Compared to the red door, the woman’s head and shoulders, blurry through the window, look enormous. The weather outside is ominous, dark and cloudy.
The door opens. The giant (surprise!) is City Council candidate Marilyn Langlois, and this is the inside fold of a slick red and olive political flier. Don’t vote for Langlois, the ad implores the reader—“She wants to raise your family’s taxes!” and, “She even refused to pay her own taxes!”
The real Marilyn Langlois, walking her bike along the Richmond Bay Trail, is not a giant. She’s normal-sized, dressed in a blue windbreaker over a white turtleneck and a scarf, wearing glasses and abalone earrings. She is not, by height, breadth, or demeanor, the least bit frightening.
Whether you like her policies or not, Marilyn Langlois is one of the nicest people running for the Richmond City Council. She’s polite, always cheerful, never swears, and is relentlessly positive.
“Oh sure, I’ve seen Marilyn get upset,” says Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “But she expresses it in a calm, even way.”
That’s her mom in a nutshell, said Jessica Langlois, the younger of her two daughters, “This might sound cheesy, but my friends always told me I had the best mom because she’s so easygoing and the best listener,” Jessica said. While her friends would clash and get in trouble with their parents, Jessica said her mom was always willing to see her side. “She was so, so fair, and so kind, she would really sit down and have a conversation with me,” Jessica said.
A stiff breeze whisks off the water, and the sky threatens rain. Only a handful of joggers, bikers, and walkers pass Langlois. She greets them politely and moves on, without the over-interest or aggression that some politicians adopt.
She’ll bring that steady demeanor to the often-rowdy city council, the elder Langlois said. She’s worked many at jobs, including as a teacher, as a secretary, as a administrative assistant, and as a community advocate, all without ever coming to blows with anyone. The same should hold true on the council. “I firmly believe you can be a city council member without yelling and screaming and fistfights,” she said. Besides, she said, “I like all of the city council members.”
A small bamboo pinwheel tied to her handlebars chatters in the breeze. It’s from a recent cultural exhibition by residents of Richmond’s sister city of Shimada, Japan. She’s always been attracted to other cultures, she says. She grew up mostly in El Cerrito, but she says that when she returned to California after a decade living in Austria, she wanted to live somewhere more diverse. She had fond childhood memories of Richmond, and had spent time volunteering there, helping with a free tax-filing program.
She moved to Point Richmond in the early 2000s, then to North and East in 2004.
Her involvement with Richmond’s progressives started soon after she arrived. A founding member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, Langlois said she railed against the corporate influence she saw in local politics, particularly from Chevron. This year is no exception, she says: “They’re pretty blatantly trying to buy the election.”
City government’s role is to watch out for the health and wellbeing of its citizens, she says, while corporations are looking for a profit. There’s no reason, though, that the two need to be mutually exclusive, she says, so long as Chevron’s purported wish to be a good neighbor isn’t mere lip service. It should drop its property tax appeal, Langlois said, and needs to do whatever it can to prevent more disasters like the August fire. “It needs to take even better precautions,” she says. “When in doubt go that extra mile.”
Chevron clearly has not been impressed, providing major funding for attack ads against her, including the “Knock! Knock!” mailer and another, which breathlessly links her to the conspiracy-theorizing 9/11 Truth Movement.
Langlois rolls her eyes. “I’m really disappointed there’s negative campaigning,” she says. The mailers amount to nothing more than hyperbolic attempts to distract voters,” she says.
It’s true she once didn’t pay her taxes, sort of, but it wasn’t just because she was feeling miserly.
“I fully support taxation as a way of paying for services,” she said. “And I always paid my taxes, with one exception.” It was 2006, a couple years into the most recent Iraq War. Langlois was fed up watching government money go to bullets and bombs and far-away problems, she says, while she watched schools, roads, and government services in Richmond struggle to find funding. “I decided to engage in war tax resistance,” she said. “I filed my tax return on time, but didn’t include a check.”
Instead, she enclosed a letter explaining her position. She also wrote her members of Congress, informing them of her actions and her position.
It wasn’t long before the IRS came knocking. Eventually they found her bank account and deducted the money. “It was a symbolic protest,” Langlois says with a shrug.
As for her affiliation with the 9/11 Truth Movement, Langlois says she was never a member of the organization, but was simply interested in the group’s ideas. “I don’t accept official stories without looking at the evidence first,” she says.
Langlois and her RPA allies will inevitably be at odds with more conservative, industry-friendly members of the council. Her support of Measure N (the soda tax), more bike trails in bike-scarce Richmond, and her demands for more accountability from Chevron are all prickly points for various members of the current council and likely will be for the next.
Mayor McLaughlin, who Langlois worked for as an aide for more than four years, said she’d be glad to have Langlois as an ally on the council. “She’s such a delight to work with,” McLaughlin said. “And she’s someone who really believes in this community, in a better Richmond.”
Days later, standing outside the city council chambers, suited up and ready to bike home in a neon yellow vest, Langlois is delighted at the council’s unanimous vote on an agenda item. “See, the council agrees on some things,” she says, smiling, genuinely pleased at the example of cooperation.