Mayor delivers State of City
What Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s State of the City address Tuesday
night may have lacked in a unifying theme, it compensated for
in sheer breadth.
McLaughlin touted the city’s progress last year on an array
of fronts, including environmentally-sound development, employment
training, youth outreach work and public health. But she also
wasted little time in addressing the city’s woes, bemoaning
the spiking homicide rate within the first minute of the 3,180
word speech. McLaughlin criticized national policies that she
said neglect communities and act as contributing factors to
crime and economic decay.
“Unfortunately, the money we need for jobs and education is
going to foreign wars for oil and to Wall Street bankers,”
McLaughlin said. “… As priorities at the national level continue
to neglect our communities, the responsibility for preventing
violent crime in Richmond rests more and more on our shoulders.”
McLaughlin addressed the nearly-full council chambers at the
outset of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. Her City Council
colleagues, two of whom are rumored to be considering challenging
her in her bid for re-election in November, looked on from
the dais as McLaughlin spoke while standing behind a podium.
McLaughlin noted that 47 homicides were recorded in the city
in 2009, a dramatic spike from 27 the year before. She blamed
the increase in part on the slumping economy, which she said
have driven unemployment rates to their highest levels since
the Great Depression.
“When unemployment rates doubled as they did in 2009 it is
not surprising that violent crime and homicide also skyrocketed,”
McLaughlin’s grim assessment of crime in the city was a notable
contrast to recent public comments made by Police Chief Chris
Magnus, who said during a recent public meeting that overall
crime edged down in 2009, despite the increase in homicides.
After plunging early on into the somber crime and economic
situations, McLaughlin transitioned into much more upbeat
reports about the city’s progress on a number of other fronts.
The initiatives highlighted included:
- Youth programs aimed at training young people to work
in green economy initiatives.
- A summer youth job program that employs hundreds of local
youths in paid internships.
- Securing federal and private grant monies, including a
$1 million energy block grant and $3.3 million for affordable
housing and homeless services.
- Securing nearly $20 million in federal stimulus dollars.
- A city commitment to provide $3 million over two years
to the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
The Mayor also touted her office’s sponsorship of the Youth
Stopping Violence Summit last October, some of whose members
she said would join a youth advisory commission to be established
this year. At another point McLaughlin – who has consistently
sought to win tax, fee and regulatory concessions from Chevron
Corp., which runs a local refinery – expressed support for
a coming ballot measure to lift caps on the energy giant’s
The crowd interrupted for applause several times during
McLaughlin’s speech. After she concluded, with the aid of
a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. (“No one can ride your
back unless it’s bent,” she said), residents in attendance
expressed support for her remarks.
“I’m glad to hear the focus on our youth,” said Vernon Williams,
34, who runs a local youth development program. “In the middle
of a lot of chaos last year, there was some phenomenal progress.”
Longtime resident Juan Reardon, 58, said he liked the mayor’s
vision and her “frank” approach to local problems.
“Violence in our community is the number one problem, and
she put it into a larger perspective that showed some of
the causes,” Reardon said.