Ex-Councilman Ziesenhenne officially in mayor’s race

John Ziesenhenne, the CEO of M.A. Hays Co., poses for a photograph during a political mixer earlier this month. Ziesenhenne is the first person to formally declare their candidacy for the November mayor's race. Photo by Ian A. Stewart.

John Ziesenhenne, the CEO of M.A. Hays Co., poses for a photograph during a political mixer earlier this month. Ziesenhenne is the first person to formally declare their candidacy for the November mayor's race. Photo by Ian A. Stewart.

John Ziesenhenne, who served on Richmond’s city council from 1982 to 1993, has filed paperwork with the City Clerk’s office announcing his candidacy for mayor in November’s general election.

Ziesenhenne, the CEO of M.A. Hays insurance company, is currently the only person who has officially filed for either the mayoral or city council races. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin has already stated she plans to seek re-election, and many City Hall insiders have speculated that other members of the council may take aim at the city’s top post, as well.

The former councilman said he plans to campaign on the need for jobs in Richmond, and will work toward lowering the city’s crime rate. Further, Ziesenhenne said, as mayor he hopes to improve what he sees as poor etiquette from the office.

“I haven’t seen Richmond at a lower point in regards to the lack of leadership from the mayor’s office,” Ziesenhenne said Tuesday from his Broadway office. “With the lack of communication, the lack of teamwork, the lack of respect, and the lack of civility that’s going on, bringing respectfulness back to City Hall is greatly needed.”

Ziesenhenne said he favors plans to build a hotel and casino development at Point Molate because of the number of jobs it would create, although he said he’ll keep an open mind about the proposal until after the November elections, when city residents will vote on an advisory ballot measure asking whether they support the plan. Current plans for Point Molate include building a 4,000-slot Indian casino, to be run by the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

“Richmond needs to do a much better job of getting people back to work,” Ziesenhenne said. “Having an 18 percent unemployment rate, we need to work diligently to bring good jobs into the city, to bring environmentally friendly jobs into the city, and to put people back to work.”

Ziesenhenne, 53, a North and East resident and Richmond native, graduated from Harry Ells High School and Contra Costa College before getting a degree in U.S. History from UC Berkeley in 1980. After spending over a decade on the city council, he returned to work for M.A. Hays Co., a property and casualty insurance broker, eventually working his way up to CEO.

“I think not being in the political mix [lately] gives me a fresh view of the city compared to some people on the council, and having a fresh voice and fresh leadership is something Richmond needs right now,” he said.

Despite the lack of names officially entered into the races, the field for both city council and mayor appear to be taking shape. Incumbent Mayor McLaughlin, and city council candidates Jovanka Beckles and Rhonda Harris have already begun walking precincts to raise awareness for their campaigns, and several other candidates for council have constructed campaign websites and are beginning to fundraise as well.

Councilmembers Maria Viramontes, Ludmyrna Lopez, and Jim Rogers are all up for re-election. The election will be held Nov. 2.

Candidates for mayor, and for open city council seats, have until Aug. 6 to declare their intention to run. Candidates must provide at least 20 signatures showing support from city residents, and prove they live in Richmond and are registered voters. City Clerk Diane Holmes said Monday that while she generally encourages candidates not to wait until the last minute to file their paperwork, it’s not uncommon for candidates to hold out a few weeks. The filing period opened July 12.

“I anticipate candidates to start filing this week and next,” Holmes said. “They’re probably out gathering signatures right now.”

In addition to Beckles, a member of the city’s planning commission, and Harris, who is the CEO of real estate firm R.F. and Associates, another likely City Council candidate is Eduardo Martinez, a retired schoolteacher who is being endorsed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance. Former Councilmen Gary Bell and John Marquez have also informally announced their candidacies for the council, as has former council candidate Corky Booze. Virgina Finlay, the president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, has also said she plans to run for council.

Lesser-known candidates are also likely to join the fray: Rodney Alamo Brown has created a Facebook page announcing his candidacy for mayor, as has Ervin Roquemore, who says he’s running for city council, although both appear to be relative newcomers to the political scene.

Ziesenhenne had said as recently as June that he wasn’t planning a mayoral bid. There is considerable buzz among City Hall insiders that Ziesenhenne won’t be the only challenger to McLaughlin, who narrowly beat out Gary Bell and then-incumbent mayor Irma Anderson in 2006. Councilman Nat Bates, who served two terms as mayor during the 1970s, has thus far denied a 2010 mayoral bid of his own. But his name continues to surface in rumors, and he reportedly sent a survey to supporters earlier this year to gauge interest levels in his candidacy.

Councilwoman Viramontes has also been rumored to have mayoral ambitions. Both Viramontes and Bates are seen as business-friendly and favor plans to build the large Indian casino at Point Molate — a plan McLaughlin, a Green Party member, opposes. Both Viramontes and Bates are vocal foes of the mayor, and often clash with McLaughlin during council meetings.

Should Bates and Ziesenhenne both run, they may end up jockeying for some of the same endorsements: Both men are members of the Black Men and Women Political Action Committee, and Ziesenhenne, who is white, has donated in the past to the Black-American PAC, which has traditionally supported and helped finance Bates’ re-election campaigns.

“It’s certainly an issue that’s out there,” Ziesenhenne said of potentially running against Bates, whom he described as a friend. (The two served briefly on the city council together during the 1980s). “But hopefully I’d be more convincing to constituents, whatever candidates are running,” he continued. “I have to believe that. Otherwise wouldn’t have filed papers.”

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