Progressives capture City Hall and Council, fending off Chevron money

Tom Butt (center), with his wife and campaign manager, reacts as unofficial election results show him winning Richmond's mayoral seat. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

Tom Butt (center), with his wife and campaign manager, reacts as unofficial election results show him winning Richmond's mayoral seat. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

In a surprise victory, Tom Butt was elected Richmond Mayor tonight after a multimillion-dollar campaign by the Chevron Corporation failed to defeat Butt or elect a slate of candidates the giant oil company had supported.

According to tallies as of Wednesday morning, Butt received 51.43 percent of votes, beating his nearest opponent Nat Bates, whose campaign was supported by Chevron, by 16 points.

An ecstatic Butt, speaking from his headquarters, praised his campaign workers and marveled at the unexpected margin of victory: “I’ve never had such a bunch of people who are dedicated and worked so hard. It’s far away above anything that I’ve ever experienced.”

Butt’s election also helped bring victory to a slate of progressive candidates including Jovanka Beckles, Gayle McLaughlin and Eduardo Martinez, who each won a seat on the City Council.

The progressives’ sweep of city hall and the city council further means they’ll be able to fill Butt’s vacated council seat.

A number of observers said that Chevron’s aggressive spending may have backfired.

Uche Uwahemu, who ran third in the mayoral race, said, “The election was a referendum on Chevron, and the people obviously made it clear they did not appreciate the unnecessary spending by Chevron, so they took it out on the rest of the candidates.”

A cheer went up at Butt headquarters when his victory was announced, and his supporters hugged and danced to Butt’s rallying song, “The Arkansas Rattlesnake.”

Butt and the other progressive candidates were considered underdogs in an aggressively fought campaign that involved hundred of thousands of dollars spent against them on billboards, flyers and even a mobile screen. Butt’s comparatively shoestring campaign spent about $58,000. Chevron spending, which totaled over $3 million, attracted national attention to Richmond, a city of 107,000 people.

Voter turnout was low, with an estimated 11,000 people casting ballots. Results are unofficial as more votes are being counted.

After the polls closed at 8pm Tuesday evening and results started coming in, Butt opened up a lead over Nat Bates and held that lead throughout the evening.

“It’s a bloodbath, obviously,” said Bates after the fourth round of results were out. “I think citizens will eventually suffer.”

Bates will retain his seat as a City Council member.

Butt’s campaign manager, Alex Knox, said, “I didn’t expect a full slate victory, but it’s a clear statement. I hope it means that this kind of money won’t be spent the same way again, that maybe it will change how corporations buy elections.”

Chevron’s outlay in the campaign amounted to about $281 per voter, based on tonight’s results.

Progressive candidates in Richmond have gained ground in recent years, embarking on a series of progressive initiatives, including banning plastic bags, increasing bicycle lanes and green-lighting marijuana dispensaries.

Asked about his priorities if elected as mayor, Butt said, “My top priority is to continue the trend towards increasing the quality of life for all in Richmond, making it safer, cleaner, greener, healthier and more prosperous equitably.”

In a statement released today a Chevron spokesman said; “The voters have spoken, and Chevron will work hard to find common ground with this city council to push for sound policies that allow Richmond to grow and thrive. This city, which we have proudly called home for more than a century, has far more opportunities than challenges. The council should remain focused on all those opportunities, and Chevron will continue to work to create economic opportunities for all residents.”


David Thigpen contributed to this article.


  1. Karlis Streips

    Congratulations, good people of Richmond! In looking at the results of yesterday’s election in the States, I had thought that your town would be on the list of disasters, but it wasn’t. Good for you for turning down the attempted Chevron takeover. Good luck with the lawsuit! God bless!

    • Rebecca

      Thank you! It’s been interesting being in the national eye this season. Check back for more news from Richmond when our new council puts this crazy election behind them and gets busy doing the people’s work.

  2. Paul Marner

    Congratulations is due you all for your courageous work in providing honest reporting, I am sure this helped open the eyes of many of the Richmond citizens and helped defeat Chevron’s takeover of City Hall.

