Election notes Richmond / Hercules 2012

Below are some extended excerpts of a short story in tomorrow’s paper:


Election Day yielded a mixed verdict for City Council incumbents in West Contra Costa, as Richmond re-elected both and Hercules showed two of three the door. El Cerrito’s three incumbents faced no opponents; Pinole re-elected both; and San Pablo re-elected two while the third was trailing a challenger for the final spot on the council.

An undetermined number of mail-in ballots remained to be counted Wednesday morning.

With all precincts reporting in Richmond on Wednesday, inumbent Nat Bates was the top vote-getter with 17.9 percent of the vote, followed by incumbent Tom Butt at 15.6 percent and Chevron-supportered challenger Gary Bell at 15.2 percent.

Eduardo Martinez was next at 14.2 percent, and Marilyn Langlois had 11.2 percent. The other six candidates well short of 10 percent.

Bates, Butt and Bell will have a seat on the council beginning in January.

Bell announced his victory on his Facebook page Wednesday morning.

“It looks like we made it happen!” Bell wrote. “Thank you all who supported this campaign.” Bell, 54, a credit union manager, was first elected in 1999, but lost his seat when he came in seventh in 2004. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2006, in the process gaining critics who said his ill-timed run cost Irma Anderson the mayorship and handed it to Gayle McLaughlin.

Bell said in a later Facebook message that he had been feeling ill in recent days and hoped to be on the mend soon.

The tumultuous campaigns came against the backdrop of millions in American Beverage Industry funding against local beverage tax Measure N. The council race was also influenced by more than a million dollars from Chevron Corp., the major donor to independent expenditure committee Moving Forward.

Resident and labor leader Don Gosney, said Measure N, which got just 33 percent of the vote, gave Bell a boost and hampered Martinez.

“Measure N was so unpopular that when Martinez embraced it so fully, those that opposed Measure N also opposed Martinez,” Gosney said.

Resident and Police Commissioner Felix Hunziker said he felt Measure N had little impact in Bell’s victory and the losses of Langlois and Martienz, who both supported the tax.

“Measure N stood on it’s own, it didn’t define the candidates,” Hunziker said.

Chevron’s dollars supported the campaigns of Bates and Bell and challenger Bea Roberson.

At the same time, the campaign spent about $200,000 opposing Langlois and Martinez, including creating websites devoted to undercutting both candidates.

Langlois and Martinez both raised money from mostly small donors and public financing, and their campaigns were boosted by support from the RPA’s vaunted ground game.

The new council will convene in January, beginning a period that some hope will include some cooled relations. Major issues confront the city, including ongoing talks with Chevron over its refinery upgrade plans and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which will build a massive new campus in Richmond over the next few years.

Hunziker said Bell will join Bates and Councilman Corky Booze as a three-person bloc opposed to a slimmed-down progressive majority. Councilman Jim Rogers will become a likely swing vote on the seven-member council.

“The new council may be more inclined to compromise,” Hunziker said. “But it’s hard to say if it will be any more civil.”

In Hercules, Dan Romero, the current mayor, was the only one of three incumbents re-elected, running second behind challenger Sherry McCoy, who had lost to Romero in a special council election in June 2011.

Incumbent Gerard Boulanger was seventh and last, while incumbent William Wilkins was fourth, more than 200 votes behind challenger Bill Kelly as of Wednesday afternoon. Challengers Hector Rubio and Phil Simmons were fifth and sixth.

The three Hercules incumbents have served on the council only since June 2011, when Boulanger and Wilkins were elected to replace two council members whom voters recalled in the wake of the city’s deteriorating financial condition and public ire over the awarding of city contracts to the family of the former city manager. That month, Romero beat McCoy and another candidate for a seat vacated by a third recall target who resigned.

Boulanger had been dogged since that election by revelations that he padded his resume with fictitious achievements such as university degrees and service on a government board in his native France.

Wilkins had been targeted along with the two other incumbents by Councilwoman Myrna de Vera, who faces re-election in 2014. De Vera supported McCoy, Rubio and Simmons while her husband, Manuel de Vera, launched two political action committees to defeat the incumbents and support the couple’s three preferred challengers. In the end, two of the de Veras’ targets got knocked off, but only one of their choices won.

In El Cerrito, Jan Bridges, Mark Friedman and Greg Lyman were automatically re-elected. In Pinole, Mayor Peter Murray and Councilman Roy Swearingen fought off a challenge by Ivette Ricco; and in San Pablo, Kathy Chao Rothberg and Cecilia Valdez, the current mayor, handily won re-election while Leonard McNeil trailed challenger Rich Kinney by 74 votes as of late Wednesday for the third available seat.

Back in Richmond, supporters of the winners were in a joyous mood — and eager to see the RPA’s next move.

“The people have spoken,” said Rev. Andre Shumake. “If the RPA is serious about the issue of obesity, they should immediately launch a comprehensive, citywide effort, stargin with teh use of each recreation center.”

Ritterman remarked Monday that he looked forward to a little uncertainty in his future. “I’ll be unemployed in January for the first time in my life,” he said.

Hunziker noted that the new composition of the council, with progressives McLaughlin, Beckles and Butt opposing Bates, Bell and Corky Booze, could lift an oft-overlooked councilman to a power-wielding swing status.

“Rogers gets to be back on the fence where he likes to be,” Hunziker said.

Rogers has been known to occasionally vote with Bates and Booze. Most contentious matters are usually settled with a 5-2 vote, with a few 4-3 votes, when Rogers shifts.

Resident Don Gosney, a labor leader who has worked with Booze and supports Bell, said: “The results of Tuesday’s election suggest that the people of Richmond are no longer willing to drink the Richmond Progressive Alliance Kool-Aid and accept their candidates or their initiatives point blank.  It’s not that they’re rejecting what the RPA is trying to do, it’s just that they’re unwilling to embrace them without reservations.”

Gosney added: “This new Council will be more balanced where we can expect lively discussions of issues with the goal of trying to convince fellow Council members to vote one way or another as opposed to the votes we’ve been seeing where members of the Council seem to vote along the party lines on every issue.”

Gosney disagreed with Hunziker on whether Measure N was a drag on RPA candidates in the polls: “Representatives from the RPA have publicly advised voters of the need to find a wedge issue to split the voters and this year Measure N was that wedge issue.  Then Chevron gave them a present with their refinery so they had two wedge issues.  These became litmus tests for the candidates and since Measure N was so unpopular here in Richmond, when Eduardo embraced it so fully, those that opposed Measure N also opposed Eduardo.”