Richmond Councilman-elect Gary Bell will not take office January 8 due to illness

Richmond councilmember-elect Gary Bell. Photo courtesy Germaine Bell.

Richmond councilmember-elect Gary Bell. Photo courtesy Germaine Bell.

Councilmember-elect Gary Bell will not take office next week due to complications from a bacterial sinus infection, which was previously misreported in news accounts as a meningitis infection, according to a press release sent out Thursday night by Bell’s family.

Next Tuesday, January 8, is the swearing in ceremony for the new councilmembers. Councilmember Nat Bates and Councilmember Tom Butt were re-elected in November—Bell won the third seat on the council with about 15 percent of the vote.

This was the fifth time that Bell ran for office in Richmond. He was first elected to the city council in 2000, and served until 2005, when he lost his reelection bid. In 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor and in 2010 he ended his campaign early due to his wife’s health. Bell’s political life began early in Wichita, Kansas when at 25 years old he became the youngest councilmember in that city’s history.

Days after winning a seat on the Richmond council for the third time last November, Bell was hospitalized due to complications from the bacterial sinus infection and underwent two neurosurgeries in November.

Reached by phone Thursday evening, Germaine Bell, Gary’s son, said that his father is in a medically induced coma to help him heal more quickly, but he did not wish to elaborate on his condition. “We’re hoping for his recovery soon,” Germaine Bell said. “We’re asking for everyone to pray for him right now, and for a speedy recovery.”

In the press release, Gary Bell’s wife, Shelley Ross-Bell, said that the family is optimistic he will make a full recovery and will eventually be able to address his supporters personally. “On behalf of our entire family, we offer our regrets that my husband is now unable to serve as many had hoped.” Ross-Bell wrote in the press release.

“Gary long ago dedicated himself to public and community service to improve the lives of others, his recovery will best occur privately in the weeks ahead,” Ross-Bell continued.

According to Richmond’s city charter a vacancy on the council can be filled by majority approval of the remaining members within 60 days of the vacancy, or a special election will be held to elect a councilmember for the remaining term.

News of Bell’s ill health was met with sadness by councilmembers. “I think it is a tragedy that such a horrible thing happened to such a wonderful person,” said Vice Mayor Jim Rogers, who had sat next to Bell during part of his previous term on the council. “Gary is a standup guy.”

“It is obviously sad anytime this happens to anyone, but Gary has been a star in sports, a star in business, a star in politics and a star as a family man,” Rogers said. “This is obviously a shame.”

“Very unfortunate thing and I really feel bad for his family,” Councilmember Tom Butt said. “Like everybody else, I hope he will make a full recovery.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said her support is with Bell’s family. “This must be very hard on his family,” McLaughlin said, “and we just want to wish his family the best in terms of a full recovery.”

McLaughlin said that she had just recently learned of the family’s decision and she is not certain what it will mean for the council. “We haven’t really begun to go through that process yet, but we’ll update everybody as we go along,” she said.

Councilmember Corky Booze said he was surprised and very sad to hear that Bell’s condition would prohibit him from taking office. “Gary would have been an extremely good councilperson,” Booze said. “I think if Gary cannot take his seat then it needs to go back to voters—give them the opportunity to decide on a replacement.”

Stephen Hobbs contributed to the reporting of this story.

9 Comments

  1. This is very unfortunate for Gary and his family and will reopen the jockeying for a City Council seat that that attracted millions of dollars in expenditures just a few months ago.

    • Mr. Martin

      This should be quite simple – the council should award the seat to Eduardo Martinez as he was the runner up to Mr. Bell, finishing less than 600 votes back. Long story short, there should be no jockeying – voters already cast their ballot on this subject in November – why spend additional city funds on a special election?

      Of course Mr. Booze and Mr. Bates will want a special election – this gives Chevron another shot at pumping money in to influence the results, and getting one of their allies on the board. However, logic should rule the day – the last election has only been in the books for 60 days, and Martinez finished in 4th place. Give him the seat and don’t waste taxpayer money.

      As a point of context, Mayor Gail supported Booze’s being appointed to her old council seat that opened up in 2007 (upon her taking the mayoral position) based on his standing in the previous election – http://www.eastbayexpress.com/92510/archives/2006/11/20/richmond-mayor-elect-will-support-corky-booze. The same should be said in this case – Martinez finished a very solid 4th and the seat should be his – the voters have already spoken, and no money need be wasted re-visiting this.

      • Michael J.

        I agree with Mr. Martin-the voters have already spoken: Martinez should be chosen to fill Gary’s seat on the Council. There’s no need for a special election.

      • The sad part is not only Gary and his family is suffering, but that his hospital location and any progress information is kept under a shroud of secrecy, as if other forces were dictating this. He is a public figure. Any latent sympathy for Gary was limited by the very fact that the public’s personal imagination and feelings were stifled by a news blackout. Ones imagination could not telegraph to a hospital location or bed to give a sense of immediateness and attendant concern.
        The ugliness and hypocrisy of American politics is manifested in Richmond, California.

        Denns Dalton

  2. Chris Darling

    Absolutely agree with everything Mr. Martin said in the comment immediately preceding mine. Eduardo Martinez is the logical choice.

  3. Mr. Martin

    I have a question for the readers of this forum that I could not answer through my own research – did Corky Booze actively voice the opinion that he should have been awarded that open council seat back in 2007 (based on Mr. Booze being first runner up in the previous council election) when Mayor Gail left her council position to take over as Mayor?

    I seem to remember that Mr. Booze did indeed make this argument himself, but I wanted to confirm this before I paste the “hypocrite” label on him for calling for a special election to fill Mr. Bell’s seat.

  4. Ali

    The R.PA. vultures are circling.

    • Mr. Martin

      Mike,

      Why the vulture reference? There’s no hypocrisy going on here – when Mr. Booze was in the same position (first runner up in a previous election) as Martinez, Mayor Gail supported her vacant seat being awarded to Mr. Booze. No special election was called for.

      Sadly, we all know what happened…no special election, and instead of going to the first runner up (Mr. Booze), the seat was awarded to Harpreet Sandhu, an ally of Nat Bates (and his former Viramontez 5 council cronies) – this appointment disregarded the will of the Richmond voters.

      In any case, the record speaks for itself. Clearly, you are pasting the “vulture” label on the wrong people. But I think deep down, you already know this.

  5. Peggy Geary

    I agree with the previous comments. Appoint Eduardo Martinez. As first runner up, our votes still count.

Comments are closed.