Cortland “Corky” Booze can’t wait to retort.
He’s perched on a stool in a diner near City Hall, leaned over a paper cup of steaming coffee, braced on scar-tissue elbows and those trademark tan work-boots.
Across the Formica-topped table, a lanky 76-year-old named Dennis Dalton talks in a slow drawl, probing Booze about his aims.
“I always hear your name, every election, and you don’t win,” Dalton said, wagging a finger. “So why do you do this?”
Booze jumped the question quicker than a hiccup.
“I only lost by 450 votes in that last election,” Booze said. “And I was outspent by a landslide. I have been the go-to guy in this town a long time; now, now is the time.”
Booze, 66, burned more than two hours this mid-September morning at Casper’s Famous Hot Dogs, a little haunt he calls his “office.” Dalton eventually pledged his vote, as did a man and woman Booze later wooed for nearly an hour in the parking lot.
“That is who I am, my strength,” Booze said later. “Any time you want something done, they say ‘call Corky.’”
But for all his brimming energy and advocacy, the self-proclaimed “hardest working man in Richmond” has lost eight consecutive races for City Council.
Yet Booze has probably never been more popular. Even his detractors concede that this could be his year. In 2006, Booze garnered more than 7,000 votes, just a few hundred short of victory.
“I will do the same thing I’ve done for 30 years,” Booze told a small audience at the local senior center last month. “Fighting for you!”
Booze grew up in Berkeley and has lived in Richmond since 1979. As a child he tinkered with cars and worked at gas stations owned by his father. Later, Booze enjoyed a stint as a stock car racer, even winning the Winter Nationals at Pomona in 1972. Over the years, Booze owned auto shops and gas stations in Berkeley and Richmond.
Like his hands-on, blue collar past, Booze’s political platform is more pragmatic problem-solver than grand strategist. He shows little interest in policy minutia or theory, preferring to diagnose and fix problems as they come to his attention. His campaign flier lists his economic plan as “develop and create new jobs.”
Booze has generally supported Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.
Backers and opponents acknowledge his tireless advocacy for the city’s poorer and older communities.
But Booze has vulnerabilities. Local black leaders, including Councilman Nat Bates, dismiss him as a noisy gadfly. His break with McLaughlin on her opposition to driver’s license checkpoints could cost him votes in the city’s growing Latino community.
“He was one of the most vociferous supporters of the checkpoints, which target the Latino community,” said Andres Soto, a local activist. “They haven’t forgot.”
But Booze, an emotional, excitable man, dismisses those criticisms, insisting he has strong Latino support. He pointed to his mornings at Casper’s, where he doggedly builds his political base, one voter at a time.
“I can’t cut down the time, I represent the people,” Booze said briskly. “Whatever time it takes me to get their questions and concerns taken care of, that’s what I do.”