On Saturday night in downtown Richmond, the unmistakable beats of Latin Jazz, followed by cheers and laughter, poured out of a small office tucked away in a row of other non-descript offices. The little space on Macdonald Avenue by the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts was illuminated with ambient lighting and filled with people. In the back corner the band played while people twirled on the dance floor. This is how the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) was helping two of its own candidates—Marilyn Langlois and Eduardo Martinez—raise money.
Langlois and Martinez are each running for a seat on the Richmond City Council. There are three city council seats up for reelection this year—those currently occupied by Tom Butt, Nat Bates and Jeff Ritterman. Ritterman, like Langlois and Martinez, is a member of the RPA. He announced earlier this year that he will not seek reelection.
The RPA is a political organization Langlois helped launch in 2003, and its purpose is to promote progressive candidates and ideas—green jobs, climate justice, worker owned co-ops and reducing the influence of big businesses, to name a few.
Langlois and Martinez are running separate campaigns, but they are planning to cooperate along the way. When RPA volunteers hit the streets to talk with potential voters they’ll represent both candidates.
To the outside observer the two seem like an odd pairing. Martinez is clean-cut, and looks the part of a politician. At the fundraiser, he was clad in slacks, a conservative blue and white striped collared shirt and a red tie with cream and light blue stripes. With her long flowing skirt, chunky waist belt and Birkenstock-esque sandals, Langlois struck a more unorthodox figure.
Langlois was born and raised in El Cerrito. She moved to Richmond 10 years ago. In 2012, she stepped down from her position as Community Advocate in Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s office. While working in the mayor’s office, Langlois advocated for the mayor’s initiatives including strengthening Richmond’s local hiring ordinance, promoting worker owned cooperatives and updating the city’s wireless communications ordinance to prevent cell towers from being built in certain parts of the city.
She is a past president of the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley and co-founder of the RPA. Over the past decade, Langlois has volunteered at numerous organizations in Richmond including the Just Cause Coalition, which promotes stable housing for renters, and Richmond Vision, a coalition of faith, labor and community groups. She sat on Richmond’s Human Rights and Human Relations Commission in 2007.
This is Langlois’ first run for political office, but her father was elected to the El Cerrito City Council in 1964 and her mother was the first woman elected to the Lafayette City Council in 1974. Langlois says she was first exposed to grassroots politics through their campaigns.
A Texan by birth, Martinez moved to the Bay Area in the 1970s and has lived in Richmond for 17 years. In 2010 Martinez ran unsuccessfully for city council. From 1989 until his retirement in 2010, Martinez taught elementary school in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD). Most of his time was spent teaching at Downer Elementary, but he says that the last few years of his career he taught at Sheldon Elementary following a labor dispute that lead to an involuntary transfer.
According to Martinez’s campaign website, he also has a long list of volunteer efforts, which include serving as a Richmond Parks and Recreation commissioner, co-facilitating the Richmond SAFE athletic fields for education and chairing the Mexican American Political Association in Richmond.
Martinez said he got involved with politics after retiring, and initially intended to run for the West Contra Costa Unified School District Board, but RPA members approached him and convinced him otherwise. “They convinced me I’d be more influential for students and children on city council,” Martinez said in an interview following Saturday’s event.
At the fundraiser, Councilmember Jovanka Beckles acted as master of ceremonies and warmed up the audience with a joke. “It’s been a rough week,” she said sounding exasperated. The crowd of over 100 laughed at the allusion to her showdown with Councilmember Corky Booze at last Tuesday’s city council meeting. “Our first candidate, with your help, will win,” she said and called Martinez to the stage.
Martinez gave a brief speech that highlighted his top priority: “The Richmond children are what we are here for,” he said. “We see a Richmond where children have healthy food, nice parks to play in and good schools.”
Martinez is also advocating for ordinances that will enable people to stay in their homes while going through foreclosure until a bank fully takes over. He also wants the city to do a better job of dealing with blight and building up the interior of Richmond to entice cyclists and foot traffic to downtown.
After Martinez’s speech, Beckles came back up and introduced Langlois. But before turning the microphone over, she took the opportunity to say how excited she was about the RPA candidates and why she felt that way. The city council, she said, is “dysfunctional, but it’s not because of the mayor or myself. We intend to replace those members who aren’t for us.”
“We need to work together to address the needs of everyone in Richmond, especially those with the least,” Langlois said as she stepped in front of the crowd and looked around the room.
Langlois went on to lay out some of her plans for Richmond: a city ordinance that if implemented would ban businesses in Richmond from asking if applicants have been convicted of a felony, expansions of worker owned co-ops in the city, a requirement that all major industrial businesses reduce their greenhouse gasses and shift to renewable energy, and the creation of a more bicycle-friendly community.
In an interview following her speech, Langlois said she decided to run for the council earlier this year when she learned that Ritterman was not going to seek reelection. She feels that her volunteer work and former role as community advocate in McLaughlin’s office prepared her for this new challenge. “I’d like to add my voice to the city council to make sure that people’s voices are heard over corporations,” she said.
After the candidates spoke, Ritterman and McLaughlin also made a pitch for them and the new direction they hope the council will take if Langlois and Martinez win the election.
“I’m inspired by the words I’m hearing tonight, so I’m deepening my commitment,” said Ritterman after handing each of the candidates a check.
McLaughlin praised the RPA along with the candidates. “It’s great to be a part of something bigger than myself,” she said.
After the speeches guests, were instructed to enjoy the music, meet the candidates and of course donate at one of the designated donation stations. Both candidates pledged to not accept any donations from corporations. Instead, they’re relying on individuals to fund their campaigns. The fundraising goal for the night was $10,000.