Looking at Richmond’s high rate of unemployment and steady job losses, mayoral candidate John Ziesenhenne, 53, is not happy with the city’s economic leadership.
“There’s no leadership in Richmond now,” Ziesenhenne told the audience at the Marina Bay candidates night earlier this month. “I’m running for mayor to fill this void of leadership that the city doesn’t have.”
Touting himself as a “business friendly” candidate, Ziesenhenne emphasized throughout the evening the importance of bringing new businesses into Richmond. With a calm outward demeanor, he explained the deterioration of the city’s economy over the last four years, citing Richmond’s 18.5 percent unemployment rate and high number of foreclosed homes.
Ziesenhenne’s top economic proposal is to organize a taskforce to remedy the communication gap that he said has existed between businesses and City Hall over the last few years. The team would be charged with assessing what businesses need in order to thrive in Richmond, and then finding ways to bring new business to the city.
The team would begin by contacting Richmond’s top 100 businesses to determine how the city can assist in their continued operation. Team members would also initiate conversations with prospective companies considering relocation to Richmond. Ziesenhenne also said he would make affordable land available to new businesses, concentrating on areas like the North Richmond Shoreline or Port of Richmond.
John Ziesenhenne calls himself a “lifelong Richmonder.” His parents moved to the city during World War II and have since lived in north and east Richmond. Ziesenhenne graduated from Harry Ells High School, attended Contra Costa College and received a degree in U.S. History from UC Berkeley. He is now CEO of M.A. Hays Insurance Company on MacDonald Avenue.
Ziesenhenne has consistently taken a business-friendly position in regard to politically sensitive issues such as the Chevron refinery or Point Molate. He supports improving communications with Chevron, saying it would provide much needed jobs and stimulate the economy.
“We don’t have to love Chevron,” Ziesenhenne said, “but they are here, so let’s have them be the best.”
Ziesenhenne’s two opponents, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Nat Bates, have both taken strong positions on the proposed casino development at Point Molate: McLaughlin against it and Bates for it.
In contrast, Ziesenhenne has said throughout the campaign season that he will wait for the vote on Measure U to decide his position on the casino development at Point Molate. Measure U is a public referendum on the casino development, asking voters whether the city should approve the casino project.
“I want to hear from the voters. They are very important in helping me shape my decision,” Ziesenhenne said.
In an interview with Richmond Confidential last July, Ziesenhenne was more forthcoming, saying he favors building a hotel and 4,000-slot Indian casino for the number of jobs it would create.
Addressing his position on the Point Molate project, Jennifer Adams, a Richmond pharmacist and supporter of the current mayor, criticized Ziesenhenne for lacking political skills. Adams does believe he would bring more job opportunities to the city. At the same time, she says she’s concerned that, despite his serving on the city council from 1982 to 1993, the insurance company owner is politically inexperienced.
Donor Dick McCloskey, on the other hand, says he appreciates that Ziesenhenne isn’t a politician. “He doesn’t have some pie in the sky idea of what it should be,” said McCloskey, a painting contractor who lives in El Sobrante. “He wants jobs; he realizes that businesses are important and they need to be supported and brought into the area. I think he can do it better than anybody.”
Improving public safety is another of Ziesenhenne’s visions. In order to lower crime rates, he suggested installing more cameras in public places and creating more DUI checkpoints, solutions that don’t require increasing police staff.
He also said he hopes the city can support more recreational activities by keeping public libraries open longer, improving student gyms and funding youth soccer leagues. He argued that all of these improvements would not only better the community, but also help deter crime in the long run.
In a rare moment during the interview, Ziesenhenne showed the lighter side of his personality. When asked what he would do if he was not elected mayor, he replied, “ I haven’t thought much about it and I don’t want to think about it, but I’d like to go to more Giants games.”