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City Council overshadowed by attack on mayor

on October 6, 2010

The Richmond City Council meeting opened last night amid the heat of a coordinated political attack on Mayor Gayle McLaughlin by the firefighter and police unions.

At a press conference immediately prior to the council meeting, McLaughlin publicly defended her ability to lead the city, against accusations that she is unfit for office because of a 2001 bankruptcy and her treatment for mental health problems. McLaughlin, the City Council and community members then filed into the council chamber for a brief and largely ceremonial meeting.

Nearly 100 people filled the chairs in the chamber, waiting for the public comment session that opens city council meetings.

On Monday, Councilmember and rival mayoral candidate Nat Bates emailed McLaughlin’s 2001 bankruptcy filing to the media. The documents show that at the time she had more than $100,000 of student debt and that she had been receiving Social Security disability payments for a “serious psychological” condition for about nine years.

Twelve of the 17 speakers used their 90 seconds to express support of the mayor and rebuke Bates.

“I have never seen such dirty politics in all my life,” said Richmond resident Jackie Thompson.

Some community members said that in light of the new revelations, the mayor was unfit to lead. When community member Antoine Cloy spoke, Bates sat up straight and looked directly at him. The mayor, Cloy said, “is teaching our kids to use the system by claiming disability.”

Tom Butt and Gayle McLaughlin.

Councilman Butt says the recent attacks on Mayor McLaughlin's past amount to "character assassination."

Ordained minister Michael Beer was one of several speakers who quoted the same Bible verse from the story of how Jesus stops a group of people from stoning a woman: “He that is without sin among you,” Beer recited, “let him first cast a stone.”

“We are not concerned about what you did,” Beer told the mayor, “but what you’re doing.”

At one point, Richmond Police Commissioner Roberto Reyes asked Councilmembers Ludmyrna Lopez and Maria Viramontes to state what they thought about the issue. Lopez said she did not receive the email and had no knowledge of it. Viramontes remained silent.

After everyone spoke, Bates replied to the accusations. “I didn’t do anything except read an email and transfer it to a few friends,” he said. “We all do that all the time.”

“I will absolutely not respond,” said Mayor McLaughlin. “I already made my statement. That’s all I’m saying.”

Councilmembers then carried on with the agenda.

Among other actions, members voted unanimously to offer ceremonial support for a lawsuit against the State of California that demands that the current education finance system be declared unconstitutional and that schools be funded based on what it costs to meet state education mandates.

“The finance system,” said Councilmember Tom Butt, “is a very strange animal. We might see the day that everyone gets their constitutional right to the education they deserve. And I can tell you that it’s not happening right now.”

In another item of business, the council approved adding a new function to the city’s Human Rights and Human Relations Commission: the active promotion of a culture of peace in the city.


  1. overhere on October 7, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Nat Bates, you pushed the deal to bring a corrupt bingo hall operator to Richmond; a felon, known for running illicit bingo operations. A couple of quick google searches at the Contra Costa Times dug this up. Why didn’t you check his background, this felon; in equal manner to Gayle McLaughlin? Oh, I get it. This one is for your gain, about winning an election (in the dirtiest of ways). The bingo operator, that was about the community, the nonprofit organizations who were promised they’d gain from the operation. They apparently didn’t warrant your detailed care and attention.

  2. Bob Larsen on October 7, 2010 at 7:31 am

    This is not Richmond’s finest hour! No wonder so many are turned off by politics that they don’t vote. This should work in reverse. Watching an example of dirty politics should entice citizens to vote to get rid of the kind of politician that would engage in a personal attack piece.

  3. Kay Wallis on October 7, 2010 at 11:23 am

    I’m a longtime campaign volunteer for Mayor McLaughlin. In the wake of this assault from Nat Bates and the RPOA against the Mayor, we have been flooded with calls and emails of support for Gayle, donations, endorsements, and offers to volunteer. Whether you call Bates’ tactics heinous, desperate, or pathetic (or all of the above!), in the end, the best word might might be “ineffective.”

  4. tsuggs on October 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    “The finance system,” said Councilmember Tom Butt, “is a very strange animal. We might see the day that everyone gets their constitutional right to the education they deserve. And I can tell you that it’s not happening right now.”

    Its funny but, I can’t find anywhere in the U.S. Constitution that states that anyone has a right to an education.

    I agree that everyone should be educated.

    Maybe we should go back to actually teaching the U.S. Constitution in the schools so that everyone, including our elected officials, know what is actually in it!

  5. Don Gosney on October 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Regarding Council Member Viramontes’ silence when McLaughlin appointee Reyes demanded a response: the rules of the Council do not allow responses to public forum questions unless it’s to defend against an accusation. Since she wasn’t being openly accused of anything, any response would, appropriately, have been out of line (and, of course, the Mayor would be well within her rights to silence any member of the Council who might speak out of turn at such a time).

    And, in defense of Roberto Reyes, who happens to sit on the Police Commission through an appointment by the Mayor, he did not pose his questions as a representative of the Commission. He spoke as a regular citizen and the article should have reflected this instead of the misrepresentation written here.

    And lastly, Nat Bates merely forwarded on an email that had been widely circulated several days earlier with an attachment of the public documents from the court wherein the not yet elected Gayle McLaughlin petitioned the court to include her student loans (more than $100,000) as a part of her earlier bankruptcy. The fact that this document was already very public seems to be overlooked as people try to find a scapegoat for this disclosure. Which is worse: what was in this document or who helped disseminate it? Is this one of those times where some people want to kill the messenger?

    What many people found to be damaging in these public documents was the Mayor’s history of a medical problem and how, prior to her being elected to the Richmond City Council, it affected her ability to be gainfully employed. Whether this debilitating affliction is cause for concern is something that some members of the community feel should be considered before electing their next mayor.

    I, and many others in the community, welcome the opportunity for any and all explanations that would clarify this.

    Sadly, once a person becomes a public official–especially an elected official–their lives cease to be private. Even the courts have validated this. Was it right that the public be made aware that Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums had a quarter of a million dollar tax lien against him? Was it right that the public was made aware that Thomas Eagleton had undergone electroshock therapy prior to his nomination for the Vice Presidency of the US? These are all valid questions and deserve further review and discussion. Just how much of a public figure’s life should be made public and how much should remain private?

    • survive on October 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

      Wrong Mr. Gosney. Bates did far more than merely forward a message. He was in cahoots from the start, and this was clear in what was passed to the media.

      And remember: The Mayor is paying back her debts. This is key. Her depression and financial hardship make her more human. She’s already proven the mental health for the job.

  6. Charles T. Smith on October 16, 2010 at 10:17 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.

    Charles T. Smith

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