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.”


American Public Health Association (APHA) backs Richmond soda tax

The press release was received this afternoon, and appears below. Jeff Ritterman recently spoke to the APHA about Measure N in Richmond, which would tax business a penny-per-ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage sales.


Federal, State and Local Tax on Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) Endorsed by Nation’s Oldest, Largest Public Health Organization


SAN FRANCISCO, CA, October 31, 2012…Faced with a national obesity crisis largely driven by the consumption of sugary beverages, the country’s oldest and largest public health organization, the American Public Health Association (APHA), voted yesterday to endorse federal, state and local taxes on sugar sweetened beverages.

With over 13,000 physicians, administrators, nurses, educators, researchers, epidemiologists and related health specialists in attendance here at their annual meeting, the APHA approved the landmark resolution, recognizing it as a means of reducing consumption of the sugar sweetened beverages that contribute 48 percent of added sugar to American diets. In the resolution, the APHA pointed out that roughly two-thirds of adults are overweight, and taxes on high calorie, low nutrient sugary beverages are a wise way to address this costly health issue.

“Decisive public health policy measures must be implemented to counteract the enormous consumption of sugar sweetened beverages among children and adults in the United States,” said Dr. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), who co-authored the resolution.

The APHA says that these taxes would raise funds for obesity prevention, pointing out that the most commonly proposed tax amount of a penny per ounce would annually raise over $13 billion nationally. At the same time, reduced consumption could rein in health care spending on obesity and overweight related illnesses, which accounts for as much as $168 billion per year, or 16.5 percent of total U.S. medical expenditures.

If it helps reduce consumption, a tax on SSBs could be of greatest benefit to lower-income populations, the APHA asserts, countering the beverage industry’s argument that such a tax would be regressive.

The American Public Health Association is the oldest organization of public health professionals in the world and has been working to improve public health since 1872. For more about APHA, visit www.apha.org. CCPHA is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization leading efforts in California to understand and address the state’s growing obesity crisis. For more about CCPHA, visit: www.publichealthadvocacy.org.


Richmond’s David v. Goliath: the sugar beverage tax

jeff ritterman felix hunziger

Jeff Ritterman, foreground, and Felix Hunziker, background, an anti-Measure N activist.

RICHMOND — Jeff Ritterman made his case for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages at American Public Health Association Conferences, to doctors at a San Francisco Medical School and the Board of Supervisors in San Mateo County — all in the last week.

But perhaps his most important audience was Monday night’s, where 80 people gathered at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church for a town-hall meeting.

Trim and energetic, with his trademark ponytail pulled tight, the retired cardiologist-turned-councilman relied on local African-American sports and health advocates to do most of the talking to one of the city’s oldest African- American congregations, but he bemoaned the “polarization” that has cleaved the city over his controversial ballot measure.

“We have to keep the focus on our children and how to make the city a better place for them,” Ritterman said.

Erick Avery, coach of the Richmond Half-Steppers, a youth track club, had just finished speaking on the need for recreation funding from Measure N, the penny-per-ounce tax Ritterman has devoted nearly all his energies to.

Click here to see the Beverage Association spending report: BEVERAGEGROUPREPORT pdf pdf

Keenly aware of the $2.5 million spent so far against the measure, Ritterman did what he seldom does — acknowledged the possibility of defeat on Nov. 6. As of Oct. 20, the pro-Measure N “Fit for Life” campaign had spent less than $50,000 from mostly small donors.

“Win or lose, we have to figure out a way to support (the Half Steppers),” Ritterman said.

The pro-Measure N “Fit for Life” campaign has spent less than $50,000 from mostly small donors, a total dwarfed by the $2.5 million in soda industry funding the opposition.

The underdogs have relied on volunteers and creativity to get their message out to local voters.

Youth artists spray-paint anti-soda, “Yes on N” murals on street corner buildings, with the owners’ permission. Ritterman has done hundreds of interviews with media from all over the world, and has spent thousands of hours campaigning. He pulls a wagon carrying 40-pounds of sugar — a prop meant to personify the amount the average child consumes in a year — and spends late nights pecking rhetoric into his keyboard, jousting with critics and naysayers on social media platforms. He’s been shouted down at parks and in church parking lots.

