Richmond’s municipal election may be almost nine months away, but candidates for city council are already forming committees, developing platforms and lining up to challenge the incumbents–councilmembers Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez and Ada Recinos–on November 6, 2018.
All three incumbents have previously been backed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance and during their time on the council have advocated for the passage of progressive legislation such as the minimum wage ordinance and rent control.
The filing period for all candidates is still ahead: It runs from July 16 to August 10. But through social media and word of mouth, Richmond Confidential has learned of three individuals who are intending to run: Diego Garcia, Demnlus Johnson and David Schoenthal. All three vied to fill former Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin’s seat last September, which is currently held by Recinos.
When asked about the issues they thought most relevant to Richmond, all three said that affordable housing is a key concern, echoing a topic that has gripped the Bay Area for years. After that, however, the candidates’ platforms diverged.
Diego Garcia, 42, is a local businessman and youth counselor who has lived in Richmond since 1978. He sat on the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission for nine years and was appointed to the Citizen’s Police Review Commission in January, 2017.
“My vision is to involve as many people as I can in the decision of the city government,” said Garcia. “I want to make sure that most people who are affected by these issues can go to city council, be aware, be involved, and get as much information as possible.”
Garcia said he considers housing and rent control to be among the most pressing issues facing Richmond at the moment, with high rent and unemployment leading to an “epidemic of homelessness.” However, he said he is not just concerned with the rights of tenants, but of homeowners, who are often faced with significant costs to maintain their properties.
Garcia also considers youth outreach and addressing the prevalence of illegal dumping in Richmond as focal to his campaign. As a counselor, Garcia has founded organizations geared toward providing Richmond students with life skills training and recreation activities. These not only prevent crime but also promote civic participation, according to his campaign website. In order to address both, he said he would advocate raising awareness of such programs while working to increase their access to municipal resources.
For Garcia, these issues fall under a broader umbrella of a broader campaign to keep Richmond residents informed of important political developments. “My biggest passion here is that I want to be able to make sure that the people are aware what goes on with the city council issues before it goes to a vote,” he said. “I want to make sure that the Richmond residents can be present and be part of the process.”
Demnlus Johnson III:
Demnlus Johnson, 25, is a fourth-generation Richmond native and community worker at Richmond High School who chairs the city’s Economic Development Commission and was recently appointed to the Citizen’s Police Review Commission.
“Lots of things are changing in the world right now—especially in terms of the Bay Area—that regular people aren’t getting the good end of,” said Johnson. “I want to be the change I want to see in my community and keep people from being taken advantage of.”
For Johnson, a main issue currently facing Richmond is affordable housing. Though he acknowledges the passage of the rent control measure helped stabilize prices, he said that it is problematic that the ordinance only applies to homes built in certain years, and does not help renters become homeowners.
Sitting on the EDC has also helped frame another part of his campaign: ensuring inclusivity in the development of economic and employment opportunities, something he said is too often overlooked in the city. Johnson believes an emphasis on cooperative business ownership and job training to fulfill local employment needs will help put the city back on track. That, combined with bringing the city’s commissions up to their full potential and capacity, is all part of Johnson’s broader platform of “getting Richmond back to work.”
“We haven’t had the solutions necessary to overcome the barriers we’ve constantly faced,” Johnson said. “Nobody is going to help us the way we can help us. Nobody is going to look out for us the way that we can look out for us.”
David Schoenthal, 50, has lived in Richmond for the past 16 years and is a sales director for a company providing businesses access to law firms. He is currently the president of the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council and has sat on the Economic Development Commission and mayor’s community fund.
“What I’ve learned is, in general, if I want things to change, as Gandhi said, you have to be the change you want to see in the world,” said Schoenthal, adding that his overall platform is based on striving to bring community members into the city government’s decision-making processes. Schoenthal noted the development of Pogo Park as an example of such a process, because without the inclusion of residents, it’s just “talking down,” he said. As part of this commitment, Schoenthal said his goal would be to respond to any resident’s inquiry within 24 to 48 hours, something, he said, that is a challenge with the current city council.
Schoenthal said he believes that joint efforts between the public and private sector are key to addressing housing and development, and he hopes that a process could be created that brings both residents and developers to the table in order to discuss ideas and proposals.
Aside from housing, Schoenthal also considers environmental protection and building ties with law enforcement to be important issues for his campaign.
“The key thing is that I’m living a life of service,” he said, “and being of service means being here to support what the people of Richmond want to see done.”
There were 14 applicants to fill former McLaughlin’s seat last year, so it is difficult to gauge just how many players will enter the field in time for the November election. But with Beckles running for the state’s 15th Assembly District seat, McLaughlin campaigning for lieutenant governor and Councilmember Melvin Willis vying for mayor of Richmond, it will likely be an eventful year for Richmond politics.
Richmond Confidential will continue to cover the campaign season as more people declare their candidacy, begin fundraising and file expenditure reports in the races for city council seats and the mayor’s office.