Richmond youth question mayoral and council candidates in debate

Youth attendees listen to the candidates. (Photo by Larry Zhou)

Youth attendees listen to the candidates. (Photo by Larry Zhou)

For one night, Richmond’s youth had the power to grill their leaders on the future of their city.

The RYSE Youth Center, Invest in Youth Coalition, and the League of Women Voters hosted a two-hour debate Thursday at Richmond’s City Council chambers, with youth age 24 and younger and audience members presenting Richmond’s 13 mayoral and city council candidates with a range of questions.

Youth moderators of the debate. (Photo by Larry Zhou)

Youth moderators of the debate. (Photo by Larry Zhou)

“(Tonight’s) event was for the youth to get an outlook on which candidates are running,” said Joan Binalinbing, a 17-year-old Kennedy High student and one of the moderators. “And to see even though we can’t (all) vote, who is going to be in office and how they can support the youth.”

Divided into three panels depending on term positions and office sought, council and mayoral candidates took turns appealing to the young audience members.

“I am kind of like the Kendrick Lamar of the city council, in that I work for the 80’s babies,” said Councilmember Jael Myrick, the only candidate under the age of 30.

Other candidates stressed their popularity among older voters as a means to win the support of younger voters.

“You can ask your mother, your grandmother, your uncle, your cousin, your brother or your next door neighbor, ‘Who is Corky Booze?’” candidate Corky Booze said.

Throwing up his hands, Booze said, “Everybody knows Corky Booze!” The young moderator, Sam Wilson, thanked Booze, 70, in a shaky voice, sending a surge of laughter through the audience of more 50 people.

Long-term city council candidates await the start of the debate. (Photo by Larry Zhou)

Long-term city council candidates await the start of the debate. (Photo by Larry Zhou)

In a city where more than a quarter of the population is under 18, the debate was unique in giving the youth a platform to present their issues and concerns while posing questions to prospective leaders.

One concern in particular posed to Booze, Myrick and Anthony Creer, the three candidates for a two-year council seat, focused on employment opportunities for undocumented youth. In 2010, the city estimated that its undocumented population was about 5,000.

Under federal law, undocumented immigrants are “discriminated against when it comes to (federal aid for college),” Myrick said, “but they are not discriminated against under the Richmond Promise, they are going to get it.” Richmond Promise is the name given to a $35 million batch scholarship funds for local students that Myrick helped secure at part of a deal approving Chevron Richmond’s refinery modernization.

As for the seven candidates for four-year seats, the youth asked whether they would support funding to expand after school programs to keep kids off the streets and issues of public safety.

The candidates addressed the youth question by commending the work the Richmond Police Department in building community relationshps. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also mentioned that the City Council would take up the issue of body cameras for all police at next week’s council meeting.

For mayoral candidates Nat Bates, Uche Uwahemu and Tom Butt, the questions focused on the candidates’ rankings of youth issues, youth input in local politics and methods to increase teen employment.

In response to a question about boosting youth employment, Bates turned the tables.

“Are we going to focus on hiring young people or would you rather have your mom and dad who’s the head of the household, get fuller employment?” Bates asked.

While Uwahemu emphasized the need for a vocational school for young people, Butt advocated expanding the summer youth employment program to enable youth to build their resumes and get better jobs.

As the night concluded, young people smiled broad and received hugs from their friends and family.

In November, the first Richmond Youth Council will be announced, enabling the city’s youth to provide input to the City Council on all youth issues, a position for which Binalinbing has applied.

“This a great start to really get youth leadership out in Richmond, to encourage the youth that they do have input in local politics,” Binalinbing said. “Even though we can’t vote, we still have an opinion and we can voice that.”

4 Comments

  1. Jessica Meade Ramey

    I was born and raised in Richmond/El Sobrante areas. As part of the original Oakland Childrens Hospital Asthma Study with Dr. Rowe, I know exactly how my little lungs never stood a chance down wind from Chevon @ Pt. Richmond.
    At almost 60 and living in North Dakota in a town called Devils Lake, I find myself fighting a oil giant once again and political opportunism to keep a refinery from being built west of our community.
    I cut my activism teeth in Richmond CA. My father Rob Roy Ramey help build the towns homes. I still stand proud from being a woman born and bred like those who continue to fight for justice. I may be half way across the US but my heart is now and always firmly in your fight.

  2. It’s bad enough that here in Richmond—a city that seems to pride itself on its diversity—we’ve had candidates who proclaim to be Black or Brown candidates, LGBT candidates, Progressive candidates and now we have one claiming to “work for the 80’s babies”? What about those of us living in Richmond who don’t fall into those special interest groups? Can we count on an elected representative who will represent us even if we don’t fall into one of their boutique classifications? Did I misread the City Charter or aren’t our elected representatives supposed to represent us all? [I recall a prominent candidate running for the State Assembly two decades ago in ‘the year of the woman’ who’s campain posters read: “I’m Black, I’m a woman and that’s all you need to know.” (She won and guess who she represented.)]

