroom deals, everyone will invoke the litmus test that determines credibility on this Council: “Do you hate Chevron?” They won’t be asking whether the applicant can tolerate Chevron or whether they will simply hold Chevron’s feet to the fire and make them accountable. The question will be whether they HATE Chevron or not because for too many people on the Council and in our community, this is the only thing that matters.

    If they don’t do as they’ve done in the past—that is to cut their deals even before the applicants are allowed to present their bona fides before the Council—the back and forth deliberations could go on forever to the point where someone suggests taking it to the people in a special election. Mind you, the cost of this election during this year of deficit spending would mean laying off one City employee to come up with the election funding and no elected official wants to be saddled with this.

    In desperation someone might suggest bringing back Jim Rogers who just lost out on being re-elected. They know his politics and know that he can straddle the fence with the best of them. But the big question for some members of the Council might be whether Jim would “do the right thing” in two years and fade into the background or whether he would want to run to retain his seat. Some of the current Councilmembers might tolerate him as a compromise for two years but then they want to replace him with one of their own.

    In any case, members of the public need to stay tuned because this could be far better than any reality show on TV.

    The new members of the Council are sworn in on January 13th and they may declare Tom Butt’s Council seat vacant at that time and announce the rules for filling the seat. They would need to give applicants a reasonable amount of time to submit an application before setting a special meeting of the Council to hear from the applicants and make their formal choices. This would, most likely, take place no sooner than the first week of February but may not happen until the middle of the month.
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