    • Hear hear! This is a great site!

    • Izzie D

      Thank you Richmond Confidential for your honest and thorough reporting which clearly made a difference in educating the voters, who thoughtfully made informed decisions. I am heartened that “old school” investigative reporting isn’t dead here. You should all be proud of the work that you do.

    • Anthony Alan

      Here is another story that RC can look into about the election.

      Take a look at the total number of votes casted for the mayoral and council races. Something looks very funny.

      Total votes casted according the county election office:

      Mayors race 10,766
      Full term council 28,862
      Short term council 10,111

      Why were there almost 3 times the number of votes casted in the full term council race than the other 2 races?

      Even the tax measure only had 10,958 votes.

      What the “progressives” didn’t care about the mayoral race?

      • M.N. McMillion

        Each voter could vote for three full-term city council positions. Wouldn’t that explain why the full-term council race had about three times as many voters?

  3. Megan

    This is wonderful news!!! Looks like Chevron’s $3 million hate mail campaign blew up! So glad I live in such a progressive city — and thank you for your great reporting!

  4. Dr. Frederick Howard

    Bravo Richmond! My former hometown came through with flying colors! California here I come, a Parchester Village native.

  5. Ecstatic! I just hope their $3 million is all trickling through the Richmond city economy. I wonder how much Chevron paid for all thei local billboard ads for example :-).

    Sheesh, imagine the type of local political influence Chevron could have bought for itself with a $2 million simple grant to the local school system instead of its (thankfully) ridiculous campaigns spending.

    Well, somebody needs to rent those billboards ..:-)

    • Maximus

      Chevron gives huge money to the local schools!! Do your homework before commenting! !

      • Rebecca

        The money Chevron gives to local schools is trivial compared to the property taxes Chevron has litigated to avoid paying (which would support local schools).

        • Maximus

          Chevron is 35 % who of Richmond ‘ s tax base plus a very large portion of the millions of dollars just given to the city by Chevron went to scholarships! A ridiculous amount in my opinion!! Chevron does more for Richmond then any other organization. Answer this…was Chevron present when you moved here??

          • Maximus

            It’s like someone moving in next to airport and complaining about noise!! Chevron not going anywhere!

  6. KE

    Wow, the message is clear that Richmond isn’t for sale. I am happy with the results and perhaps the business of Richmond can be conducted in an organized, civil manner without the bullying, demeaning, abusive way the council has been operating. The $3m + that Chevron invested in this campaign could have been used to help DMC or reduce the deficit instead of the dirty politics that it was used for. The perfect person to be selected to fill Tom seat would be Uche, he has some great business sense and ideas and could help Richmond move forward. I woke up a happy Richmond citizen this morning!

  7. Marianne

    So happy to hear about the results. More power to progressives. Colorado a big loser.

  8. Marjorie

    So happy about this news!! Just goes to show that when you send hate mail about candidates it becomes clear you have no worthwhile ideas of your own. Congratulations to the progressives!

  9. Steve

    Great! So what’s next? We kick chevron out of Richmond, eliminating our highest tax payer and doner to outreach programs? I wonder why the four other refineries in the bay area get no flack from there respective cities? I personally knew there was a refinery in Richmond when I decided to move here, but maybe that’s just me.Possibly a more educated demographic when it comes to economics? Less than 10% voter turnout by Richmond residents, too. Come on people.

    • I don’t think anyone elected to the City Council plans to “kick out Chevron” but there is a lot that Chevron could do to improve its operation in Richmond, like modernizing the whole refinery and making less emissions.

      Do you think Chevron will just cave in and do that? I don’t. I think it will take constant pressure from our electe officials to make that happen.

      • SS

        I hope stricter emission controls on Chevron and , healthier, cleaner air in Richmond is #1 on the agenda for our elected progressives. There are many days and nights when we can’t breathe here and our houses and vehicles are covered with “soot”.

        And PLEASE get Kinder Morgan crude oil tanks OUT OF OUR TOWN!