It’s in Richmond’s working-class neighborhoods where the ballot battle will be won or lost, and skeptics say the pro-tax activists can’t overcome the money and the blunt “no on new taxes” message against them.

“Our campaign spending is still considerably less than what Measure N would cost Richmond families in higher grocery bills and Richmond businesses in lost sales and customers,” said Chuck Finnie, a spokesman for the anti-tax group.

Otheree Christian, president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Association, said he liked much of what he heard Monday night, but that his mostly African- American and Latino neighborhood is leaning against the ballot measure and can’t be persuaded.

“In this economy, with people struggling, putting in a new tax is not going to work, no matter how you try to dress it up,” Christian said.

Several speakers on Monday appealed directly to the city’s working class African-American and Latino communities, calling sugar-sweetened beverages “poisons” that are fueling obesity, diabetes and other health maladies.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and other elected leaders joined Ritterman at the church and pushed hard for the measure. McLaughlin pledged to pass postelection legislation requiring that every dollar from Measure N goes to youth health and recreation programs, another in a long line of tweaks to the message that the pro-N side has made over months of campaigning to tamp down critics.

The keynote speaker Monday was Maya Rockeymoore, a Washington D.C.-based scholar.

Rockeymoore called on the African American community to look critically at the beverage industry, its products and its marketing tactics toward ethnic groups.

She called the obesity crisis — 52 percent of children in Richmond are overweight — a “systemic” problem.

“We are surrounded all the time by an environment in which unhealthy drinks are advertised,” Rockeymoore said.

McLaughlin echoed many of Rockeymoore’s theme, at one point noting acerbically that obesity and diabetes has been a bitter fruit of the “Pepsi Generation” marketing campaign.

Doria Robinson, a community advocate for better nutrition and urban farming, said residents needed to come together to tax sugary-drinks and reduce consumption.

“It’s not food,” she said. “It’s hurting us.”

With its unlimited budget, The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes counts hundreds of local businesses and influential community groups, including the NAACP and Black Women of Political Action (BWOPA) among its members. The city’s streets and its airwaves are awash in “No on N” ads, funded by the Washington D.C.-based American Beverage Association’s support. The coalition has also provided thousands in direct payments to influential community leaders, including the treasurer of the Black American Polical Action Committee (BAPAC).

“Without Big Soda’s money, there would be no organized opposition against the soda tax,” Ritterman said.

The dynamic has played out elsewhere to the same notes. El Monte, a Los Angeles County suburb with a nearly 20 percent larger population than Richmond, is the other major California battleground over beverage taxes.

El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero, the leading proponent of Measure H — which is virtually identical to Richmond’s ordinance — has acknowledged that his measure has little chance in the face of the beverage industry’s sophisticated and well-funded campaign.

Yet in El Monte, the battle is being tipped with far fewer resources. The “No on H” committee has spent about $1.3 million, barely half its spending in Richmond, the smaller city. El Monte’s pro-beverage tax forces have spent about $7,000 more than those in Richmond.

“The comparison shows how strong Richmond’s progressive movement is,” said Andres Soto, a founding member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. “We can win here against all the corporate money.”

In both cities, slick campaign strategists have focused on appealing to key ethnic groups.

In Richmond, the campaigns have focused on appealing to African Americans and Latinos. In El Monte, advertising aims at Asians and Latinos.

Critics have complained that Ritterman and his allies initially overlooked the support of local churches and leaders, opening the door for the beverage industry to make inroads. Ritterman disagrees.

“No regrets,” Ritterman said. “We have worked hard. We have run an honest campaign.”

Observers close to the campaigns on both sides say N has a slim chance at passage, but still marvel at the spirited, crafty, bare-bones campaign that has pushed Richmond into the national limelight on issues of public health and sugar-sweetened beverages. The battle in Richmond may be lost this year, they say, but the larger war changing the beverage industry is still in their favor.

“This really advanced the cause no matter how the vote turns out,” said Councilman Tom Butt. “A lot of people have been watching this, learning what to do and what not to do, and I am sure there will be other cities that will take this up.”

Asked if he has ever felt down against the seemingly overwhelming odds, Ritterman brushed that aside.

“I’ve been working on this more than full time for many months. I don’t feel demoralized at all, I feel energized.”