Gayle McLaughlin fought back today against accusations that she is unfit to serve as mayor, after political opponents produced documents revealing a 2001 bankruptcy and referring to “serious psychological disabilities.”
The documents originate from a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. They show that McLaughlin had more than $100,000 in student loan debt at the time, and note that she had received Social Security disability payments for a “serious psychological” condition for about nine years. In a press conference this evening, the mayor confirmed the authenticity of the documents, but said not all the information contained in them is still accurate. When pressed to explain, she said she is no longer on disability, but would not elaborate further.
McLaughlin confirmed that she defaulted on her debt in 2001 and said she is still working to pay off the student loans—which now total about $125,000. The mayor would not comment on her mental health, but an aide said she had suffered from depression and has since overcome it.
“Some years in my earlier life were extremely challenging,” the mayor said, reading from a statement. “I was the victim of multiple crimes and have experienced a host of personal losses, including debilitating illnesses and deaths within my family. My health and personal finances suffered as well.”
The documents’ release marks the rollout of a coordinated campaign against McLaughlin. Today, the Richmond Police Officers Assocation and International Association of Firefighters Local 188 launched the website www.therealmayorgayle.com and will air attack ads starting Wednesday. The unions are funding the campaign through a political action committee called Richmond First. In response, McLaughlin lashed out at what she called “dirty campaigning.”
“Those who oppose our program for positive change in Richmond have decided to attack me personally, in an attempt to distract voters from the important issues and decisions we face,” McLaughlin said.
The full records from McLaughlin’s bankruptcy filing paint the picture of a depressed and indebted woman, struggling to find work in Vallejo. The documents indicate that as recently as 2003 McLaughlin was $119,353 in debt; that her net worth was approximately $5000; and that she was behind on rent at the Twin Bridges Mobile Home Park in Vallejo, which she listed as her home address. The documents also state that she had been unable to maintain employment for much of her adult life.
In a press conference a few hours before the mayor spoke, members of the police and firefighters unions said they were simply making information public to inform the voters. They argue that the mayor has ignored firefighters in Richmond, and that the department has been understaffed.
Richmond Firefighters Association president Jim Russey said his organization hired a private investigator to look into the mayor’s background. He said it cost approximately $15,000, and that they had known about the bankruptcy for about ten days.
“You don’t go from being jobless because of psychiatric issues to becoming the mayor of one of the largest cities in California and in the nation,” Russey said in a statement. “If the voters had known the truth about the mayor from the beginning, they would have never elected her.”
Mayoral candidate Nat Bates emailed the bankruptcy document to the media on Monday, calling the revelations “a good example of candidates coming into a city relatively unknown and swaying voters who do not know them.”
In an interview Monday, Bates said he was not trying to capitalize on the mayor’s nine-year old bankruptcy filing, and insisted that he was not “basing (his) campaign success on the basis of someone else’s apparent misfortune.”
“I have no intention of dropping myself to the level of talking about her misfortunes,” he said.
Councilmember Tom Butt, a staunch ally of the mayor, called the information in the document, “old news,” and said it has no relevance to McLaughlin’s performance as a councilmember or mayor.
“I think it’s kind of unfair,” Butt said. “Here’s a person who clearly was facing some substantial personal adversities that involved her health and her financial situation . . . and she rose past all that and emerged a strong and capable person and that’s the person that people have seen serving them for the last six years.”
Butt said he had known about the mayor’s past for some time, and added that it was “tacky” for Bates to release this information.
“It’s my perception that none of the situations that were described in [the document] are current,” Butt said. “All of that’s past history. Gayle has long since been off the disability statuses she was on. She’s healthy and sound and has performed well over the last six years.”