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Bernie Sanders with Richmond Mayor Tom Butt in 2014. Sanders' organization Our Revolution is supporting Richmond City Council candidates. Photo by Martin Totland.

City Council candidates get boost from Bernie Sanders

on September 8, 2016

Early support for Senator Bernie Sanders from the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) in 2014 may pay off twice.

Late last month, the former presidential candidate’s new national non-profit, Our Revolution, endorsed RPA-backed Richmond City Council candidates Ben Choi and Melvin Willis. They were two of 63 candidates nationwide to be recognized in the first wave of Our Revolution endorsements.

“This was just another stage in a reciprocal relationship [with the Sanders campaign] that developed over the last two years,” said local labor writer and RPA member Steve Early.

In 2014, the Senator visited Richmond to endorse and help fundraise for that year’s RPA-backed city council candidates. The three candidates Sanders endorsed—Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez, and Jovanka Beckles—all won council seats that year.

Our Revolution is now looking to replicate that effect in the 2016 elections. “We were excited to endorse Melvin and Ben based on a long relationship between the RPA and Bernie Sanders,” said Larry Cohen, the non-profit’s chairman of the board.

Our Revolution’s website promises to provide its selected candidates across the country with “unparalleled digital tools, organizing knowledge and grassroots support, which may include fundraising.”

The organization is just three weeks old, but “we’re hoping that we can shape [the November elections] as we go, in a positive direction,” said Our Revolution outreach director Erika Andiola.

David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, said that Sanders (an Independent in the Senate) is “going to try to remake the Democratic Party” by getting involved in local elections, an unusual tactic for a third party leader.

“It’s kind of a smart move” by Sanders, Schultz said.

It may be smart, but there’s no guarantee the endorsements will change voters’ minds, said Christopher Larimer, an associate professor of political science and a voter turnout expert at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

But Our Revolution’s support could draw out voters who might normally skip the polls on election day, said Larimer. “It’s more likely to have a mobilizing influence, if anything,” he said.

No matter the endorsement’s ultimate influence, Willis said he welcomed its potential to reach “the network that got engaged because of the presidential campaign for Bernie Sanders.”

“It’s an amazing thing and I’m glad that they did it,” Willis said.

Early, who initiated contact with Our Revolution on behalf of Choi and Willis, said the Richmond candidates were not put through a standardized vetting process by the non-profit prior to endorsement.

Andiola added that candidates like Choi and Willis, who worked with Sanders’ team during the presidential campaign, were at the top of Our Revolution’s list. Other candidates who did not have a relationship with the campaign were asked to fill out a standardized questionnaire to confirm their commitment to progressive platforms. So far only one other candidate in California, San Francisco Supervisor and State Senate candidate Jane Kim, has been endorsed.

Choi and Willis are running as a slate—“Team Richmond 2016”—in a transparent effort to form a progressive voting block on City Council.

Although the endorsement was welcomed by the RPA, it remains unclear how much it will influence November’s city council election.

“Local elections are probably the hardest elections to mobilize people for,” said Schultz. “This is going to be tough for his endorsement to get people to vote.”


  1. Rob W on September 8, 2016 at 10:11 am

    The worst thing Richmond residents could do is to knee jerk vote for more RPA candidates just because of the Saunders name association. The fact is the RPA have been a very divisive and ineffective governing body. Their insistence on extreme ideology should be a serious concern for the alert voter. Too many Richmond voters simply hear the word progressive and pull the handle without really paying attention to what the RPA is actually doing. Few have even watched them in action during City council meetings. A single viewing will set your alarm bells ringing I guarantee. Like a fringe religious cult, you will never hear these people admit they are ever wrong about anything. Take their latest disaster, their part in killing off the Berkeley Global Campus, a fact that was backed up by statements in the press by a BGC spokesperson. Not one of these people will admit that perhaps their juvenile tactics had been counterproductive. Their response being something more akin to what one could expect from Soviet Era Pravda.
    Wake up Richmond. Lazy knee jerk voting has not worked out very well since the last election. Doing the same thing again and expecting a different result is the very definition of crazy.
    I strongly urge Richmond to deny the RPA even more power to divide and bankrupt our city. There are some good candidates running this election. Do not be lazy. Do the work and choose wisely.