    • Other refineries get plenty of flack, but their elected officials aren’t progressive. We know what we want from industry, and clouds of toxins ain’t it!

    • David Taylor

      Chevron funded an ugly and expensive smear campaign against the progressive slate, three of whom are currently on the Council. I hope you’re not suggesting that our failure to fall in lockstep and elect their chosen candidates is evidence that we want to “kick out” Chevron from Richmond

    • Aint No

      I might be more sympathetic if I hadn’t been gassed by Chevron—twice.

      Back in the 20th century the City Richmond had a part time employee charged with monitoring emissions from Chevron, who was paid by . . .Chevron.

      Chevron is not stupid; they had a reason they were trying to buy this election. But it blew up in their faces for once, not in ours. Great news for Richmond, great news for citizen action everywhere!

  10. Rhys Ludlow

    Proud to live in a city full of people smart enough to smell a rat and not be bought.
    Now if they had just mailed us all checks for $281. . .

  11. Deborah

    Excellent job covering the election last night RC! I enjoyed reading your live updates…thanks!

  12. Millie Cleveland

    Why are you surprised?

  13. Bill Setag

    Another reason for Chevron to leave California – too many nuts in charge that desire to force a Utopia at any cost. How do you spell “Detroit”, Richmond, if Chevron and its tax and employment money leaves and the tax base significantly dwindles when the refinery is moved to China?

    • We’ll just give a subsidy and tax breaks to a green industry. Don’t forget we have the new Berkeley Global Campus coming, with two million square feet of laboratory and office space!

      None so blind as those who will not see.

  14. Marc

    We live in a wonderful city. I feel blessed to know that the bullying tactics of Chevron failed. I am so glad that people took the time to become informed about the issues. There is so much more to be done. I can rest better knowing that we have true champions of the people to lead us. I am tired of Chevron pulling scams like trying to get out of paying their fair share of taxes; appealing property taxes didn’t win the votes, did it Chevron? It would be nice if Chevron stayed out of politics and avoided using the police, fire and fictitious entities to promote and endorse Chevron viewpoints. Try doing the write thing and helping people in your backyard. BUT enough about the dark side, I am so glad the people are so much better represented! We all win!

  15. Cosmo

    Thank you so much for the live coverage. I’m looking forward to finally seeing civil and productive city council meetings in Richmond. I have confidence that this election will turn out to be a win-win for the city and for Chevron.

  16. Maximus

    RPA Used Bully TACTICS on every voter who walked up to the polls!!! Ridiculous how Andy Soto and Juan Ride On A Pony harassed every voter as they walked to the poll!! Sad day when people celebrate winning a victory of only 11 % of the population…Richmond IS NOT BETTER with progressives in power but no one sees that because everyone that is making comments or helped RPA does not live in da Rich!! Without Chevron there is NO Richmond!! Without the tax base they provide there would be NO money to pay city services!! Hold on Richmond…ride is going to get a lot more bumby!!

    • Susan Bell

      I volunteered for this election at the RPA’s Bowen Center. I live in Richmond. Several of my neighbors were also volunteers. I got to know others who worked on the campaign, and they are all Richmond residents.

  17. Richmond warrior

    What an exiting election and Win for the Progressive Movement in Richmond Ca. Eduardo Martinez Jovanka Beckles and Gayle McLaughlin have all won 4 year seats on the City Council and Tom Butt Defeats Nat Bates for the Mayor seat Jeal Myrick Beats Corky Booze for 2 year seat on Council.
    It was truly a Victory in Richmond Ca Chevron spent 3 million on there candidates and still lost the power and voice of the people where loud and Clear we don’t want Corporations to buy our Politics. I’m so glad to live in Richmond right now.

  18. Charles and Jill

    Congratulation to Tom Butt

    Charles Allen and Jill

  19. PS

    Good, thorough story, but one correction. Butt’s win wasn’t a surprise victory at all. This shows how Richmond Confidential’s reporters haven’t been around long. Butt’s been a very popular Richmond elected leader for years. The progressive sweep may be the surprise.

