Ritterman files official complaint against Booze
on September 15, 2011
Amidst a series of increasingly public disagreements, City Councilmember Jeff Ritterman filed two formal complaints this week to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging that Councilmember Corky Booze has unfairly punished some local businesses and made alliances with others based on campaign contributions.
While the complaints reached the state watchdog agency in Sacramento, the councilmembers clashed repeatedly at Tuesday’s council meeting. Supporters of Booze turned out in droves to lambast Ritterman and the Richmond Progressive Alliance, the influential political group that has staunchly supported Ritterman.
“When you mess with Corky Booze the community comes out,” Booze said.
The crowd at Tuesday’s meeting argued particularly over an anonymous letter sent late last week that accused Booze of bullying city officials. Several residents approached the podium during public comment to pin the letter on Ritterman and the RPA.
Meanwhile, RPA members took to the floor to support Ritterman and to deny connections to the newsletter, which they described as contrary to their style.
The letter, displaying a photograph of Booze, stated that, “verbal abuse, intimidation and the threat of physical violence have no place in Richmond.” It continued, “Mr. Booze’s bullying and threats are not only unbecoming but also display an outrageous lack of understanding of the influence such behaviors have on the Richmond youth.”
At a neighborhood meeting Monday, Booze called the letter a “hit piece,” and said the RPA — whose members include Ritterman, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, had “reached a new low.”
Waving a copy of the letter he said, “I supported Gayle McLaughlin for mayor because I didn’t like this kind of hit piece.”
Neither Booze nor Ritterman mentioned the FPPC complaint at the council meeting, but Ritterman said that the public clash at the community meetings was “just the tip of the iceberg.”
In his formal statement to the FPPC Ritterman described a City Council meeting in July at which he said Booze had delayed the approval of a city partnership with CyberTran, a light-rail company. The complaint alleges that Booze told CyberTran that, “he could make trouble for them and was doing so because CyberTran had refused his request for a campaign contribution on three separate occasions.”
CyberTran Chairman Neil Sinclair said the company would wait until the investigation was complete before commenting.
“We don’t think it’s productive for anybody that we engage in a point counterpoint type of debate in the media in advance of the substance of the investigations which will undoubtedly be made public,” Sinclair said.
Booze dismissed Ritterman’s allegation. “Lies. Bold face lies,” Booze said. “I never solicited funds from CyberTran. Not once.”
He added, “This thing with CyberTran and me, what would be my driving force? Why is Ritterman so obsessed?”
Ritterman said he fears CyberTran will leave Richmond if the city does not treat the company with some respect. “CyberTran doesn’t have to stay in Richmond,” he said. “They can do the same thing in Oakland and Alameda. We have an opportunity to bring transit back to Richmond. That’s fantastic. Don’t ruin that.”
Ritterman said he was preparing to leave with CyberTran to Washington D.C. on a lobbying issue when he said he found out about Booze’s alleged threat to CyberTran officials. Ritterman later confronted Booze, and the heated back-and-forth near councilman Tom Butt’s seat resulted in what Ritterman described as a physical threat from Booze who said he would, “punch him in the nose.”
Booze did not deny the “punch in the nose” comment but said Ritterman took the statement out of context.
“I remember them having words but I do not remember the content,” Butt said.
Despite the confrontation, Ritterman said that he did not decide to take any formal action against Booze until a meeting last week where he said Booze voted with an egregious conflict of interest. Ritterman said that at a West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority meeting the board – which includes Ritterman, Booze, and Richmond Councilmember Nat Bates — was deciding whether or not to open up bidding for Richmond’s trash and recycling services or remain with the current contractor, Republic Services.
Ritterman‘s complaint states that Booze arrived at the meeting late after attending a fundraising event hosted by Republic Services, then argued in favor of keeping the contract with Republic Services.
“I felt like my tolerance was exceeded,” Ritterman said. “How many times must a man look down and pretend he doesn’t see?”
In his statement to the FPPC, Ritterman wrote, “I think it is likely that the use of the Republic Services and the value of their name on his invitation exceeds the $250 limit which would require him not to comment or vote on future items pertaining to Republic’s future contract.”
Booze, however, said that the fundraiser, while it was located at Republic Services, was hosted by Chevron consultant Eric Zell, and that Booze had no part in planning the fundraiser. “Eric said, ‘I am going to put on a fundraiser for you’ and I said, ‘fine,’” Booze said.
Booze said he got to the WCCIWMA board meeting late and sat in the audience until the secretary summoned him to the podium. Booze said he then voted along with other council members to pull the Republic Services item, but that it was not an action item.
“They voted about whether or not we were going to do a discussion or take a position,” Booze said. “When council said they would not take a position Ritterman went ballistic.”
“When someone crosses the line of what I think is ethical, I have to say something,” Ritterman said. Ritterman said he hopes to get support from other elected officials for his complaint, but doesn’t expect it. “There is a lot of fear and intimidation,” he said. “I feel it. I hope the commission will hold up the ruling of ‘conflict of interest’ and it will put such a spotlight on the garbage contract of 2014 that it won’t be sent out as a sole source contract to Republic Services.” (Editor’s note: this quote has been corrected.)
Ritterman said he is worried about the potential repercussions of his public complaint.
“I am expecting to get called a racist,” he said. “I am expecting him to attack my credibility.”
Booze said he thinks Ritterman wants to embarrass him. “I’ve gotten more jobs in 8 months than anyone on the council,” Booze said. “I will take the high road. And I will let him do whatever he wants to Corky Booze. I’m here to get jobs. That’s all I’m here to do. Personalities I have no time for.”
Ritterman has said his issue with Booze is not personal, and that he just wants an apology. “We can all make a mistake and go forward,” Ritterman said. “I’m trying to say lets focus on the behavior and lets change.”
But in recent days Booze has made it clear that Ritterman is unlikely to get his apology. At Thursday’s Police Commission meeting he rejected Ritterman’s bullying accusations, saying he works for the people of Richmond and not for city employees or corporations. As Booze sat down, he leaned back in his chair and said, “Nobody owns Corky.”
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