Willis’ and Choi’s City Council wins bring victory for RPA, Mayor Butt voices concern
on November 9, 2016
In what may be the biggest electoral victory in the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s 13-year history, the political group has won two more City Council seats—giving it a majority on the council.
RPA-backed candidates Melvin Willis and Ben Choi won 15 and 13.5 percent of the vote, respectively, leading the nine-candidate race for three open seats. Jael Myrick won re-election, with 12.9 percent of the vote.
“We get a chance to do everything we can to represent people in Richmond and make sure their issues and concerns are addressed,” Willis said Tuesday night at the RPA headquarters. “We just need the best public representatives we can have.”
Myrick could not be reached for comment.
Willis and Choi’s wins come two years after the RPA saw three of its members—Eduardo Martinez, Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles—elected to the council in a resounding defeat of several Chevron-backed candidates in the 2014 election.
In a post to the RPA website after her 2014 win, McLaughlin praised the victory, calling it a “historic election.”
At tonight’s RPA celebration in its MacDonald Avenue office, Martinez said that this was another big year for the group, and for the city, as an RPA majority on the council will allow a more progressive agenda to flow through City Hall.
“The City of Richmond is ready to move in a direction that is toward environmental and social justice,” Martinez said.
An RPA majority on the council will likely mean that the organization’s priorities, which include rent control, will be reflected in the new council’s policymaking, said RPA co-chair Marilyn Langlois. She added that raising Richmond’s minimum wage and supporting construction of more affordable housing will be among the group’s priorities.
Some—including Mayor Tom Butt—have voiced concern that, with a majority on the council, the RPA will have too much power.
“Essentially, they take over the City of Richmond. Game’s over,” Butt said, several days before the election. “They’ll run the city out of their headquarters on MacDonald Avenue.”
The RPA’s political platform is determined by a 22-person, member-elected steering committee that holds monthly meetings that are open to the public, said RPA co-chair Marcos Banales. Once the steering committee has reached an agreement, it issues policy recommendations, which are then voted on by RPA members at one of the organization’s four yearly meetings.
“People think we’re a very closed or elite organization—that’s just not true,” said Banales.
The group issued a statement Wednesday morning congratulating its candidates and addressing Butt’s concerns.
“RPA-supported councilmembers will also disagree with one another at times, and have amply shown they do not share a single mindset for casting votes,” the statement said. “They will not conspire behind closed doors about how to vote, and welcome input and open discussion from all sectors of the community.”
Even on the heels of a resounding victory, Langlois said there is still much work ahead for the RPA. Langlois said she expects pushback when combatting “entrenched” systems—from institutional racism to the forces behind environmental degradation.
“It’s not going to be this sudden, huge change,” she said. “There will still be a lot of challenges.”
Myrick who edged out former councilmembers Nat Bates and Jim Rogers, along with incumbent Vinay Pimplé. Myrick’s victory is a chance for him to continue his tenure on City Council. Myrick has served on the council since 2013, when he was appointed after the untimely death of councilmember Gary Bell. He was re-elected for a two-year term in 2014.
Historically, Myrick has been a swing vote on the Council, at times siding with RPA-backed councilmembers and at other times siding with Butt and the more “conservative” wing of the council.
In a surprising upset, incumbent Nat Bates lost his seat—which he had held for four straight terms—by just 526 votes. Bates was Richmond’s longest serving councilmember.
“I’ve had a beautiful, long-term experience as a councilmember,” Bates said. “I feel I’ve served with distinction and respect and I respect the voters’ decision one way or the other.”
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