Posted on February 27,
Richmond's Chamber and Mayor
Square Off about her Job Performance
Contra Costa Times columnist
The "If you sue me, I'll sue you!" tiff between
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and the city's Chamber of Commerce
looks like the unofficial start of the brewing fight for control
of the city's top post.
The latest spat started after McLaughlin's state of the city
address, when Chevron Richmond Refinery Manager Mike Coyle
whined in a letter that the mayor left the business community
off her list of groups that had contributed to the city.
McLaughlin's blah-blah response — —... the time constraints
of the presentation do not enable me to mention every contributor "... " —
drew fire from Chamber of Commerce President Judy Morgan.
In an indignant missive to her members, Morgan accused McLaughlin,
who is expected to run for re-election in November, of looking
for ways to hike business taxes and said the mayor's inaction
cost the city 1,000 jobs when a judge shut down Chevron's upgrade
McLaughlin imperiously demanded a retraction.
The mayor cautioned Morgan from "distributing future potentially
libelous communications under the chamber letterhead about
me or any other public servant. To do so puts the chamber at
serious risk of legal liability."
McLaughlin tosses in another zinger, writing, "In these times
of economic strife and job loss, it seems to me that you would
have better things to do than spreading false and politically
motivated communications to your membership."
The chamber's lawyer responded in kind: "If you ever bring
a lawsuit against anyone arising from public criticism of the
way you do (or don't do) your job as mayor of the city of Richmond,
it will be defended vigorously and after it is dismissed, you
will be sued for malicious prosecution."
On the same date, the chamber sent McLaughlin an invite (insert
straight face here) to break bread and discuss how her office "has
helped promote new business and jobs for Richmond."
Oh, for pity's sake.
McLaughlin's libel taunt is absurd. If the courts entertained
lawsuits every time someone mischaracterized a politician's
views — well, you get the point.
As for the content of Morgan's letter, it is only partially
Yes, the mayor does support the imposition of new taxes on
But no, McLaughlin is not personally responsible for the lawsuit
brought by environmental groups and the subsequent judge's
ruling that stopped the Chevron project and put 1,246 people
out of work.
On the other hand, McLaughlin's critics can be forgiven for
She is an ardent environmentalist who voted with the minority
against Chevron's project. She called the judge's ruling a
victory for Richmond. She marched in a protest outside Chevron's
Business interests, trade unions and Chevron, which hold a
tenuous 4-3 vote on the City Council, would love to kick McLaughlin
out of office. But there is no consensus on who they would
put up to replace her.
Richmond Councilwoman Maria Viramontes is reportedly bobbing
back and forth between running for mayor or for re-election
to her council seat. She could make her decision public as
early as Monday.
Councilman Nat Bates is telling people he will likely run
Veteran Richmond political observers say Viramontes has the
better odds in a head-to-head matchup with McLaughlin although
private polls reportedly show the incumbent mayor with a nearly
The potential of a three-way race worries the anti-McLaughlin
The mayor won in 2006, in large part, due to a split in the
black and business vote between then-Mayor Irma Anderson and
chamber favorite Gary Bell.
The Chevron project is not the only influence in the mayor's
The city is scheduled to vote within a few months on the controversial
Indian casino at Point Molate and anti-casino signs targeting
some members of the council have already gone up.
Richmond continues to struggle with violent crime and residents
have grown increasingly frustrated with government's inability
to stop it.
And some members of the city's influential Black American
Political Action Committee are reportedly threatening to withhold
their endorsement of any mayoral or council candidate who does
not support the firing of City Manager Bill Lindsay or police
Chief Chris Magnus in a dispute related to a racial discrimination
lawsuit against the city.
It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the popularity
of McLaughlin and her sustainable communities platform, said
Councilman Tom Butt, who has been the mayor's chief defender
against recent attacks.
"This so-called business community, mostly Chevron, may have
a lot of money but I'm not sure they have a lot of votes," Butt