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Posted on September 21, 2010

Youth show their interest, influence in Richmond politics

Posted: 09/21/2010 12:50:29 PM PDT
Updated: 09/21/2010 01:18:50 PM PDT

Richmond's mayoral hopefuls fielded questions on how they would make Richmond a better place from a different set of constituents: those not old enough to vote.

From same-sex marriages to reducing crime, local teens and young adults on Monday night quizzed Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Councilman Nat Bates and businessman John Ziesenhenne on a number of issues at a candidates forum at the RYSE Center, a first for the youth organization.

"Even though we're not old enough to vote, we do have influence over people who can vote," said Danita Davis, 17, an El Cerrito High School student who co-moderated the forum. Davis said family and others have asked for her thoughts. "Our goal is to get young people involved. We do have a voice, and we can make changes."

The hourlong forum offered a glimpse into the issues teens care about. Some questions mirrored those of neighborhood groups, who are holding forums of their own: How would you reduce crime? Do you support building a casino at Point Molate?

But other questions were more specific to youth: Would you redirect the aim of gangs or eliminate them? Will the new truancy law have the intended effect of reducing crime?

Asked about ideas for ensuring more funding for youth centers, McLaughlin said she would explore setting aside a percentage of the general fund to finance youth activities and centers, similar to Oakland. She said she also would look at allocating some money from the city's $114 million tax settlement with Chevron.

Bates said he would be open to looking at making youth activities a bigger budget priority. Ziesenhenne said he would look at using some money from a proposed 5 percent tax on gross sales receipts for youth and recreation, if the ballot measure passes in November.

The candidates also were asked about the first change they would make to benefit youth. Bates said he would establish a city mentoring program. McLaughlin said she would ask the Youth Commission to present ideas for changes they want to see. Ziesenhenne said he would treat everyone who comes to the podium with respect, something he said he thinks is lacking now.

The forum was organized by the RYSE Center and Richmond Youth Media Productions. It was streamed live on the RYSE web portal and will air later on KCRT Channel 28 on dates that will be announced on KCRT's website.

Questions were gathered from youth who came to the RYSE Center over a two-week period. Interest was high, Davis said, and organizers had about 40 suggested questions to choose from for the forum.

"It's a great steppingstone for getting youth involved in politics," said Luciano Del Rio, 23, associate director of Richmond Youth Media Productions.

Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at

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