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CPAW condemned political attack on Mayor McLaughlin.

Mental health advocates ask: “How could they?”

on October 11, 2010

Click to view letter from Roberto Román

Letter from Roberto Román

A group of mental health advisors to Contra Costa County have condemned last week’s political attack on Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin as “cruel” and “bigoted,” and expressed dismay at the involvement of police and fire officials, who are often a first line of contact for people with mental illness who need help.

At a meeting Friday of the Consolidated Planning Advisory Workgroup (CPAW), a group that advises the county on mental health needs, non-profit consultant Kathi McLaughlin (who said she is no relation to the mayor) said she was ashamed of the police officers who used the mayor’s mental health history to raise questions about her fitness for office.

“They should know better,” she said. “They see these people every day. This incident is telling me the police officers do not care about our mentally ill populations.”

The advisory group is planning a public response to the 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 him.

The information, however, came from the political action committee Richmond First, a major contributor to Bates’ 2008 city council campaign. Richmond First Committee, which is funded by the police and firefighters unions, hired a private investigator to mine McLaughlin’s past. It posted the documents on a website called TheRealMayorGayle, saying they were evidence that “Mayor Gayle is not who we thought she was.”

Click to view letter from Courtney Cummings

Letter from Cummings

The bankruptcy filing details information about McLaughlin’s mental health, saying that she was, at the time, “unable to complete her Masters degree due to her severe condition,” and that more than a decade ago, she was hospitalized twice for her illness. It also specified her treatment—antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.

“To come home and turn on the TV and see Channel Five putting a mic in her face and questioning her about mental health issues—it was a debilitating stigmatizing moment,” said Brenda Crawford, who directs the nonprofit Mental Health Consumer Concerns. “Why would anyone treat anyone so cruelly?”

Several speakers said they support McLaughlin in this situation despite not sharing her politics.

“I would speak out for anyone in this situation, no matter the political persuasion. To single her out was among other things very cruel and she didn’t deserve it,” said Kathi McLaughlin. “To attack someone’s qualifications for a disability—would you do the same to a diabetic or someone with a physical disability?”

CPAW itself is an example of how mental health concerns have gained ground as a medical category in the public mind. The committee was formed when voters approved Prop 63, the Mental Health Services Act, which funded mental health services with a tax on the most wealthy. The act also mandated that consumers—people who’ve suffered from mental illness—give input on how to spend the millions of dollars raised by the Act.

Members of CPAW have experience with mental illness either through their profession, or their own illness or a family member’s, and said the questions raised about Mayor McLaughlin affect many people with with mental illness.

“They have lived through hardships and have maintained hope of a life with significance,” said Suzanne Tavano, deputy director of Mental Health for Contra Costa Health Services and a member of the advisory group. “It’s very painful when they see someone who has walked a similar path and achieved her goals to be taken down in public. It dashes hope.”

Some advisory group members who weren’t at the meeting sent statements addressing the isolation people with mental health problems experience when the illness is used to generate public shame.

“The release of her past mental health history, intended as an attack by her current campaign opponents, is both cynical and bigoted,” wrote Roberto Román, a mental health educator of Contra Costa Mental Health Services. “It conveys the dark message that those confronting mental health issues cannot overcome the obstacles they face and attain productivity and leadership as members of society.”

Teresa Pasquini, center, said the airing of mental health histories, even those of public figures, impacts private individuals.

Teresa Pasquini, center, said the airing of mental health details of a public figure affects private citizens who struggle with mental illness. "This level of discrimination and stigma is absolutely unacceptable in 2010," she said.

Perhaps the biggest blow to members of the group was the fact that, working through their unions, public safety officials—who carry a great deal of moral authority—paid for and directed the attack.

The Contra Costa Mental Health Services Division co-sponsors a week-long, voluntary training for police officers, who regularly interact with people with emotional and psychological disabilities. The Richmond Police Department participates in these trainings.

Brenda Crawford said police involvement in the campaign against the mayor made her doubt their good intentions. “It does bring into question the humanity of the fire and police departments,” said Crawford. “I don’t feel I could trust them, knowing they would do this because of some political disagreement with the mayor.”

Richmond Firefighters Association President Jim Russey issued a statement last week explaining the union’s involvement. “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,” the statement read. “If the voters had known the truth about the mayor from the beginning, they would have never elected her.”

About 15 million Americans suffer from clinical depression in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Clinical depression can range from mild to severe, and women are about twice as likely as men to develop some form of it. The World Health Organization found that in 2004, major depression was the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.

