For the first time this election season, all of the City Council candidates gathered for a public forum on Wednesday night.
The Richmond Heights, North and East and the Richmore Village/Metropolitan Square Neighborhood Councils combined to put on the event at the Richmond Senior Center. And the forum, which was attended by roughly 80 people, gave many residents the opportunity to see the candidates up close and personal for the first time.
“It is my best way of finding out who the candidates are and what they are like,” said Susan Rattray, who has lived in Richmond for 10 years. “I took a lot of notes of what they said, and some of my impressions as well, and I generally make my decision about who to vote for based on what I hear.”
The candidates were amicable without any moments of major contention. The relaxed environment also carried over to the members of the audience, who reacted with polite applause, and sometimes silence, after the candidates spoke.
The only moment when the candidates clearly separated themselves on an issue came, not surprisingly, during a discussion of Measure N.
Moderator John Ziesenhenne, who ran for mayor in 2010, did not pose a question to the candidates, but simply asked for a show of hands to see who was for and against the measure.
Tom Butt, Anthony Lamar Green, Eduardo Martinez and Marilyn Langlois raised their hands in support of the soda tax, while Mike Ali-Kinney, Gary Bell, Jael Myrick, Bea Roberson, Eleanor Thompson and Mark Wassberg raised their hands in opposition. It was the final question of the night before the candidates gave their closing statements.
Councilmember Nat Bates was absent for the question. Midway through the meeting Bates apologized and said he had to leave because he had a prior appointment, made before he was invited to the forum. Bates has come out strongly against Measure N.
The relaxed setting was reflected by the intimacy of the forum. The candidates sat in alphabetical order, from left to right, in a long horizontal row of tables pushed together. A white tablecloth covered the table, and each candidate had a nametag in front of their seat. Five microphones were spread across the table.
At the beginning of the meeting, each candidate was given the opportunity to make an opening statement, in which they were asked to list their best civic accomplishment and what they would like to achieve in office. Following the opening statements were a round of six questions that the candidates had one minute to respond. The questions were asked randomly and in a rotating fashion.
The six question from Ziesenhenne dealt with proposed plans for the San Pablo Avenue business corridor, changing the image the city has with the outside community, bringing civility to the current council, the candidates’ top three reasons for running, responding to residents’ complaints about commercial activities allowed by zoning regulations, and a hypothetical question: “If Chevron left Richmond tomorrow, how would you find revenue for the city?”
Most of the candidates prefaced their responses with the fact that the oil company was not leaving tomorrow and how important the refinery, or another hypothetical refinery that would take its place, was to the community.
After a short break, Ziesenhenne selected questions from members of the audience to read to candidates. Four candidates were randomly selected to answer the questions from the audience and they were given one minute to respond. Finally, the candidates had 60 more seconds to make their final closing statements.
The 11 candidates will have another opportunity to meet with the public Thursday night at the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council candidate’s night, from 7-9 p.m. at the Brickyard Cove Marina, 110 Brickyard Cove Road, suite 202.
For Sandi Genser-Maack, a Richmond resident, the evening was simply about becoming more familiar with the candidates. “I think there are some candidates that I’m going to think about that I didn’t think I would,” she said.