In what many are calling a surprise move, the Richmond City Council voted Tuesday night to appoint Vinay Pimple, a blind attorney and volunteer tutor, to fill the vacant seat on the council that was created last month by former Councilman Tom Butt’s ascension to the mayor’s seat.
“I’m happy that people compromised and agreed on a candidate,” Pimple (pronounced Pim-PLAY) said following his appointment. “I think that was a good thing to do.” But Pimple also said he was surprised by the result: “It’s hard to tell where your four votes are going to come from.”
The appointment is the culmination of three weeks of political deadlock, during which many of the 18 candidates who applied for the seat were nominated by a sitting councilmember, but failed to garner more than three “yes” votes at any meeting. A council majority of four votes was needed to appoint a candidate.
During weeks of passionate debate over the vacant seat, candidates Sheryl E. Lane and Claudia Jimenez were widely considered to be frontrunners, and their respective support among the councilmembers demonstrated an apparently immovable dividing line. Lane, a public policy director at the nonprofit Earned Assets Resource Network (EARN) and Chair of the Richmond Planning Commission, was the favored candidate for both Butt and Vice Mayor Jael Myrick. Jimenez, a former community organizer with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), was the favored candidate for the three councilmembers affiliated with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) – Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez – who openly considered her an alternate to their first-choice candidate, RPA member Marilyn Langlois.
But Martinez, diverging from McLaughlin and Beckles, voted yes on Pimple last week. Martinez then moved to appoint Pimple on Tuesday and was seconded by Bates. Pimple ultimately carried the votes of Martinez, Bates, Butt and Myrick, with McLaughlin and Beckles abstaining. Pimple’s swift appointment, after weeks of stalemate, was met with cries of surprise from members of the audience.
Pimple will be sworn in at the next city council meeting on March 3.
Pimple is an attorney with a law degree from UC Berkeley, according to his candidate statement. Before becoming an attorney, he was a software engineer with Verizon and an English teacher at Rutgers University in New Jersey and at Mithibai Junior College in Mumbai, India. Pimple is currently an active volunteer with Richmond Trees, a group of community members that has so far planted some 400 trees in Richmond. He also volunteers as a writing coach with WriterCoach Connection, as a math tutor with Literacy for Every Adult Program (LEAP) and as a mentor for at-risk youth with Richmond Police Activities League (RPAL).
“One of the things I will push is transparency issues,” Pimple said of his immediate goals as a councilmember. “Also I hope that technology will be used more so we can do more with what we have. I have a software engineering background, so I will use that.”
Pimple is blind, which was noted as something that set him apart from the other candidates vying for the vacant seat. Councilman Nat Bates pointed out during the February 17 meeting that Richmond residents with disabilities did not have representation on the council.
Pimple says he uses screen reader software to read, and does not anticipate his visual impairment presenting problems in his role as a councilmember. “I have actually read an 800-page novel in one day,” he said. “If it’s a novel, I can read 80 pages an hour. The only issue I have to deal with is that sometimes PDF documents don’t have the best formatting, so I have to request the original data in Excel files – but that should be an easy thing.”
Immediately prior to Tuesday night’s council meeting, about 30 community members supporting Claudia Jimenez organized a press conference on the steps of Richmond City Hall, cheering and holding write-in signs all beginning with the phrase “I support Claudia Jimenez because…” and ending with reasons including “she cares about our community” and “the North & East neighborhood needs more representation on the council.” Jimenez supporters have filled the City Council Chambers at every meeting since February 10, when the council first began considering candidates for the vacant seat.
Following Pimple’s appointment, Jimenez supporters left the meeting and gathered in the lobby, discussing the possibility of submitting a motion for reconsideration. Jimenez said she was surprised that Myrick did not vote for her, saying, “I think he is just listening to one person” – ostensibly implying Butt, with whom Myrick has agreed on every candidate but one. (Myrick has twice voted against Marilyn Langlois, while Butt has abstained.)
The Richmond City Council last appointed someone to fill a vacant council seat in 2013, when Gary Bell fell ill and died shortly after being elected to the council. The council appointed Jael Myrick, then a 27-year-old field representative in Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s office, from a field of 12 candidates. Myrick had run for a council seat in the 2012 election and had received just over five percent of the vote.
Pimple was also a candidate for the vacant seat in 2013.
Richmond City Council vote record on all candidates over the span of three meetings: