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McLaughlin under fire

on October 5, 2010

Gayle McLaughlin fought back today against accusations that she is unfit to serve as mayor, after political opponents produced documents revealing a 2001 bankruptcy and referring to “serious psychological disabilities.”

The documents originate from a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. They show that McLaughlin had more than $100,000 in student loan debt at the time, and note that she had received Social Security disability payments for a “serious psychological” condition for about nine years. In a press conference this evening, the mayor confirmed the authenticity of the documents, but said not all the information contained in them is still accurate.  When pressed to explain, she said she is no longer on disability, but would not elaborate further.

McLaughlin confirmed that she defaulted on her debt in 2001 and said she is still working to pay off the student loans—which now total about $125,000. The mayor would not comment on her mental health, but an aide said she had suffered from depression and has since overcome it.

McLaughlin stood with a host of supporters, including city council candidate Corky Boozé, right, and Rev. Phil Lawson. (photo by Julia Landau)

“Some years in my earlier life were extremely challenging,” the mayor said, reading from a statement. “I was the victim of multiple crimes and have experienced a host of personal losses, including debilitating illnesses and deaths within my family. My health and personal finances suffered as well.”

The documents’ release marks the rollout of a coordinated campaign against McLaughlin. Today, the Richmond Police Officers Assocation and International Association of Firefighters Local 188 launched the website and will air attack ads starting Wednesday. The unions are funding the campaign through a political action committee called Richmond First. In response, McLaughlin lashed out at what she called “dirty campaigning.”

“Those who oppose our program for positive change in Richmond have decided to attack me personally, in an attempt to distract voters from the important issues and decisions we face,” McLaughlin said.

The full records from McLaughlin’s bankruptcy filing paint the picture of a depressed and indebted woman, struggling to find work in Vallejo. The documents indicate that as recently as 2003 McLaughlin was $119,353 in debt; that her net worth was approximately $5000; and that she was behind on rent at the Twin Bridges Mobile Home Park in Vallejo, which she listed as her home address. The documents also state that she had been unable to maintain employment for much of her adult life.

Firefighter and police union representatives made their case against Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

Richmond Firefighters and Police Association Presidents Jim Russey, center, and Andre Hill, left, suddenly announced a press conference three hours before the mayor had scheduled hers. "The mayor has never been there for police and fire on many of the issues we care about," said Hill.

In a press conference a few hours before the mayor spoke, members of the police and firefighters unions said they were simply making information public to inform the voters. They argue that the mayor has ignored firefighters in Richmond, and that the department has been understaffed.

Richmond Firefighters Association president Jim Russey said his organization hired a private investigator to look into the mayor’s background. He said it cost approximately $15,000, and that they had known about the bankruptcy for about ten days.

“You don’t go from being jobless because of psychiatric issues to becoming the mayor of one of the largest cities in California and in the nation,” Russey said in a statement. “If the voters had known the truth about the mayor from the beginning, they would have never elected her.”

Mayoral candidate Nat Bates emailed the bankruptcy document to the media on Monday, calling the revelations “a good example of candidates coming into a city relatively unknown and swaying voters who do not know them.”

In an interview Monday, Bates said he was not trying to capitalize on the mayor’s nine-year old bankruptcy filing, and insisted that he was not “basing (his) campaign success on the basis of someone else’s apparent misfortune.”

“I have no intention of dropping myself to the level of talking about her misfortunes,” he said.

Councilmember Tom Butt spoke on behalf of the mayor, saying the move was a return to dirty politics.

City councilman Tom Butt spoke on behalf of the mayor, saying the move was a return to dirty politics. "This is probably the most low-life attack, character assassination that I've seen on any candidate or sitting member since I've been here," he said.

Councilmember Tom Butt, a staunch ally of the mayor, called the information in the document, “old news,” and said it has no relevance to McLaughlin’s performance as a councilmember or mayor.

“I think it’s kind of unfair,” Butt said. “Here’s a person who clearly was facing some substantial personal adversities that involved her health and her financial situation . . . and she rose past all that and emerged a strong and capable person and that’s the person that people have seen serving them for the last six years.”

Butt said he had known about the mayor’s past for some time, and added that it was “tacky” for Bates to release this information.

“It’s my perception that none of the situations that were described in [the document] are current,” Butt said. “All of that’s past history. Gayle has long since been off the disability statuses she was on. She’s healthy and sound and has performed well over the last six years.”


  1. Karen Franklin on October 5, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    This desperate attack will not succeed. Richmond voters know Mayor McLaughlin has demonstrated outstanding leadership over the past six years, and we will continue to support her re-election. She has proven her mettle through her unwavering commitment to the citizens of Richmond and her thoughtful approach to solving our city’s challenging problems. Indeed, the fact that she has overcome great adversities undoubtedly makes her a better, more compassionate leader, and someone with a deep appreciation for the plight of the less fortunate. Mayor McLaughlin’s values, vision, accomplishments and wide community support are what her opponents really fear. Targeting the mayor’s past personal problems rather than squarely addressing the substance of their policy differences shows just who here is bankrupt.
    — Karen Franklin, Richmond resident
    (President, Richmond Panhandle Annex Neighborhood Council — affiliation provided for identification purposes only)

  2. Donna Nelson on October 5, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    What a bunch of sleazeballs. It would be interesting to know how many people in Richmond have had to file bankruptcy, or have struggled with personal issues. So it’s now considered a negative to have overcome obstacles in one’s past?

    It’s a sad state of affairs when someone is so desperate to win a local election that they hire a private investigator, obviously solely to try to dig something, anything up. Classy move, guys.

    • Karen Franklin on October 6, 2010 at 6:49 am

      Yes. Makes one wonder what other skeletons from the past would surface if $15,000 was spent digging into every candidate’s background, and not just those who reject corporate funding from Chevron. Richmond is (sigh) a company town.

  3. Kay Wallis on October 5, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Mayor McLaughlin’s triumph over her past hardships are a testament to her courage and determination. Who among us have not struggled with challenges and tribulations? How horrible that Nat Bates and the Police Officers’ Association vilify the mayor because she once had health and financial difficulties. This is the United States of America, where everyone has the chance to overcome adversity and build a new life for themselves. Mayor McLaughlin represents — with grace and dignity– all of us who have ever experienced hard times.

  4. Sue VanHattum on October 6, 2010 at 6:22 am

    I notice that the website linked to calls her Mayor Gayle, instead of Mayor McLaughlin. Seems disrespectful and sexist to me…

    I am proud of my city for electing a Green, and proud of McLaughlin for what she’s accomplished.

  5. overhere on October 6, 2010 at 8:07 am

    What a sleezy, low move by Bates and the fire/police unions Make no mistake, this is old Richmond politics, “The Machine,” that kept the city struggling for years with only a few making big bucks (unions and politicians, and those in bed with them).

    Mayor McLaughlin had the bravery to jump in and say no, turn back the tide. She isn’t the most saavy, uptown mayor in the world, but she’s set in motion positive change all of Richmond, not just The Machine. And what do you know, she did this while overcoming personal and financial hardship. She’s an impressive role model.

  6. mark wassberg on October 6, 2010 at 10:27 am

    When you have the police and fire condemned Richmond’s Mayor she has to go. She favor the Latinos driving illegally, breaking the law and she is not an American.Politics is a dirty game and they are telling the truth, ” don’t be stupid Richmond”

    • overhere on October 6, 2010 at 12:16 pm

      What a racist, ignorant comment — an embarrassment.

    • AnnCrombie on October 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm

      “She is not an American”? Where do you get that from? Anyone who doesn’t agree with you politically isn’t American?

  7. Margaret Jordan on October 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Gayle McLaughlin has been a breath of fresh air for Richmond. Maintaining her political independence she and her allies challenged Chevron and brought $114,000,000 into the city coffers. While encouraging small business to come to Richmond, her focus on green jobs is part of a forward looking vision for a Richmond of the future (in case anyone hasn’t noticed oil is not a growing job sector). She fairly supports limiting the huge police and fire pensions as a way of maintaining a balanced budget without having to lay off other city employees who serve our city living on much more modest income than police officers and firefighters.

    By overcoming tremendous adversity, Gayle has shown all those coping with adversity in their own lives that with strength and determination it is possible to overcome.

    Vote for Gayle November 2

    See url below to read a 2001 article that details decades of corruption and dirty campaigning in Richmond (and includes some of the current players) which continues today in this unprincipled RPOA/Bates campaign against Mayor McLaughlin.