There is no known single cause of depression, said Lori Larks, division manager for the Department of Aging and Adult Services. “In the course of a life there’s teen depression, postpartum depression, depression from marriage, divorce, death, genetics, getting old,” said Parks. “Just about everyone hits it at some point. What we call mental illness is really just a part of life.”

Mayoral candidate Nat Bates has tried to distance himself from his decision to release the documents. “It is most unfortunate such a situation has occurred,” he wrote in an email, “but in politics, anything and everything goes.”

The advisory group wants the city to revisit policies to decrease stigma and discrimination about mental health problems, and plans to propose a policy item tomorrow at the Board of Supervisors meeting.


  1. Chief Chris Magnus on October 11, 2010 at 11:56 am

    The political views and tactics of the RPOA-PAC do not represent the views of the Richmond Police Dept. The overwhelming majority of officers I work with care deeply about building and maintaining a positive relationship with all segments of the community, including residents who struggle with mental illness, as well as their allies.

    I share the view that this political tactic has harmed our relationship with the mental health community and others–and for that, I am very sorry. I sincerely do not think the members of my department believe that mental illness should either be treated as a stigma or a justification for anything less than caring and professional interactions between the public and the police.

    Our agency is very committed to mental health training and services for officers. I hope as we move forward from this incident, we can continue to focus on changing attitudes, learning from each other, and rebuilding trust.

    ~ Chief Chris Magnus, Richmond P.D.

    • Renee Giometti on October 15, 2010 at 1:02 pm

      Thank you Chief Magnus for your comments. Your officers have responded quickly and professionaly to the office I work in several times each year in response to assistance with mentally ill clients. They are always kind and gentle with our clients and show sympathy and caring while still fulfilling their job duties. It is obvious they have been well trained in this area. Your work and dedication is appreciated.
      ~Renee Giometti

  2. Felix Hunziker on October 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Every election season Richmond becomes a community in conflict. Sharp rhetoric and ugly actions divide a city where there are enough problems that we should all be pulling in the same direction. The 2010 election period has set a new low. In September, the pro-business Contra Costa Labor Council campaign office suffered broken windows, dumped garbage, and slashed campaign signs. In October, police and fire unions launched personal attacks against the city’s progressive mayor instead of focusing on her record

    We, the residents of Richmond and its neighboring communities, demand that the political forces battling in our city – the public safety unions, labor groups, environmental activists, civic and business leaders – end this destructive cycle.

    We call on them to avoid personal attacks, make clear statements using objective and verifiable facts, propose solutions with supporting analyses and show respect for their audience.

    We remind these rival forces that Richmond is our home, not their political playground. We pledge to hold ourselves to the above standards, and we will hold those who continue to sow discord accountable.

    Please join us and sign our live petition:

  3. Tony Sustzk on October 12, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Hunziker is Josh Genser’s deputy echo. Genser hates the Richmond Progressive Alliance due to the RPA’s favoring of placing the remaining open space on the North Shoreline of Richmond into the public domain. Genser is also a shill for Chevron, through the Chamber of Commerce and his law firm. Genser is one of several real estate speculators who,in Genser’s case with partners, purchased vacant property on the Noth Richmond Shoreline, currently zoned for Light Industrial and Warehousing. From a business real estate point of veiw, this area is essentially worthless swamp,remote from the main thoroughfaires and hubs surronding Richmond. From an environmental point of view, it abuts critical habitat for the Pacific Flyway and preserving this area as open space will contribute to Richmond being a destination for people enjoying sports related to the Bay and its flora and fauna.

    Genser and the other North Shoreline speculators have been lobbying the City Council to upzone this area to residential, potentially making the are vastly more valuable, opening it up to McMansions with magnifigant shoreline views and making Genser and his fellow speculators quite a bit richer.

    We now have the possibility of placing the North Richmond Shoreline in the public domain, the first opportunity since European colonization of California and preserving it for posterity.

    One should note that this opportunity did not come about due to some great planning and scheming by a bunch of environmental extremists, as Genser and his buddies label the RPA and other groups such as Citizens For East Shore Parks. This opportunity has arisen because this area has been abandoned by the forces of global capitalism. It is just not profitable in the current scheme of things and, thus, lays fallow.

    Genser has a development scheme which has been rejected by the Richmond Planning Department (his application is on file in the inactive applications at the Planning Dept. in City Hall, second floor,along with the reasons for the rejection). His scheme was for what he was calling a “Live Work Transit Village”.

