Posted on October 20,
Darrell Reese behind Richmond
attack ad, some say
Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writer
To supporters of Richmond
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the flyer that landed in voters' mailboxes
earlier this month revealing her 1990s hospitalization for
depression and her defaulting on college loans carried a familiar
The ad seemed designed not just to discredit the candidate,
but to destroy her. For years, that strategy was the hallmark
of one of the groups behind the ad - the Richmond firefighters
union and its leader and political kingmaker, Darrell Reese.
It was once all but impossible to win election to the Richmond
City Council without the backing of Reese and his union. Reese
is retired now - he's 73 and left the union shortly after he
was convicted of tax evasion in 2001 - but he still casts a
shadow over Richmond politics from his home a few miles up
the road in Rodeo.
"I would suspect that's probably the case," McLaughlin,
a member of the Green Party, said when asked whether she thought
Reese was behind the attack. "I, myself, do not engage
with this person. ... But this is the last gasp of it. It's
the last gasp of an old power base that can't really address
these issues, so they resort to this."
Reese denies it Reese says he had nothing to do with the broadside
against the mayor, who angered the firefighters and police
unions - the other group behind the attack flyer - by failing
to support their budget requests.
"At one time in my life, it was very important to me," Reese
said of Richmond politics. But he says he's long since ended
his affiliation with the unions or any candidates.
Reese's reputation clings to the city of 103,000 in an election
year when campaign spending on city races and measures is expected
to exceed $1 million for the first time.
Besides the mayoral race, in which the firefighters and police
unions are backing City Councilman Nat Bates, residents will
cast an advisory vote on a proposed $1 billion, Las Vegas-style
resort and casino at Point Molate. Money is pouring into that
contest from local card rooms and Nevada casinos, which see
the project as competition, and the Indian tribe that would
Jobs for hard-hit city The Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians,
who would build the resort, says the project would bring 17,000
jobs to a city where unemployment is nearly 20 percent. Opponents
say it would attract the societal ills of gambling addiction
and petty crimes.
McLaughlin is against the casino, while Bates supports it.
A third mayoral candidate, John Ziesenhenne, said he will wait
for the advisory vote results before he announces a position.
A new City Council will probably vote on the development after
the New Year.
To Bates, the suggestion that Reese was working behind the
scenes to damage his opponent reeks of paranoia.
"It's always nice to throw Darrell's name around these
days," Bates said. "It's supposed to taint the person
he's associated with."
'Reese's pieces' Bates was once among the council members
whom critics dubbed "Reese's pieces" for their allegiance
to the union leader.
During an FBI investigation into alleged City Hall corruption
a decade ago, two contractors told a federal grand jury that
Bates and another councilman had solicited $20,000 payments
to their political action committee in exchange for a city
road construction job, according to news reports.
Bates was never indicted. But the allegations, coupled with
Reese's tax evasion conviction that grew out of the probe,
left a tarnish that has been difficult for the councilman to
"You always make the big headlines when you're being
investigated," Bates said. "But when they find nothing,
they don't write the headlines so big, 'Didn't Find Anything.'
It just quietly goes away."
If Bates wins, there will surely be murmurs that the October
mailer played a role in McLaughlin's loss, and some will believe
Reese called the shot.
Bates said he has not spoken to his friend in about a year.
"In this city, people are always looking for something
that will reveal your character," he said. "We're
an open book."
Half-time on hay farm Reese said in an interview that he was
aware of his legacy in Richmond. But he said he's left that
world, and that the only donation he's made this year was a
$99 check to council candidate Virginia Finlay.
Six months out of the year, Reese said, he lives on a hay
farm in Virginia, "where all I see is open fields and
But when he's in California, he admits he takes a strong interest
in the direction of Richmond, where he served as fire captain
for more than 40 years.
He supports the casino. "With the right kind of resort,
it could be an icon on San Francisco Bay and be part of the
city's tourism package," Reese said. "It could bring
a new, beautiful image to the city of Richmond."
But he stops short of contacting people, he said. He's no
longer conceiving media blitzes and talking strategy, and in
the case of the McLaughlin mailer, he found some humor that
people in Richmond lay the blame on him.
"It's a different world for me now," he said. "And
there's nothing I can say. If they think I'm involved, I'm
involved. But I'm not."
E-mail Justin Berton at firstname.lastname@example.org.