Sitting patiently in the front row, Vinay Pimple (pronounced Pim-PLAY) waited to be sworn into office as Richmond’s newest city councilmember at the council’s March 3 meeting. “I, Vinay Pimple, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California,” Pimple said as he took the oath of office.
After being sworn in, Pimple took his seat on the council with the help of an assistant, since he is blind. “I explained to Councilman Pimple that I had reserved for him the best seat — this is where I sat for twenty years,” Richmond Mayor Tom Butt told the crowd as Pimple took his seat. (Before becoming mayor, Butt had served as a city councilmember and vice mayor since 1995.)
“I promise you that I’ll do my best to promote good governance, which I see as better financial oversight, more transparency, more accountability and more efficient delivery of services,” said Pimple, addressing the audience. “I am disabled and that means that I have a special place in my heart for people who have had to deal with a lot of difficulty.… And to you I say that I’ll do everything I can to help you overcome those difficulties and to make your hopes and dreams real.”
Pimple has not let his disability define him. At age 47, he is an accomplished attorney and an avid volunteer in his community. Before coming to Richmond, Pimple spent the first quarter of his life in India. There he went to college and completed his master’s program in English literature. In addition, he participated in theater plays. “It was a fun time,” said Pimple, referring to his time as an actor. Pimple, who has been blind since age 10, said he would try not to forget his lines onstage, even though he wasn’t able to study the lines on paper. “That’s just part of being blind,” said Pimple. “You’re the only one that knows the line… [so] you hope for the best.”
Pimple came to the United States in 1993 to pursue a PhD in English literature at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He worked as an English teacher at the university, as part of the program’s requirements. But Pimple left, since he had no assurance that he would be able to teach after that. He then made the move to computer science, because as a child he had always enjoyed learning math, and worked as a software engineer for Verizon.
In 2002, Pimple moved to California to earn his law degree from UC Berkeley. (This caused Butt to joke during Pimple’s swearing in, “I’m just curious, how many people in the audience have a law degree and a license to practice law in California? My guess is that’s probably a lot harder than being on the city council.”)
“I have always wanted to do law,” said Pimple in a phone interview, when asked what influenced him to switch from computer science. Pimple became an active member of the State Bar of California in Nov. 2014, and plans to start his law practice in immigration law.
Pimple moved to Richmond in 2010 and has been a volunteer in the city’s community ever since, working with organizations such as Richmond Trees, the Literacy for Every Adult Program (LEAP) and WriterCoach Connection, a program that operates throughout the Bay Area to help students develop better writing techniques. “If there’s something you can do, why not do it?” Pimple asked. “I do like to donate platelets — I tend to do that a lot. I try to do that once a month.” Pimple has been a platelet donor — infusions of these types of clotting blood cells are used to prevent massive blood loss and blood vessel leakage — for about three years. He says he enjoys going to the American Red Cross with his wife, who donates blood.
Now Pimple hopes to have a bigger effect as a city councilmember. “I do think it’s an interesting job,” Pimple said. “You can’t do these types of jobs unless you’re interested in politics.”
Pimple was appointed to the council’s vacant seat during its February 24 meeting from a field of 18 candidates who applied for the seat and were then nominated by a sitting councilmember. The seat was open due to Butt’s ascension to mayor. Butt, along with Councilmen Jael Myrick, Nat Bates and Eduardo Martinez, all voted in favor of Pimple that night. “From our conversations, I sensed that his experience as a blind person growing up in India helped him to appreciate the difficulties of individuals who were disadvantaged,” Martinez wrote in an email to Richmond Confidential, adding he believes that Pimple will be able to handle the responsibilities that come with being a councilmember.
Councilwomen Jovanka Beckles and Gayle McLaughlin were the only ones to abstain from voting for Pimple to fill the vacant seat on the council. “While I abstained on his appointment (given my primary support for two other candidates), I feel confident that Vinay’s talents and commitment will add to our positive, progressive direction in Richmond,” McLaughlin wrote in an email to Richmond Confidential.
Pimple plans on putting in hard work in his new position as councilmember. Two of his main priorities will be education and working to understand the minority groups that are a part of Richmond, he said. Pimple said he wants to strengthen the relationship between the West Contra Costa Unified School District and the city. He values education and believes that it can make a difference in young lives, especially for young people growing up in Richmond, where crime is a problem.
June Pangelinan is the Richmond volunteer recruitment coordinator for WriterCoach Connection and has worked with Pimple for three years, since the program began operating a branch in Richmond. “He just steps up. He steps up all the time for the organization,” said Pangelinan when describing Pimple’s work ethic. She also added that in addition to volunteering as a coach, Pimple has also helped in the recruitment of volunteers for the program.
When asked if he would continue to be a writing coach after being appointed as city councilmember, Pimple said the thought of not continuing to volunteer did not even occur to him. “I think that that’s one amazing thing about our city,” said Pimple of WriterCoach Connection and other non-profit organizations that operate in Richmond.
Pimple also wants to connect with Richmond’s minorities and ensure to them that he will be a resource to them. “Part of what I want to do is to make sure that I am one of those resources… [and] to make sure to get what the city has promised,” Pimple said.
Pimple also wants to collaborate with city businesses and the Chamber of Commerce to find out how they can attract more residents, shoppers and business owners to Richmond. He plans on working with the city staff to find out what Richmond attributes are attractive to them, and to figure out opportunities to bring in more business.
Pimple also said that the one thing he wants others to understand about him is that he has no issue with the word “blind” — as long as it’s used correctly. Pimple said it’s fine when people use the word “blind” to describe someone who is unable to see, but if people use the word “blind” to describe someone as ignorant or insensitive, then that’s a problem.
“I look forward to working with all the members on this council, [and] all the engaged citizens here so that we can keep moving forward towards a brighter future for all of us,” he said.