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Richmond Confidential

April 19, 2010

Former Obama official weighs in on Richmond

By Robert Rogers

Former Obama Administration environmental expert Anthony “Van” Jones headlined a star-studded – and controversial – speaker list at Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s re-election kickoff party Saturday.

Jones, who now works as a senior fellow at the Center For American Progress, wowed the crowd of about 200 with a calm but pointed speech. Jones resigned last September amid a firestorm of Republican and conservative media outrage over his affiliations with left-leaning groups and for signing a 2004 petition questioning the veracity of government accounts of the 9-11 attacks.

“For those of us who are champions for a green economy, there is no more important race in the country than this race,” Jones said minutes after his speech, which received a standing ovation.

McLaughlin is the only Green Party Mayor of a city of more than 100,000 in the United States. She won her office by a razor-thin margin in 2006, and has antagonized two of the deepest pocketed local interests in Richmond. She could face stiff competition this year from a widely-rumored challenge by City Councilman Nat Bates.

The featured speakers, Jones and immigration activist Nativo Lopez, may be seen as a signal that McLaughlin is banking on a campaign strategy that appeals to her core constituencies.

McLaughlin herself sounded a forceful tone Saturday.

“Anything short of strict, verifiable regulations to protect public health is unacceptable,” McLaughlin said. “And a sufficient economic recovery necessitates that the wealthiest pay their fair share of taxes.”

McLaughlin was speaking specifically of Chevron Corp., the city’s largest taxpayer and a consistent opponent of the mayor’s. Chevron has a history of providing support to candidates in local elections. McLaughlin also opposes a potential Casino on Point Molate, a former Naval fuel depot, a project that is backed by influential developers.

“The idea that a place where you have a Chevron, you also have a Gayle, that’s actually America, that’s where we’re going, and I think it’s important that we make sure that we keep that leadership in place,” Jones said.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin opposes projects to build a Casino at Point Molate and to refine more crude oil at Chevron Corp.

Although McLaughlin, who has supported youth and green jobs development programs, remains very popular among her supporters, Jones was the speaker Saturday who had the community room in the 1000 block of MacDonald Ave filled front to back.

His remarks were often light and humorous, often turning on humorous anecdotes about his own experiences. He made only fleeting mention of the intense outrage directed at him by Fox News personality Glenn Beck and other conservatives, calling those elements of his resume “the juicy stuff.” All told, Jones struck a moderate tone, sometimes casting his thoughts on conservation and sustainable energy as “conservative” initiatives.

“The products of tomorrow will include oil, but in a very different ratio than what we have right now,” Jones said. “Because it will also include solar panels, wind turbines, smart batteries … the equivalent of the information technology explosion we saw of the 1990s, we’re about to have an energy technology explosion, and that’s where the jobs will come from.”

Jones linked his predictions about green energy development to Richmond.

“When you can understand that, then you can understand the genius of the leadership you have here in Richmond,” Jones said.

City Councilman Jeff Ritterman also attended the event, chauffeuring Jones to the location in his Toyota Prius.

Immigration rights activist Lopez preceded Jones as a speaker. Lopez spent much less time addressing local issues, but noted on several occasions that he supported McLaughlin. He delivered a scathing criticism of the Democratic Party’s approach to immigration reform and bank bailouts, while also criticizing state policies and prison population growth.

Immigrant rights advocate Nativo Lopez said he had "no hope" of Democratic leaders accomplishing immigration reform this year.

“I have no hope that there will be immigration reform this year that’s fair, that’s humane to working immigrants and working America,” Lopez said. “This administration is not committed to it, the Democratic Party leadership is not committed to it, this Congress is not committed to it.”

McLaughlin is counting on overwhelming support from Richmond’s Latino voters this November. Latinos now compose about one-third of the city’s residents.

Lopez did hint at what many other Latino leaders have voiced around the country: That as their numbers swell and they become a more critical part of Congressional and national voting landscapes, they will not pledge their support blindly to a party without lofty legislative expectations.

“This slogan will evolve into a campaign,” Lopez said. “Legalization of no re-election.”

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