Former Obama Administration environmental expert Anthony
“Van” Jones headlined a star-studded – and controversial
– speaker list at Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s re-election kickoff
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
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”
“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
Jones linked his predictions about green energy development
“When you can understand that, then you can understand the
genius of the leadership you have here in Richmond,” Jones
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
“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.”