  8. Jeff S on October 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    The police and fire (and the candidates pushing this) have no shame. Fortunately, I suspect most Richmond voters will not care about this. Personally, the fact that she is our mayor is one of the highlights and points of pride I have for Richmond.

  9. martha n. on October 6, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks to the police and firefighter unions for helping me make up my mind on the mayor’s race. I hadn’t planned to vote for McLaughlin again based ont he waffling around and unfair treatment of the cannabis clubs. But now I will vote for Mayor Gayle because I can’t stand dirty political games.
    Publicizing this private information about McLaughlin is different than publishing information that contradicts a candidate’s position or biographical claims.
    Thank you Mayor McLaughlin for protecting the city of Richmond from becoming the next Vallejo with police and fire benefit obligations that it can’t pay.

  10. AnnCrombie on October 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Talk about sleazy. Pretty hypocritical of Nat Bates to say he has “no intention of dropping myself to the level of talking about her misfortunes.” Uh, why’d you circulate this document?

    People so openly discriminating against this person because of disability – they have no shame.

    Karen makes a great point, what kind of sludge could we get if we spent $15K digging around in other people’s dirty laundry?

  11. […] $15,000 to delve into McLaughlin and Beckles’ history. The firm, which unearthed McLaughlin’s 2001 bankruptcy and history of depression, specializes in vetting “prospective business partners, executive hires or others,” according […]

  12. Felix Hunziker on October 8, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    If you’ve had enough of political backstabbing on both sides, please consider signing our Call For Clean Richmond Campaigns petition

    • Cathie on October 9, 2010 at 12:51 pm

      My husband and I signed the petition already. Thanks to the North and East Neighborhood who wrote it up! These sorts of negative politics now, and over the years, along with the yelling at public meetings, constant phone surveys, signs in your face, etc. is why we signed it. BTW, We had already made up our minds who we were voting for way before all this. John “Z .”

    • Margaret Jordan on October 9, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      I appreciate and support efforts to speak out for clean campaigning. I am opposed to smear campaigns and I am opposed to vandalizing campaign headquarters and campaign materials.

      But, I want to point out a problem with this statement.

      It seems to equate two events which are not equal.

      The first, is an extremely egregious character assassination of one candidate for mayor, a well-organized, well-financed, institutional-backed, smear campaign, repeatedly distributed to the Richmond voters through expensive mailers, radio and television ads, and a website which is justified by a rival candidate and getting silent response by others, some of whom are getting campaign support from the perpetrators of the smear.

      The second, some selective acts of vandalism perpetrated by unknown individuals, perhaps not even politically related, and denounced by everybody. It should be noted that all campaigns have experienced vandalism.

      While I certainly support clean campaigns, I think is important to differentiate between the current events that are being identified as examples of transgressions. I would hope that those campaigns that have been subjected to vandalism would recognize these differences and feel compelled to speak out against character assassination and in support of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin as she is subjected to such abuse.

      Margaret Jordan
      Richmond Resident

      • Cathie on October 9, 2010 at 5:11 pm

        We just don’t like the political sleeze, the smears, character bashings, etc. none of it….any of it as stated before.
        Richmond resident

  13. […] action taken by the mayor’s political opponents. Early in the week, rival mayoral candidate Nat Bates circulated McLaughlin’s 2003 bankruptcy record, saying he was simply passing on via email information that came to […]

  14. Andres Soto on October 15, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin received a vicious political attack by the Richmond Police Officers Association (RPOA) and the Richmond Firefighters Association (RFA). These police and fire unions publicly released personal financial and medical information about Mayor McLaughlin. This information dates back years before her tenure on the Richmond City Council as a Council Member and Mayor.

    Richmond United for Peace strongly supports the work of the Richmond Police Department and the Richmond Fire Department staff who serve the people of Richmond everyday.

    Regretfully, a few members in these associations’ leadership hurt their departments’ reputations by willingly and repeatedly engaging in unethical politics of personal destruction. The good people who are members of the two departments should hold the leadership accountable for its offensive deeds.

    These political smear tactics have brought shame and dishonor to the entire body of police officers and firefighters and have seriously damaged their support in the Richmond community. A wrong has occurred and must be righted.

