Last night, during an unexpected turn of events, Richmond City Council unanimously voted to appoint Ada Recinos to fill a council seat left vacant by Gayle McLaughlin, who’s running for lieutenant governor.
Many shocked audience members let out gasps after officials delivered the final vote, which occurred shortly before midnight.
Recinos, 26, is currently serving as interim chairwoman of the Human Rights and Human Relations Commission of Richmond, and is a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. Recinos was the RPA’s second-choice candidate and beat out assumed shoe-in, Marilyn Langlois.
As a bilingual Latina and member of the Salvadoran community, she said she will bring a unique perspective to council. “For me, it’s mainly important making sure that people are going to be heard, and that they approach the city council more comfortable knowing there is someone who can listen to them,” Recinos said, still looking dazed, during an interview shortly after her appointment.
In her new position, Recinos said she will focus on issues such as “responsible development without displacement,” in addition to addressing homelessness, supporting small businesses and Dreamers, and ensuring earthquake preparedness.
The daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, Recinos attended community college in Torrance, Calif., for three years before graduating with a B.A. in global information and social-enterprise studies from UC Santa Cruz in 2014.
In addition to her role with HRHRC, Recinos also works with Prospera Co-ops, an Oakland-based nonprofit that helps low-income Latina immigrants establish collectives.
Even though she has been a figure in the Latino community of Richmond for several years, her supporters were surprised with the outcome of last night’s vote.
“We weren’t expecting it,” said friend and supporter Juan Carlos Sanchez, 26. “She had read her speech to me before, and hearing it out there in public almost brought me to tears because, in her eyes, I see the other Latinas in the community.”
Many, including Mayor Tom Butt and Richmond resident Bea Roberson, had assumed that long-time public figure and the RPA’s “preferred choice,” Langlois, would finally have her place on the council after unsuccessful bids in 2012 and 2015.
The possibility that the tide had turned seemed to come when Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said she felt that more women were needed on the council, but she would abstain from a vote on Langlois due to her status as a “top donor.” On May 27, 2017, Langlois contributed $2500 to Beckles’ campaign for Assembly District 15.
Langlois was also the subject of some contention with Butt, who called her a “conspiracy theorist.”
In series of recent email dispatches, Butt shared excerpts from Langlois’ writings on North Korea and 9/11. His comments garnered criticism from Recinos’ predecessor, McLaughlin, who called Butt’s words a “horrendous attack” and “Chevron-like” tactics in her own recent email to her supporters.
During public comments at last night’s meeting, many Richmond residents voiced support for Recinos. Council members Ben Choi, Jovanka Beckles and Jael Myrick followed suit.
After the vote, Choi spoke of his appreciation for both the candidates and also the evening’s outcome.
“It does make me feel old,” he said, “but, other than that, I’m pretty excited about seeing young people on the council, especially young people of color.”
Another candidate with significant public support was Diego Garcia, a local business owner and the RPA’s third choice for the vacancy.
In an earlier interview, Garcia emphasized the need to support Richmond’s youth, and the importance of representing the city’s growing Latino population. During his final speech of the night, he announced his campaign for the 2018 city council elections.
For now, however, the seat belongs to Recinos. She said she will use the opportunity to represent and speak to Latina women and the young people of Richmond.
“I’m making sure that after this process I can share my wisdom about how I did all of this,” Recinos said, “so that other women can come out and say ‘I can do that, too, I’m going to do it tomorrow.’”