US: “People stood up to Chevron and said NO!”

Green elected mayor of Richmond, California

In this gritty working-class city on the east side of San Francisco Bay, grinding poverty, violent crime, pollution, and fiscal scandal fueled the successful campaign of Richmond City Council member Gayle McLaughlin. Richmond is the first US city with over 100,000 residents to elect a Green mayor.

Ty Moore, from Justice (the paper of Socialist Alternative/CWI in the US) interviewed Tarnel Abbott, a volunteer for McLaughlin’s campaign and a long-time leader in her union, SEIU Local 790, which represents most city workers and endorsed McLaughlin.

“This is a company town in a lot of ways. Chevron contributes thousands of dollars to the candidates of their choice. What I’m so proud of is that people stood up to Chevron and said NO,” Abbott said.

The incumbent mayor, Irma Anderson, “wife of former Mayor and Councilman Booker T Anderson, has deep roots in the black community. She was also supported by Chevron and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.” (Contra Costa Times, 11/8/06) With this backing, the mayor spent over $110,000, whereas McLaughlin refused corporate donations, raising $14,000 from labor and supporters.

Anderson’s central campaign theme was combating crime by hiring more police and expanding military-style crackdowns on gangs. Richmond competes with Oakland and Compton as the most violent city in California, according to FBI statistics.

In contrast, McLaughlin “spoke about ending violence by dealing with root causes, not just throwing more money at the police. She was proposing that we hire a thousand young people to get them real jobs,” explained Abbott. “The Richmond Youth Corp would be part-time union jobs with the city.”

To fund this and other programs, McLaughlin and supporters put an initiative on the ballot to force Chevron to hand over $8 million per year in tax revenues. However, Chevron and its political supporters succeeded in defeating the initiative through a big misinformation campaign, Abbott said.

Incumbent Mayor Anderson presided over a financial scandal in 2004. “The money was so badly managed that they couldn’t pin it on anybody. $35 million in debt and they could not account for that lost money,” said Abbot. “At the library I work at, two-thirds were laid off and library hours were cut in half… almost half the city’s workforce was laid off.”

“The current president of our union did not support Gayle; she supported the mayor… How could you endorse the people who laid you off? That was the Democratic Party machine at work again. But the people in our union didn’t want to play the game… The membership voted overwhelmingly to support Gayle and agreed to give several thousand dollars to her campaign.”

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November 2006