    I hate to see elected representatives make promises for our undocumented youth that cannot be kept. The truth is that in almost every university in this country you have to prove that you have the legal right to be in this country in order to enroll. And since 1987 a worker must prove as they are being hired that they have the legal right to work in this country. And unless they expect to walk or drive, if they want to board a plane or a train they have to show a government issued photo ID to get past Homeland Security.

    A candidate can claim that undocumented students are being discriminated against but the truth is that they’re being singled out because they are in this country illegally. We can argue the social aspects of this law until Hell freezes over but until the law is changed, the laws will work against any person who did not arrive in this country through the legal channels. If Candidate Myrick wants to claim that this is discrimination (an inflammatory word used to elicit a specific emotional response from the audience), then he can continue to do so but isn’t that pandering to the crowd to get their support?

    And when are we going to have an open and honest discussion about the Richmond Promise and what it will really mean for Richmond? We’re hearing campaign promises about a program where the only thing that has been settled on is that a program will be created. This is a scholarship program—of which we will not see a penny of until Chevron breaks ground on their modernization program. And by the way, no matter what the candidates may tell the voters about this program, absolutely nothing has been decided about the details. As a matter of fact, the three candidates who cut the deal with Chevron for the community benefits package all seem to be campaigning as if they’re talking about the same program while the as-yet undetermined details are radically different. [One is claiming that it will only cover tuition for local schools while another is telling us it’s a full ride anywhere in the country—not the same at all.]

  3. The comments about the after-school programs is a great question and even Candidate McLaughlin’s comment about body-cams for police officers is good but when any elected official talks about such issues they’re doing us all an injustice of they don’t finish the conversation by explaining where they’re going to get the money to pay for the new programs.

    It doesn’t matter whether you’re an elected official or just regular people like the rest of us, every time we tell ourselves we’re going to do something we need to also ask ourselves how we’re going to pay for it. If we can’t answer that question then shouldn’t we reconsider spending the money?

    Right now we have a $7.2 million (and rising) budget deficit with many more millions deferred until next year. By all rights, since we don’t have the money to pay for all of the employees or the programs we’re engaged in, shouldn’t we cut something back until we have the money to pay for them?

    Sadly, unless we find that big box of cash that City Manager Lindsay has been hiding, if we want to start up after school programs we have to ask if we’re willing to cut some other program or lay off city employees to find the funding. If we want to add body-cams as part of the police uniform (which I strongly advocate for), shouldn’t we ask where we’re going to get the money?

    If you’re going to accept the trust and faith of the people of a community, don’t you owe it to them to manage their money competently? Right now we’re seeing candidates making campaign promises when they’ve shown no way to implement those promises. Should we really elect any person that is so irresponsible or willing to mislead the public for his or her own gain?

  4. A vocational school? Sounds like a great idea. So where are we going to get the money?

    Will this be paid for with tax dollars?

    If so, which programs will we cut to find the tax dollars to pay for it.

    Is it going to be a privately run vocational school like Heald College or Wyocuff? Don’t these cost the students better than $25,000 per year to attend? And aren’t these already available in the Bay area (just not in Richmond)?

    You don’t have to be the Mayor to do something like this so why hasn’t anything been done before now? It reminds me of Richard Nixon who had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam but wouldn’t tell anyone unless he was elected President.

    The Building Trades have great apprenticeship programs available to the young people of this community but no matter what the outreach to solicit their participation, we have very few that even sign up for the test let alone show up to actually take the test.

    Sadly, we are not preparing our youth academically or socially for a high paying career in the Building Trades. Just to be considered for these state approved apprentice programs an applicant has to be 18 or older and have either a high school diploma or a GED. They will be tested at 8th grade arithmetic and mechanical reasoning.

    Where we run into the biggest problem with young people—especially from this area—is their unwillingness to show up for work (and on time) five days per week. And then there’s that unwillingness to do what’s necessary to pass a pre-employment drug screening and the random drug testing required on most construction jobs (do you really want someone running the Chevron refinery while under the influence?).

    We don’t need trade schools as much as we need community leaders who will ask the experts what it will take to point our young people towards good paying careers with benefits.

    By the way, in the Trades, no one ever asks what color your skin is. They don’t ask who you sleep with. And they don’t ask about any criminal past. What they ask is if you’re willing to learn your trade and give a full 8 hours work for 8 hours pay.

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