As Chevron’s independent expenditure committee floods the city with mailers promoting Nat Bates, Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey and Al Martinez, mailers and online ads from another source urge Richmond residents to vote for Bates and Powers, along with Corky Booze and Jim Rogers.
What strange bedfellows, at the first glance.
These mailers and ads come from the National Association of Realtors, which has spent around $118,000 on the Nov. 4 Richmond city election, according to newly filed campaign documents.
As of Oct. 24, the National Association of Realtors Fund has reported spending $37,800 supporting Booze, $26,700 supporting Rogers, $26,700 supporting Bates and $26,700 supporting Powers. The expenditure covers the cost of polling, voter list, mailers, telephone calls and online ads.
“The Contra Costa [realtors] Association recommended that we get involved by supporting three of the current members of the council and one candidate for the council,” National Association of Realtors spokeswoman Jenny Werwa said.
Both the National Association of Realtors and the Contra Costa Association of Realtors have been closely following the Richmond Community Action to Restore Equity and Stability (CARES) program. The city program, which remains in limbo, threatens to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages to reduce loan principal and to prevent foreclosures on families in Richmond.
“We have serious concerns about the potential consequences that this plan could have on the city and its residents, particularly the financial stability of the city and residents in the future,” Werwa said.
The National Association of Realtors supports Booze, Rogers and Bates for the coming election because “they also express opposition to eminent domain and they voted against the project,” according to Werwa.
As for Powers, “the local association is very pleased with the way that Powers acted when she was a member of the council in the past,” Werwa said. “She had a terrific open door policy and a record of hearing both sides of an issue.”
The City Council last year first proposed the novel plan of using eminent domain – usually reserved for acquiring property to pave the way for public projects – to seize underwater home mortgages from banks, reduce the principle and stem foreclosures. But the plan stalled because it couldn’t get a super majority of the council to support it amid a flurry of lawsuits and other backlash from the lending industry.
Jeffrey Wright, the chairman of Homeownership Preservation Task Force for Contra Costa Association of Realtors, said, “we believe she (Powers) understands the adverse implication that this type of policy (eminent domain) brings to the community.”
However, on some of its mailers, the National Association of Realtors hasn’t made it clear that it’s targeting eminent domain. One mailer promoting Bates, Powers and Rogers reads “elect a city council to bring Richmond together.” Another online ad promoting Bates for mayor reads “let’s stop Richmond’s dysfunctional city council – let’s vote for strong leadership.”
In an interview, Booze expressed surprise that the National Association of Realtors was supporting him. “This is my first time ever seeing that (the ads and mailers),” Booze said. “In the beginning, I was the only person that was against eminent domain. Councilman Bates joined with me and then Rogers joined with me. We are the ones that basically wouldn’t let them get the majority vote to move forward the eminent domain.”
And there really seems to be no coordination between the PACs and the candidates in this case. One robocall from the National Association of Realtors pronounced Boozé’s name as “Boo-ze” without the accented “é.”(One robocall supporting Corky Booze pronounces his name as ‘boo-ze,’ without the accented ‘é.’ (Recorded by Amalia Darling)
Bates said he knew there were National Association of Realtors mailers but didn’t know about the online ads. Rogers said he was aware that National Association of Realtors was supporting him.
Some people doubt that National Association of Realtors spends money on the election because they care about the “financial stability” of Richmond and its residents.
“This is an investment for them, because if they can put their own candidates in the office, then of course, Richmond CARES program will die. We wouldn’t be able to have votes necessary to advance the program,” Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, one of the four current city councilmembers in favor of eminent domain, said about the realtors associations’ involvement.
Beckles said she thinks the national association’s involvement means the CARES program might work, and that could cost the realtors money.
“It really shows you that the innovative policy that we are creating here in Richmond,” she said, “are the kinds of policy other oppressed community can also feel empowered to pursue in order to improve their neighborhoods.”