Unifying the city council—and Richmond—was the theme at a tear-filled swearing-in ceremony for incumbent Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, new councilmembers Jovanka Beckles and Courtland “Corky” Boozé, and returning councilmember Jim Rogers.
Richmond residents packed the main floor of the Richmond Memorial Auditorium Tuesday night, many in furs and suits, to welcome the new councilmembers and honor outgoing members Ludmyrna Lopez and Maria Viramontes.
The more than two-hour ceremony, kicked off by a Latin chant and concluded with a vocal performance by the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, was as emotional as it was drawn out. The incoming and outgoing councilmembers gave uniformly glassy-eyed speeches, introduced family members, raised their hands in oath or accepted distinguished service awards in exeunt, and were in turn acknowledged by each of the existing members. The pomp and circumstance was cut with good humor but, as councilmember Tom Butt pointed out, how could it not be with a Butt and a Boozé on the roster?
With unemployment in Richmond at 18 percent and $12.5 billion in proposed state spending cuts, creating jobs and local resourcefulness was the common refrain of the evening. “We don’t need anyone to save us,” said Boozé, who won a seat on his tenth try. “We will save ourselves.”
“I’ve noticed that everyone being asked to sacrifice are the poor and elderly,” Beckles told Richmond Confidential after the ceremony, referring to the proposed budget cuts Governor Jerry Brown announced Monday, which include $1.7 billion from health care for the poor and disabled, $1.5 billion from welfare and $1.4 billion from public universities and community colleges. “We have to demand that billion-dollar corporations pay their taxes.”
In her remarks Beckles called for creative ways to promote economic self-sufficiency in Richmond, explaining to Richmond Confidential after the ceremony that these include worker-owned cooperatives, growing food locally in community gardens, and encouraging local entrepreneurship.
Boozé told Richmond Confidential he will work to create jobs by ratifying city contracts that mandate at least 50 percent local employment. “If concrete is being poured in Richmond and it’s not Richmond people pouring it, then no vote from Corky Boozé,” he said.
The addition of Beckles and Boozé brings a progressive majority to the council, meaning Mayor McLaughlin, a Green Party member, can expect support from four of the six other councilmembers.
But returning councilmember Nat Bates, who lost his mayoral bid to McLaughlin by only 607 votes, waved his hand in dismissal when asked how he’d navigate this new balance. “We’ve got to look for employment opportunities and [ways of] getting the business community involved,” he said.
Despite calls for unification, McLaughlin still appeared to be nursing wounds from accusations during the race that she was unfit for office due to past mental health and financial struggles. “Personal attacks distract us from the crucial discussions that need to take place,” said McLaughlin in her address. “Richmond voters clearly demonstrated that they have little appetite for tabloid-style smear campaigns.”
“Contrary to some other opinion, the mayor and I do get along,” said Bates in his own remarks. “Gayle is not vindictive; she doesn’t hold grudges.”
Against the backdrop of violence in Arizona, several councilmembers and guest speaker the Revered Phil Lawson called for an end to gun violence in Richmond. “The way we deal with crime is through education,” Beckles told Richmond Confidential, noting that only one after-school program was open during the holiday break, when kids most need something to do.
Boozé said that his efforts to address crime this coming season will include opening a police substation on Cutting Blvd., working with ministers to help youth, and reorganizing the Office of Neighborhood Safety. He also announced that he plans to focus on the African American homeless residents of Richmond, though he did not specify a particular approach. In the face of expected budget cuts, Boozé plans to make better use what he sees as an under-tapped resource in Richmond: volunteerism.
Jovanka Beckles said she is most looking forward to weighing in on Point Molate when the final Environment Impact Report is finished.
The first meeting of the new council will be on Tuesday, January 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at Civic Center Plaza.