Published on October 27,
Riding the Green Wave—Q&A
with Richmond CA Mayor Gayle McLaughlin
EDITOR'S NOTE: Earlier this month, unions representing
Richmond, Calif., police and firefighters unleashed a series
of vicious attacks against Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a Green
Party member who is running for a second term. The attacks
focused on her bankruptcy filing shortly before she ran for
City Council in 2004 and her admission that she had had psychiatric
disabilities (depression) and trouble holding a full-time job.
Below, New America Media's Malcolm Marshall and McLaughlin
discuss those attacks and other pressing issues in a hard-fought
race with huge implications for Richmond's future.
NEW AMERICA MEDIA: Richmond police and firefighters
unions recently launched a political attack that portrayed
you as mentally and financially unstable, and possibly unfit
for public office. What do you think was the motivation behind
these attacks and what do you think the impact will be?
MAYOR GAYLE MCLAUGHLIN:
Clearly, Richmond has a history of these really horrendous,
dirty political tactics. I see this as the last gasp of this
kind of dirty politics in Richmond.
And it certainly was not
the entire police department or fire department. It was a few
in the leadership of those unions. It goes back to where they
had a level of power, in terms of having certain candidates
support their special interests. Times have changed.
a certain amount of personal hardship in the past. I overcame
it, I’m a better person for it—a stronger, more compassionate
person and a better leader. We’ve made countless progress in
the six years I’ve been mayor or on the city council, and I
stand on my record. I stand for people who are overcoming their
challenges. I stand for us—a united city overcoming our collective
adversities and challenges.
Police Chief Chris Magnus has said
that the union’s political tactics have harmed the department’s
relationship with the mental health community.
GM: The issue
of attacking anyone on their personal difficulties of the past
is a real low approach to winning an election. I think it represents
a lot of desperation. They cannot attack me or debate me on
the issues themselves.
What [Magnus] was saying was that this
approach doesn’t help the kind of positive relationships that
we know are necessary to transform our city. In Richmond, we
have a long history of social injustice and mental injustice
and that often translates into a lot of depression and pain.
We want to build up the community in spite of the problems
that have occurred. All this [nastiness] doesn’t help our youth
feel a sense of pride in their city and in themselves.
in Richmond are down significantly from last year. What factors
have led to this step in the right direction?
GM: I attribute
a lot of that to our community-involved police department and
to our youth outreach teams—and, of course, to the many neighborhood
groups and patrols. But we’re also addressing the root of the
problem with more youth programs, more job opportunities.
example, we have a model green-jobs training program, Solar
Richmond, that is training hundreds of our youth in solar installation.
We have the Richmond Build program that is training them in
doing weatherization and energy audits—it has a 90 percent
placement success rate. I can’t tell you how many testimonials
I’ve heard from young people saying that going through Richmond
Build and Solar Richmond has turned their lives around. The
new green economy needs this job-ready work force, and we’re
preparing our youth in Richmond.
Many City Council members
and residents think that the Point Molate casino project is
the answer to Richmond’s job woes. Why do you oppose it, and
what alternative plans do you have?
GM: First of all, I support
good development and good high-wage jobs at Point Molate, but
a casino will not get us there. It’s very clear that a casino
will only bring more poverty, more crime, more addictions,
more drug use, more liquor use—just more misery for our hardworking
families. We need a project in Point Molate that reflects our
strength, our courage, and where we’re going as a city—something
that has museums, a theater, art center, vocational training
center, recreation facilities, community gardens, retail centers
like a food market.
A casino isn’t even a viable project in
this day in age, when we see casinos slowing in growth. And
the financial aspect—having the money to create this project—has
been challenged time and time again.
It’s well known that casinos
suck the money out of the surrounding community and into the
casino owners’ pockets. To raise false hopes about local hiring
with these empty promises is really an insult to Richmond workers.
Some of your critics say you’re out of touch with reality
and that the green jobs market is simply not big enough [to
sustain the city]. Can a post-industrial city like Richmond,
committed to a green agenda, reduce unemployment?
definitely. First of all, you have to understand that the green
economy is the only sector of the overall economy that is showing
growth. I’m very honored to have the support of Van Jones,
who is President Obama’s former green jobs advisor, for my
reelection campaign. He’s been a longtime supporter of the
work we’re doing to prepare our young people for the green
economy. These are the jobs of the 21st century. Preparing
our residents for the jobs, the businesses, and the quality
of life of the 21st century is most definitely my focus.
is the largest city in the U.S. with a Green Party mayor. Can
it be a model for the rest of the country?
GM: I think Richmond
is a model already. We are taking the heavy-industry past,
turning it into a light green-industry future. We’re number
one in the Bay Area for solar-installed per capita. That’s
pretty amazing in a city with a history of heavy industry.
We’re showing that we are on the cutting-edge of change.
want to make one more point, which is that we have a great
arts community in Richmond and that’s part of the transformation
as well. While we move people in a new direction with our new
sustainable, healthy Richmond, we want them to use their creativity.
We have our artists out there engaging with our youth. We’re
a collective community showing that we’ve got what it takes.