    Genser, who never fails to remind all in earshot, that he is a longtime Richmond resident and a pillar (in his own mind) of the community, while piously claiming that he is motivated by his desires to see Richmond progress and creating jobs for our downtrodden community.

    “Live Work” is a scheme for reusing abondoned industrial sites, not new residential propeties on vancant land. “Transit” here is a farce, given how far this is from any transit node. Richmond is committed to creating a walkable, bikeable, more human centered core, thus infill and reuse and opposition to gentrification and displacement, are the priorities.

    Richmond hasn’t seen it a priority to make Josh Genser rich.

    Another player in this is Don Gosney. A Chevron retiree and Chevron shill with ties to the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council and the Building Trades Council. Gosney is operating an anti-McLaughlin operation on the corner of San Pablo Ave and Barrett Aves., in an abandoned used car dealer ship (there are now 4 abandoned used car purveyors at that location, with one now becoming a kitchen cabinet sales place). Gosney has repeatedly insinuated that this establishment has been attacked by Richmond Progressive Alliance members and that he has been personally harrased, through vandalism, such as dumping garbage on his property. According to Charles Smith, who pulled the complaint that Gosney filed, this was a little missatement on Gosney’s part, as the police complaint he filed states the garbage was dumped on the used car dealerhip property.

    There has been a lot of dumping along Key Blvd., which paralells San Pablo Ave, especially at the site of the closed Albertson’s/Luckys store. The abandoned car dealerhips were subject to vandalism and break in prior to Gosney’s operation occupying the site.

    Given who is in the RPA, what is Gosney afraid of? Someone might do a poetry reading in front of his operation?

    Yours truly,
    Tony Sustak
    resident of the neighborhood in question
    Treasurer of the RPA
    Board member of Citizens For East Shore Parks

  4. […] For those who believe there is no stigma attached to mental health issues, please read the following article from Richmond Confidential. […]

  5. survive on October 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you, Chief Magnus, for your much appreciated comments. I get the feeling you’re above the fray in Richmond – meeting the needs of people without playing the political games. Thanks for this.

  6. Carole Johnson on October 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I am writing this letter, in FULL support of Gayle McLaughlin. If the recent stories about her past had not surfaced, I never would have know she had any serious issues at all. She has done such a great job overcoming any struggles she experienced IN THE PAST. She is also an excellent Mayor, who is fully committed to improving the overall quality of life in Richmond. As an activist dedicated to increasing public safety in West County, I believe that Gayle McLaughlin is equally dedicated, especially since I have seen her at numerous anti-violence events in the community. She also sticks to her principles and refuses to be bought off. I cannot say the same for her opponent at all, whom I only see, in the community, close to Election Day. I have little respect for a politician who is so desperate that he has to go back in the past (at least 7 years) to hit below the belt. I believe I speak for many Richmond residents when I say that the recent smear campaign against the Mayor has had ABSOLUTELY NO effect on my decision to, wholeheartedly, support the re-election of Mayor McLaughlin. If anything, I am even more determined than ever to vote for her because she is someone who is full of integrity, socially conscious, as well as being an overcomer/survivor, to say the least of her qualifications. Please stand with me, on Nov. 2, to re-elect our excellent Mayor!!!
    Carole Johnson, concerned voter
    West Contra Costa/S.F.

  7. Ellen on October 17, 2010 at 12:27 am

    I am confused by what you mean when you say, “Hunziker is Josh Genser’s deputy echo.” I know both Felix Hunziker and Josh Genser, and I can tell you that, while there are some things that they agree on, there are probably far more that they disagree on. Felix and I also disagree on some things politically, but he has never been anything but respectful of my views. I’m not quite sure why you think he is anyone’s “deputy echo.” Do you have a problem with the petition asking all parties involved in the upcoming election to be respectful of each other? Many of us who are residents in North and East worked this out together, and many of us have signed it.

    • Felix Hunziker on October 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks for pointing this out to me Ellen 🙂 Someday the hotheads at the RPA will pause to gather facts before launching into their usual partisan tirade of half-truths and deflection.

  8. Sean McConnell on October 21, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    I actually am thankful to the police and fire unions for letting me know that Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is a real human being with real life issues, just like my self, my friends and my family. I don’t necessarily agree with McLaughlin on all political issues (I support the Pt. Molate development for instance), but I will vote for her because I have seen real, positive change in Richmond since she became mayor.

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