    • Larry Rogers on September 8, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Little by little, place by place, the American left is figuring out what has to be done. You start at the bottom and work your way up. Robbie sees this is working and is fearful, and rightfully so. Hard work beats big bucks. Go Bernie et al.

      • Rob W on September 8, 2016 at 2:16 pm

        So arrogantly wrong Larry. I am a liberal and have probably been following Bernie Saunders for years before you knew the name. Try reading Mayor Butts comments on the BGC and the Campus spokesperson who backed him up. If you can contain your arrogance long enough perhaps the point will not continue to be lost on you.
        Good luck.

        • 510AreaBrainStudent on September 11, 2016 at 3:57 am

          Rob W, your claim of being a long-time follower of Bernie Sanders is somewhat weakened by your inability to correctly spell his name.

          • Rob W on September 11, 2016 at 11:31 am

            Been listening to Bernie Saunders on Thom Hartmans radio program since Hartman took over Al Frankens spot on Air America. It was called Breakfast with Bernie, look it up.That was some years ago and some time before your knee jerk follow the crowd awareness of him I’m sure.
            Thanks for making my point for me by being a perfect example of what I’m talking about yourself Larry. I suggest since all you got is to spell check me your time would be better spent educating yourself. Good luck with that!

        • Linda F. on September 17, 2016 at 6:27 pm

          Rob W, You’ve been following SAUNDERS? No wonder you don’t seem to understand the affinity with the RPA. We’ve been following S-A-N-D-E-R-S!

          Also, Dirks’s “bold” idea for the RIchmond Global Campus never had legs because it never had funding. From the beginning I kept saying “Show me the money” and there was none. Some bold idea!

  2. Chris Darling on September 11, 2016 at 7:39 am

    Yay! Without the RPA, Chevron would still run this town like they did when I moved here in 1998. I urge everyone to support Willis and Choi.

    • Rob W on September 11, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      That’s exactly the type of simplistic inaccurate statement I’m talking about. First of all,it’s the City Manager is who actually runs the town. And lately I keep running into RPA dittoheads who keep trying to take credit for things that should rightly be credited to Bill Lindsay, like his forsight to hire Chief Magnus for example. Also, it’s very insulting to the many good people who have been involved in good works around Richmond for decades, to insinuate that all was evil around here till the RPA showed up.
      Chevron was is and is going to be a major influence in Richmond for years to come like it or not. They have always been a part of the town. They do a lot of good also whether you understand that or not. For all the RPA has to say about Chevron, notice that they like need and spend their money regardless of their personal ideology.
      Having a block of dittohead extreme leftists controlling the City Council is a very bad idea in my opinion. History is replete with examples of why. Our country is best when we have a range of ideas and opinions freely expressed. The problem with the RPA is that only their opinions are judged “correct” and they are not open to others. They refuse to see or admit when they make mistakes, like with the Berkeley Global Campus. This is more like the actions of a fringe cult and not something we want running our city council. Choose wisely this election people. They are other liberal minded candidates running who will not be beholden to RPA group think or pressured to follow their affiliates party line. That would better serve the interests of the citizens of Richmond. Think about it .

      • Zak Wear on September 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

        Rob can’t be more wrong. If it weren’t for a progressive movement of grassroots organizing, sustained for the last 12 years, our city government would still be controlled by refinery-sponsored officials.

      • D. Norie on September 20, 2016 at 1:43 pm

        very well scripted replies Rob W. and persistent…as if it was your paid job description to sway folks.

  3. D. Norie on September 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    looks like the trained tea rolls have infiltrated everywhere…adamantly attacking the unpaid actively awakening people…good job for sussing it out in person. Bernie is the best.

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