  20. Robert

    I am a regular visitor to Richmond and have close friends there. On a very sad day for me this is a shining victory IMO. These council members are not just “progressives” they are defenders of the local population. The 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery sent 15,000 people for medical care from toxic clouds.

  21. So very proud of my town today. $3M can buy a lot, but it can’t buy Richmond voters! I hate that in 2014 we still have a political system that allows massive corporations to try to influence our democratic process, and I love that – in this case at least – it didn’t work!

    Chevron – Toxic to your air, and toxic to your campaign!

  22. DA

    Just saw this on Rachel Maddow’s show tonight. CONGRATS!!

  23. I live nearby in Albany, but get my health care in Richmond (Kaiser), and spend a bit of time in your great city. I obviously see the same political TV ads you all see. Chevrotten’s political ads were among the most disgusting, dirty, despicable lying crap I’ve seen in 35 years here. It is hard to believe that responsible corporate leadership could buy into this campaign against decent people who want a green growth and healthy economy with Chevron as a partner. Absolutely disgusting. I will never buy Chevron gas again…until they change their stripes.

  24. Cynthia abrams

    Congrats to the people who think more about their neighbors and great grandchildren, and took the time to vote yesterday against big money and corrupted corporations! Just saw this on the Rachel Maddow show.

  25. Sherry Blair

    Thank you Richmon! You proved that we don’t have to let money win over right. We didn’t have a vote but we didn’t like breathing Chevron air either.

    From Hayward

  26. Thank you so much, Richmond Confidential! This is what real reporting looks like and how it can be so instrumental in getting out the truth! And thank you so much, citizens of Richmond, for voting your best
    interests, in spite of all the money spent by the corporation!

  27. Jane Varland

    Voted against the homophobic parochial minded council members also!

  28. Jessica Meade Ramey

    HOPE FOR A NATION ! In a day full of disappiment on a local, state, and federal level in North Dakota I am refreshed and renewed to fight on with this brillant news from my home town. Good people of Richmond I salute you for courage, determination, reason, and good old common sense. Hard work, hard times, have defined Richmond in many ways, literally out of the fire of Chevron a phoenix of true democracy has risen.

  29. Julia MacRae

    I thought this was a clever clever article about the City of Richmond, BC, Canada, which has a municipal election in 10 days. It would be so smart if it was! Exposing the corporate / oil company’s agenda in an election by “announcing” the progressive slate had won!!! Clever PR move! Well, I am glad also this is actually a true story about another City of RIchmond. Congrats!

  30. Mark

    Congratulations from Alaska to the electorate of Richmond, CA! So happy to hear about this news.

  31. Brian

    Ha! Take that, Condoleezza Rich!

  32. Congratulations to Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez, Gayle McLaughlin, Jael Myrick, and Tom Butts for their election victories. They overcame the spending by Chevron of $72 per registered Richmond voter, and also overcame a vicious, libelous campaign of defamation. In campaign advertisement after campaign advertisement they were slandered unmercifully. For example, there was one flyer that proclaimed this:

    “SAY NO to the Richmond Plantation Alliance” with a picture just beneath of Beckles, E. Martinez, McLaughlin, Myrick, and Butt.
    There is more than a little irony in this, since Beckles is African/Latino-American, E. Martinez is Latino-American, and Myrick is African-American. These people are also genuine, honest and of sterling integrity. Insinuations that they have a plantation-supporting mentality is something that the purveyors of the advertisement could easily be sued for.
    This defamatory and racist flyer supported Nat Bates, Corky Boozé, Donna Powers, Al Martinez, Charles Ramsey, and Henry Washington. I hope that each of these candidates will publicly come forward and disavow any association with the contents of the flyer, with any approval of it, and with any continuing support of the PACs that published it, namely BMW FPPC 941580, BAPAC FPPC 990188, and Richmond Business PAC FPPC F-68-0478781.

  33. Hector Perdomo

    Loving it, it shows the money will not buy city hall and now we can move on to better serve every one in the city of Richmond.

Comments are closed.