Booze-Ritterman feud flares over CyberTran vote
on September 22, 2011
As Councilmember Corky Booze delivered his closing remarks at Tuesday night’s meeting, Councilmember Jovanka Beckles breathed heavily, repeatedly, into the PA system. Six minutes into his speech, Booze paused.
“I can hear you Councilwoman Beckles going, ‘Waaaaah!’ Waaaah!” he said.
“I’m breathing!” she replied.
The running feud between Booze and other councilmembers continued Tuesday night in both minor disputes and in a tense back-and-forth on one particularly sore subject: the Richmond-based light-rail company CyberTran.
Last week, Councilmember Jeff Ritterman filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that Booze met CyberTran officials to ask for campaign funds. According to Ritterman’s complaint, when Cybertran turned down the councilmember’s request, Booze threatened to make trouble for the company.
When CyberTran came up on the agenda Tuesday, Booze used the occasion to defend himself.
“Some people have said I was attacking CyberTran and trying to run them out of town,” he said. “I don’t know CyberTran from Adam. It bothers me that people would say that.”
After repeatedly questioning Cybertran’s ability to bring jobs to Richmond, Booze circled back to the FPPC complaint.
“I’ve never met with you before have I, Mr. Sinclair,” he asked Neil Sinclair, the CyberTran CEO.
Sinclair answered, “You haven’t met with me, you have met one of my vice presidents.”
Booze read from Ritterman’s FPPC complaint and then asked, “Have you ever seen me ask for a campaign contribution?”
“I’ve never had a private meeting with you,” Sinclair said.
McLaughlin began to object to Booze’s line of questioning, but Booze insisted. “Just answer me,” he said. “Look at me and answer me.”
“Are you asking if any of our people have ever met with you?” Sinclair said. “I think one of our people has met with you.”
When Booze asked which person it was, Sinclair said he didn’t want to get into personnel issues – and McLauglin stepped in again.
“This is not about personalities,” Booze said to Sinclair. “This is about working together. This is about who you are working with. I’ve never met with you in my life.”
After pausing to regain his composure, Booze said, “I have no axe to grind with you. I have no axe to grind with Councilman Ritterman … I do have an axe to grind when the people of Richmond are spending money on a lobbyist, on a dream.”
Throughout the discussion, Ritterman praised CyberTran but avoided a direct confrontation with Booze. Beckles, though, was more candid, saying she was embarrassed by what she called Booze’s hypocrisy.
“I find it interesting that the same individuals who stand on soap boxes and shout, ‘We need jobs’ every opportunity they get, are the same individuals who are criticizing this opportunity for jobs,” Beckles said. “This is an economic opportunity that is priceless for the people of Richmond.”
Beckles concluded her own message by telling the community to “please pay attention,” to councilmembers who didn’t vote in favor of CyberTran and its potential jobs.
The final vote was 4-1, with Booze the only opposition.
After a brief halt in the theatrics for the next few motions, Booze announced he would also send his own direct “message to the community.”
Booze recalled his opposition to the CyberTran motion, his dissatisfaction with the council, and what he said was his commitment to his people.
“I work for all of Richmond,” he said. “All of it. Right now, I am working for the African American Community, trying to stop the shooting.”
As he continued, Beckles again started to sigh more audibly. “This is not the time to campaign,” she said
Joe Fisher, president of the Coronado Neighborhood Committee and businessman, said campaign strategy probably does play a part of the council’s recent confrontations.
“I look at all this as politics,” Fisher said. “They are running for 2012, so we are going to hear a whole lot.”
Fisher said he’s standing by Booze.
“Booze has always been consistent,” he said. “I think Ritterman is spinning his wheel and I think he knows it.”
Michael Beer, a community activist allied with the Richmond Progressive Alliance, said he thinks Booze is the one posturing to secure votes.
“Richmond has a tradition of people trying to divide the community in terms of my people, your people,” he said. “Booze always does it. He always does it.”
Beer added that not too long ago, he supported Booze.
“I helped Corky get elected because we thought he was a man of the people,” he said. “Now it seems like he’s a man for Corky. He takes it all on himself. He is the savior and that’s the role he played.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, one thing was clear: Booze was going to take on Ritterman, McLaughlin and Beckles, even if it meant marginalizing himself in the council.
Before McLaughlin had finished her final remarks – a tribute to the late activist Fred Jackson, whose funeral last Friday brought together hundreds from the community – Booze had left his seat and begun to converse in the chamber.
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