    Richmond United for Peace and Justice demands that the Richmond Police Officers Association and the Richmond Firefighters Association:

    • Issue a public apology to Mayor McLaughlin and the people of Richmond for engaging in such offensive campaign tactics. This apology should be made via a public press conference and a mailer sent to all Richmond registered voters via an RPOA/RFA campaign committee paid mailer.
    • Publicly pledge to no longer engage in their well-documented politics of personal destruction dating back to the days of Darrell Reese

    When a crime is committed we know that people can be accomplices ‘before the crime’ and /or ‘accomplices after the crime’.

    Nat Bates widely distributed information about Mayor McLaughlin’s personal medical and financial hardships, obtained by the Police and Fire Union, one day before the RPOA’s prepared release. He is an active participant in — and intended beneficiary of — this assault.

    Incumbent City Council candidates Maria Viramontes, Ludmyrna Lopez and Jim Rogers have remained silent during this assault on the Mayor because the RPOA/RFA have endorsed their candidacies. To many in the community, their silence during the assault is reminescent of what happened last year during the gang-rape at Richmond High School.

    Richmond United for Peace and Justice demands that RPOA/RFA-endorsed candidates Nat Bates, Maria Theresa Viramontes, Ludmyrna Lopez and Jim Rogers:

    • Join Richmond United for Peace and Justice in demanding their endorsers, RPOA and RFA, apologize to Mayor McLaughlin and the people of Richmond for their offensive campaign tactic and demand they pledge not do this again, now and in the future.
    • Because candidates Bates, Viramontes, Lopez and Rogers are the intended beneficiaries of the joint RPOA/RFA campaign, should RPOA/RFA not apologize, these candidates should return any RPOA/RFA campaign contributions given so far and demand RPOA/RFA no longer spend any campaign funds on their behalf.

    Our Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is admired and respected by Richmond residents for the dedicated work and the many accomplishments of her six years in office, and she will be judged by the electorate on these merits.

    The RPOA, the RFA and Nat Bates will be judged by Richmond for their assault.

    Incumbents Viramontes, Lopez and Rogers will also be judged by the electorate on how they stand today on this issue: Are they silent bystanders? Or do they raise their voices to demand respect and decency in Richmond?

  15. Charles T. Smith on October 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

    The recent malicious, mean-spirited attack on Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin by the leadership of the Richmond Police Officers Association and the Richmond Firefighters Union is an example of how low some political operatives will stoop to win. After spending $15,000 to have Mayor McLaughlin’s past investigated, the most they could come up with was an old filing for bankruptcy which was the result of medical problems. By engaging in such unscrupulous tactics these union officials have exposed themselves and their members to unflattering public scrutiny. Most decent-minded people will realize that this past history is irrelevant to Mayor McLaughlin’s qualifications for serving our City, will empathize with her having faced these challenges and will reject organizations which use such private information for political advantage.

    Unfortunately, these contemptible tactics are nothing new in Richmond. This political behavior is supported and condoned by various politicians including Council Member Bates who sanctimoniously broke the revelations about McLaughlin’s past struggles. In addition to Bates, the Contra Costa Labor Council (CCLC) set up shop in Richmond to support pro-casino candidates and is continuing to display misleading political signs around the City inaccurately suggesting that the Mayor has a poor relationship with the police and firefighters. The CCLC is doing this because they are incapable of engaging in honest political debate. The CCLC does not act in the best interests of our community nor does it represent the views of the rank and file members of the various Unions under its umbrella.

    The underlying motivation behind all these dirty political ploys is to push through the proposed Pt. Molate casino against the interests and desires of the residents of Richmond. Should this casino be built it will forever change the character of Richmond and to some extent all the surrounding communities. Should this casino be built it will prey upon individuals who have the most to lose. Should this casino be built it will negatively impact property values. Should this casino be built it will continue to corrupt our local political processes.

    The residents of Richmond should not allow ourselves to be manipulated by these morally bankrupt political schemes. They bring shame to our community and blame upon innocent hard-working Union members. Richmond residents should reject the proposed Pt. Molate casino and the political strategy of using lies and character assassination as a means towards political ends.

  16. […] days earlier, Bates alerted the media to Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s 2001 bankruptcy and history of depression. Since then, opponents have denounced his tactics and tried to make his “dirty politics” a […]

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