Richmond City Council adjourns without filling vacant seat
on February 11, 2015
Richmond’s City Council failed to appoint a new member to the council’s vacant seat Tuesday night, deciding after a series of deadlocked nominations to instead to move the decision to next week’s meeting.
The vacant seat was created last month when former Councilman Tom Butt ascended to the mayor’s office. The current councilmembers are empowered to appoint someone to fill the seat. Four votes—a majority—are needed to confirm an appointment.
Seventeen of the 18 candidates vying to fill the seat made presentations before a packed council chamber. Each candidate spoke for up to eight minutes about his or her qualifications, experiences and goals as a prospective councilmember. (Candidate Samuel L. Pooler did not attend the meeting.)
The slate of candidates includes a former Richmond mayor, a former councilmember, past mayoral and council candidates, community leaders, and active members of city commissions and associations. Many of the candidates jokingly referenced their familiarity with Richmond politics in their presentations.
“For those who don’t remember me, I ran for mayor. I lost, obviously,” said candidate Uche Uwahemu, who ran against Tom Butt and Nat Bates for mayor last November. “But I can get the job done even if I’m not the mayor.”
Rosemary Corbin, who became Richmond’s first female mayor in 1993, remarked to the council in her presentation, “I know all of you. I agree with most of you most of the time, and will not agree with anyone all of the time.”
Candidate Jim Rogers, a former councilman who narrowly lost his seat to Eduardo Martinez in the last election, traced his November election loss to voters’ desire to “take down Chevron” by voting in the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) candidates. “And that’s fine,” he said. “But at this point, the question is not, ‘Are we outraged at Chevron?’ The question is, ‘Who has the record of being able to work and move us forward?’ I do think I’m the one who has a history of working with the council and moving us towards progressive change.”
Once the candidates had finished speaking, and members of the public had a chance to comment, the councilmembers could put forward motions in support of an individual candidate. Each motion required the support of a second councilmember before the group could vote on that person.
Motions to appoint Marilyn Langlois, Sheryl E. Lane, Raquel Donoso, Claudia Jimenez, Kathryn Sibley, Rosemary Corbin and Ben Choi gained seconds, but failed the group vote in rapid succession. Councilmember Jael Myrick also moved to appoint Dameion King, but the motion was not seconded.
Councilmembers Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles, both members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, came out strongly in favor of appointing longtime RPA member Marilyn Langlois. But Myrick publicly expressed discomfort over appointing Langlois, remarking before the vote, “If so much power is going to be concentrated in one organization [the RPA], I think it needs to be done through an election.” Along with McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez, a Langlois appointment would give the RPA a four-person majority voting bloc on the council.
Votes for the nominations fell along a dividing line, with Martinez, McLaughlin and Beckles voting together for Langlois and Jimenez while abstaining from voting on the other nominations. In contrast, Myrick and Butt each voted in favor of all of the nominations except Langlois and Jimenez. Councilman Nat Bates voted in favor of Donoso and abstained from voting on the rest.
Myrick cast the only “no” vote of the evening, for Langlois.
The council will take up the issue again next week, and the candidates who were passed over on Tuesday night can be re-nominated at the next meeting. The 60-day period for the council to appoint someone concludes March 13. If the council majority can’t decide, the decision will be put to voters in a special election, which the city finance director says would cost the city an estimated $200,000.
Most of the councilmembers expressed disappointment that an agreement wasn’t reached Tuesday night.
“I think some of the names put forward are people in the community who have been doing the hardcore work in the trenches and who stand for the community,” Beckles said after the meeting, “and none of those names were passed.”
Martinez said he believes it nonsensical to vote against an RPA member based on affiliation. “I cannot believe that Jael sees the RPA as a demon that he must protect the city against,” Martinez said. “With his argument, we should probably not elect another Democrat since we already have five Democrats on the council. Maybe we should look for an Independent or Republican.”
Martinez hopes there will be more discussion among the councilmembers at the next meeting before voting. “There were a lot of abstentions and I think the abstentions were because we didn’t have a dialogue,” he said. “If we had a dialogue, I think it would be more yeses and nos. You can’t vote unless you have an intelligent, in-depth dialogue.”
As for whether the council will be able to agree on a candidate, “I have no clue what’s going to happen,” said Butt after Tuesday’s meeting. “I think there’s a 50/50 chance of seeing an election.”
Correction: In a previous version of this story, Rosemary Corbin was misquoted as saying, “I agree with most of you most of the time, but not all of you all of the time.” Her quote has been corrected.
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