October 20, 2010
Unfinished business: Mayor seeks second
Gayle McLaughlin is in for a fight.
The upcoming election is nothing like her historic win in
2006, which made her one of the most prominent Green Party
officials in the country.
This time, the Chicago native has had to rally harder against
longtime Richmond politicians, and fend off searing personal
attacks from the police and fire department unions.
But Richmond voters need her, she said, and finishing what
she started four years ago is reason enough to forge ahead.
“I think it would certainly set us back,” she said about the
prospect of losing. “We worked so hard to get here.”
At the downtown offices of the Progressive Alliance in late
September, the mayor said she expects to win.
“I don’t think the people of Richmond would allow such a setback
to occur,” she said. “I think they know what’s at stake in
What’s at stake is a crippled economy, an unemployment rate
hovering around 18 percent and underfunded public schools.
The mayor asserts she is the person for the job.
At the time, a confident McLaughlin, wearing her signature
blazer and colorful scarf, sat unaware of an investigation
designed to unravel her carefully woven campaign.
An announcement on October 5 revealed
court documents showing McLaughlin has a history of depression,
sizable student loan debt and a spotty employment history.
The caustic exposé was orchestrated in part by the Richmond
Police Officers Association (RPOA) and International Association
of Firefighters Local 188, who spent $10,000 to investigate
McLaughlin and another $5,000 to investigate council candidate
McLaughlin has responded to the revelations in a letter on
her Web site.
“I know that you will look at my record in office over the
last six years and judge me on the merits of my consistent
hard work and achievements,” she said in the online post.
Councilmember Jeff Ritterman also wrote a letter to voters
criticizing the police and firefighter associations for what
he called “character assassination.”
Right now, the goal is to focus on her campaign, McLaughlin
said, and on how to best serve the needs of Richmond residents.
Anything else is a distraction, she said, edging the conversation
in a more positive direction.
McLaughlin, who champions environmental issues, prefers to
focus on her accomplishments and efforts toward a better Richmond.
The mayor cites a reduced homicide rate, a balanced budget
with no layoffs, and 700 newly-licensed businesses as accomplishments
of her term.
McLaughlin also proudly explained how her team led citywide
renovations. They restored six local community centers, the
historic Plunge swimming pool, the Civic Center complex, the
Richmond transit station and Macdonald Avenue Streetscape,
But to critics, the success of McLaughlin’s four years in
office is overblown.
Candidate for city council Virginia Finlay said the mayor’s
open stand against big business has adversely affected unemployment.
Finlay said the mayor’s unwillingness to negotiate on key issues
of environmental cleanup is a turn off to businesses willing
to set up in Richmond.
Critics also assert that the mayor has grossly underestimated
the needs of the city and presses for utopian solutions to
issues like education, jobs and crime. Much of the sentiment
is linked to McLaughlin’s push for green energy jobs.
Candidate for city council Maria Viramontes voiced her opposition.
“It will be deeply disappointing to me if we wind up [with
a mayor] that says ‘environment at every other price’ — that
price always falls on African Americans, Hispanics and low-income
communities. We already are paying the price; we will not pay
a new one,” she said.
The mayor co-founded Solar Richmond, a local nonprofit
that provides training for green jobs. She lights up as she
mentions the city’s place as number one in the Bay Area for
solar installed per capita.
The mayor maintains that she is not pushing an all-green agenda,
but instead represents a new economic model, one that is less
reliant on major industries like Chevron.
“I’m looking for the full realm of jobs and businesses, but
definitely focusing on where the jobs are and where the economic
resurgence is happening.”
Ritterman, a staunch supporter of McLaughlin, said her willingness
to take on hard issues and major corporations makes her the
best candidate for office.
“We’re moving in the right direction and I think we should
continue to so,” he said. “I don’t think any of the other candidates
will be able to deliver in that way.”
McLaughlin is not afraid of the title “not-your-average politician.”
Being progressive is the reason she entered politics in the
first place, she said.
“Unless you think ahead and think outside of the box you can
fall behind,” McLaughlin said. “I’m making it my job to stay
on top of all these efforts and bring quality of life to our