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Gary Bell throws name into Richmond political hat

on August 31, 2012

Gary Bell knows how to make people feel at ease. He also knows a little bit about money and business principles. And at a campaign kickoff Thursday night at the Courtyard Marriott at Hilltop Mall, the president and CEO of Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union in Berkeley declared his intent to bring civility and leadership back to the City Council.

This isn’t Bell’s first political rodeo. He was a Richmond city councilmember in 1999, and ran for mayor in 2006. He said one reason he’s jumping back into the political shark tank is to finish some unfinished business. One: a small business economic strategy called the Downtown Main Street Program. Two: a better understanding of why the current City Council hasn’t enforced an industrial safety ordinance he helped create in 2001, to help prevent ruin and environmental dangers like the Aug. 6 Chevron refinery explosion.

Bell said accountability for the Chevron fire comes from both sides. “Why wasn’t pressure [by the City Council] put on Chevron to shut down and fix that pipe?” he asked. “Where is the document that the city was enforcing the inspection process?”

Between musical sets performed by the young RPAL Originals, and Eddie and Freddie Moore selling spirits for college scholarships, Bell addressed issues of jobs, education, the environment and public safety for an audience of more than 50.

“It’s time to get business-minded people on the council that know how business works,” he said. “It’s hard to attract business when people are openly against business. I’m not anti or pro business—I’m for what’s right in our community.”

To make a point that he’s not a freewheeling businessman, Bell said he wouldn’t support businesses that aren’t complying with environmental standards, or doing the right thing.

With regards to education Bell said city taxes needed to be spent on city schools. “The City of Richmond and industrial sector provide the largest tax base, but the largest funds are spent in El Cerrito, Hercules and Pinole,” he said. “I’m looking for parity. Let’s be fair.”

To highlight organizational leadership, Bell said he’s not afraid to listen and communicate with the likes of the Richmond Progressive Alliance or big business. “In order to maintain a civil society, people have to respect each other and be able to work with each other,” he said. “I may not agree with you, but I can talk to you. That’s how you get to problem solving.”

Bell told supporters that he’s equipped and qualified to deal with the uncertainties of the future, and they only had 68 days to let other residents know they can make a positive difference in their community. “We must be unselfish in our lives to make this campaign work,” he told the crowd. “To me it’s all about giving. What do you believe?”

Two things Bell made clear are that he doesn’t support the soda tax or the state’s Proposition 32. Proposition 32 is a payroll protection plan that, according to Bell, would hurt local union workers.

“I understand the intent of the soda tax and I think we should do things to help reduce the levels of obesity, but I’m against the whole approach of taxing people to solve that problem,” Bell said. “To me this is no different than a check cashing place coming in and saying, ‘We’re providing a service that the banks don’t provide, so we’re going to charge you more. We’re doing something good for you, but we’re going to charge you more.’”

So far Bell’s campaign has not received campaign contributions from Chevron or the soda industry. He told supporters he had a budget of $65,000 and that he’s raised $20,000 so far. He listed endorsements from the Black American Political Action Committee, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the Contra Costa Labor Council, and Black Men and Women.

Bell said endorsements are important for any campaign and that he’s not going to turn down support. But that doesn’t mean people should assume he’s campaigning on their issues, he said.

Jan Fagley, of Richmond, said she supports Bell because he has his heart in the right place and he can bring something to the table with his business background. “He’ll make the biggest difference in jobs,” she said. “He’s young, he has energy, and we need that.”

Steven Hsigo, of Berkeley, owns Late Night Option restaurant on University Avenue. He said Bell taught him a small business management class at Contra Costa College several years ago and that Bell’s class inspired him to pursue his own business. In addition to teaching the class, Hsigo said Bell helped him tailor a business plan that he used to obtain a bank loan.

“He’s one of the most compassionate and down to Earth people I’ve ever met,” said Hsigo about Bell. “I think what’s most important is that he’s a people person and very approachable. I don’t think people would ever be intimidated by him—he’s just willing to help and talk to you.”


  1. Tom Butt on August 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    1. The City of Richmond doesn’t enforce the Industrial Safety Ordinance; the County is responsible for that.
    2. The WCCUSD controls where bond funds are spent, not the City.

    • Gary Bell on August 31, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      1) It is a city ordinance, the city has delegated certain functions to the county health department. It does not make sense for the city to delegate enforcement powers to the county. If that is the case then that should be changed.

    • Gary Bell on August 31, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      2) I understand WCCUSD controls the funds but, there needs to be accountablity for the disrtibution of Richmond taxpayers dollars in a fair way. If after we follow the money my observations are wrong, then enoung said.

  2. Yes on N, the Richmond Soda tax on August 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Taxing cigarettes brought down tobacco consumption in California to 12%, the current percentage of smokers. The tobacco tax funds were put back into anti-smoking educational campaigns. It worked. As always, some people complained, and weak politicians ran from the issue. Leaders led, and are healthier for it. Today again, some will lead, some will run. Yes on N and Yes on O. Less Soda + More sports = Healthy children.

    • Gary Bell on August 31, 2012 at 10:40 pm

      I just don’t beleive taking money out of poor people pockets during a recession is a good idea. We should be looking to put money in peoples pockets first.

      • Erin Gomez Danielson on September 1, 2012 at 1:26 am

        just to be clear though, no one is forcing poor people or anyone else to buy soda and be taxed on it. buying soda is a choice, and one that can clearly lead to very bad health, just like cigarettes. as the previous poster pointed out, the tax is a deterrent to attempt to lessen the harmful effects of unhealthy beverages. the tax from the sales that do occur will be used to educate people about the choices they are making about their own health. this is the perfect issue in which to champion the long term health and well-being of our community over short term monetary needs, especially when the need in question is as superfluous as soda. Im proud of Richmond for putting these measures on our ballot.

        • Gary Bell on September 4, 2012 at 8:46 am

          The fact that a person is not forced is a very sad justfication. Even President Obama understands that if you must tax, tax only those who can afford to be tax in this envirnoment.

          This tax does more harm than it does good. It hurts poor people financial health. You ever heard of a thing called financial stress.

          Maybe you or the supporters of this tax are not experiencing financial stress. But a lot of us are living with less in our pockets. Why take more out of poor peoples pockets in this envirnoment?

  3. Dennis Dalton on September 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Bates, Booze, and Roberson photos are featured in glossy flyers and even billboards. Look carefully and you may find Chevron or the national beverage industry as sponsors. Given Mr.Bell’s views, will he join the Pepsi triplets and tolerate this expensive corporate support? I will vote for Progressives for city council and Barack for President.

    • Gary Bell on September 6, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      Have not and will not receive anything from Cheveron or the national beverage industry lobbist.
      Nor have I pledge my support to a single minded progressive movement that is not better than Cheveron or the beverage lobbist.

      I am independent of both of the so call sides and will look out for all people in our city.

      There are more independent thinking people in our city than groups like the progressives.

      I support President Obama because he is independent. He is not a progressive or conservative, he represents all the people like me.

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