TOM BUTT E-FORUM: Barnidge: Now, in its third captivating week, the search for a seventh Richmond council member

Radio Free Richmond

blogimage.jpgIt is interesting that on February 4, 2013, both Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles argued passionately that Eduardo Martinez should be selected primarily because he was the next highest vote getter.

McLaughlin called it “a question of democracy that the vote should go to the next highest vote getter…”

Beckles asked, “What kind of message are we sending to our young people to skip over the next highest vote getter?”

Martinez, in his remarks as a candidate also urged selection of himself as the runner up and warned against the wasted cost of an election. “The only right thing to do is put your differences aside and appoint someone to the City Council…avoid an election…that choice should be me.”

If you want to review the tape, see

Only two years later, faced with another choice, McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez have totally abandoned their previously passionate but apparently ephemeral embrace of supporting the runner-up. It appears that “democracy,” the “message to young people” and the “right thing to do” have been shelved in favor of a brand new priority … selecting one of two candidates chosen by the RPA.

Tomorrow night, I will test the commitment of McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez to the next highest vote getter by nominating, among others, the runner up Jim Rogers.

It is clear from reviewing the 2013 tapes that the RPA preferences are more about politics than doing the right thing. If they aren’t going to take their own advice and appoint the runner up, then I hope we can settle on one of several candidates who are not politically aligned with the RPA or anyone else.

Tom Butt

Barnidge: Now, in its third captivating week, the search for a seventh Richmond council member

By Tom Barnidge Contra Costa Times Columnist

Posted: 02/21/15, 5:23 PM PST |

Regulars at Richmond City Council meetings will recognize an agenda item at Tuesday night's session. The hearing to "appoint a candidate to fill the vacant seat on the City Council" returns to the stage for a third captivating week, with viewers in suspense and no end to the drama. Broadway shows have had shorter runs than this.

The need to fill the council's seventh chair was set into motion three months ago with the election of then-Councilman Tom Butt as mayor. The surprise is how difficult it's been to find an appointee on whom council members can agree. Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail more quickly than this.

It's not for lack of candidates. Eighteen civic-minded souls threw their names in the hopper when screening began Feb. 10. Included were residents who'd served on city commissions, community activists and neighborhood volunteers. They were men and women, representing diverse ethnicities, aching to do more.

"There are so many candidates who are qualified, I don't know where to begin," Councilman Eduardo Martinez said. Apparently, other council members were equally dumbfounded, so they ended up choosing no one.

Martinez and fellow council members Jovanka Beckles and Gayle McLaughlin, all members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, pushed for fellow RPA member Marilyn Langlois. Butt, Vice Mayor Jael Myrick and Councilman Nat Bates pushed back, unwilling to grant the RPA a majority on the council.

When Butt and Myrick supported Sheryl Lane, offering opposition were Martinez, Beckles, McLaughlin and Bates. When Beckles, McLaughlin and Martinez supported Claudia Jimenez, Myrick, Butt and Bates did not.

Seven candidates were put up and voted down in the first meeting. Two more nominations went up in smoke last Tuesday. There's little reason to think this Tuesday's proceedings will go any better, which is why meetings are tentatively scheduled for the next two Tuesdays. It's beginning to feel like "Groundhog Day."

Interesting rationales for participants' votes have emerged along the way. Beckles, citing census data showing 40 percent of Richmond is Hispanic (only two of six council members are), announced last week that the next member should be a Latina. Good thing Beckles didn't get her way earlier with Langlois; she would have violated her own quota system.

McLaughlin, the former mayor, explained several times that she could only support candidates who are active in the community. Then she refused to support Lane or Ben Choi, both of whom she'd appointed to the Planning Commission. The City Council is the only governing body more actively involved in the community.

Bates, who's aligned with no one in this fracas, noted Beckles' concern for proportionate representation when he nominated Vinay Pimple, a blind attorney. Bates said there are many Richmond residents with disabilities, but none on the council. His effort at proportionate representation went nowhere.

Interestingly, a situation similar to this unfolded in Concord in 2011. That's when Mark Peterson left the council after being elected Contra Costa district attorney. Twenty applicants for his seat were gathered, and each asked the same eight questions as council members evaluated their answers. After nominations and a vote, Dan Helix was appointed. The entire process took 4 hours.

Richmond does things differently. That's what makes it special.

Contact Tom Barnidge at

Reposted from Tom Butt's "E-Forum"

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  • Charles Smith
    commented 2015-02-22 20:54:25 -0800
    It’s time to bring Richmond politics out of the backroom. As the members of the Richmond City Council jockey for dominance, the residents are being treated as interlopers. The Council quickly forgets that it was our votes that put them on the Council in the first place. In the last eight years the voters’ voice has been ignored on those occasions when there were City Council vacancies to fill: in 2007, 2012 and now in 2015. If voter sentiment were truly respected the highest vote getter should be the obvious choice.

    All current and past members of the Council are responsible for their failure to modify the City Charter to institutionalize the principle that vacancies should be filled by the highest vote getter among the losing candidates in the most recent election. Instead of following this principle, which many have espoused when convenient, our politicians use these opportunities to manipulate and jockey for political advantage and now it appears very likely that the Richmond taxpayers once again will pay the price. This is the reason that Butt and the RPA are unable to find a compromise candidate that they can all agree on. Butt doesn’t want the RPA to get a majority and the RPA, in turn, is refusing to vote for anyone who might support Butt’s agenda.

    The only principled resolution is to appoint Jim Rogers to the vacancy because he received the most votes.

    Many members of the Richmond community have repeatedly put this basic idea forth. Even a brief review of the two most recent occasions when the issue has come up makes it clear that it is time to institutionalize the only fair and democratic resolution of the question by amending the City Charter to provide that vacancies be filled by the highest vote getter:

    In 2007, after Gayle McLaughlin was elected mayor and vacated her City Council seat, Harpreet Sandu was appointed to fill the vacancy despite the fact that Corky Booze was top runner-up. As reported in the media, “Before voting on the appointment the council heard comments from 25 members of the public. Of those, 18 asked the council to appoint Boozé, who fell short of being elected to the council Nov. 7, 2007, by 482 votes. “By not selecting Boozé, the council has violated basic democratic principles,” said the Rev. Andre Shumake. “Now I know what it feels like to have my vote discounted,” he said. “I am ashamed to be a registered Democrat after watching five elected Democrats step over more than 7,000 voters.” January 24, 2007, “City of Richmond Truth Tazer blog”

    In 2012, after the tragic death of Gary Bell created another vacancy, Jael Myrick was given the Council seat that should have gone to Eduardo Martinez:

    “Martinez finished behind Gary Bell in the last election by 518 votes; he received 14.4 percent of the total vote. Three of the sitting councilmembers—McLaughlin, Beckles and Butt—have said they will vote for him.”
    February 1, 2013, “Richmond Confidential.”

    Jim Rogers should have the seat vacated by Tom Butt in 2015.
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