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January 20, 2010


Mayor delivers State of City address

By Robert Rogers

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,” she said.

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 tax burden.

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.


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