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Election results: RPA loses grip, Mayor Butt re-elected

on November 6, 2018

By Betty Marquez Rosales, Edward Booth and Barbara Harvey

The Richmond Progressive Alliance appears to have lost its majority on the Richmond City Council, with early results indicating the election Tuesday of two candidates not affiliated with the left-leaning political group that has transformed city politics in recent years.

As of Wednesday afternoon, incumbent Eduardo Martinez, a member of the RPA, had enough votes to be re-elected for another term on the city council. But in the race for three open seats, the other two top vote getters were community worker Demnlus Johnson III and former mayor Nat Bates, neither endorsed by the RPA.  

Councilmember Ada Recinos, who is affiliated with the RPA, did not win election. And Jovanka Beckles, another councilmember supported by the political group, did not seek re-election in order to run for a state assembly seat against Buffy Wicks.

Under the RPA, the city has expanded rent control, halted oil giant Chevron’s control over city politics and pushed for housing developments to include more units of affordable housing.

If the initial results are confirmed, RPA candidates would no longer hold the majority on the city council that they won in recent years. Only three of the seven city councilmembers in the next term would be affiliated with the RPA.

As of Wednesday morning, 37 percent of registered voters ballots had been counted.  But the actual turnout wasn’t clear because there were many ballots still to be counted, including an estimated 151,000 sent by mail. In 2016, about 79 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

A final tally could be weeks away. The county has up to 30 days to report to the Secretary of State the final number of ballots cast, according to Contra Costa County election official Melissa Hickok.

Tuesday’s results also suggested incumbent mayor Tom Butt held on to his seat against his RPA-affiliated opponent Melvin Willis in his bid to serve a second term.

With all 63 precincts reporting, Butt held a lead of 57 percent of the vote to Willis’ 42 percent, with a 2,000-vote margin. At his watch party Tuesday night, where more than 30 people had gathered in the corner room of Point Richmond’s Brezo restaurant, Butt appeared comfortable with his substantial lead.

Jovanka Beckles, left, hugs Melvin Willis, right, at an election watch party at the Richmond Progressive Alliance headquarters on Tuesday night. (Photo by Meiying Wu)

“We have never worked harder, spent more money, made more phone calls, knocked on more doors,” he said.

“Thank you Richmond for allowing me to serve you for another term,” he said in a post Wednesday afternoon on Facebook.

In 2014, Butt ran for mayor on the same ticket as RPA-backed candidates, siding with their staunch anti-Chevron platform. Butt has since soured against the political group over philosophical differences on housing and law enforcement. The RPA supports expanding rent control, which Butt vehemently opposes.

In his second term, Butt is expected to continue his push to attract developers to Richmond. An architect by trade, the mayor was a staunch opponent of Proposition 10, the failed state measure that would have allowed individual cities to set their own rent control laws. The proposition was one of the main ideological drivers for Willis, who continues to work as an organizer for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a housing rights non-profit.

Willis, currently the vice mayor, will retain his current seat on the city council, and will be up for re-election in 2020.

The top vote-getter in the city council race, 25-year-old Johnson, is the youngest person ever elected to the city council. As of early Wednesday afternoon, he had received 4,852 votes, comprising 11.77 percent.

Richmond City Council candidate Demnlus Johnson III talks to supporters at his election night watch party late Tuesday. (Photo by Wesaam Al-Badry)

Martinez had taken in 11.2 percent, only 236 votes behind Johnson. Bates was a close third, with 10.82 percent of the vote.

Johnson, raised in the Iron Triangle in Richmond, ran an energetic campaign that resonated across the city. He was still awake at 3:19 a.m. Wednesday morning watching the results pour in on the country election page.

“We won! It’s confirmed!” he texted a Richmond Confidential reporter.

He said he planned to meet with city department leaders and go on a listening tour to better understand the city’s needs.  He added that his team is “looking to work with more like-minded individuals who are looking to make a change.”

The apparent defeat of Recinos, and Beckles’ decision to pursue the state assembly seat, leaves the city council without any female member during the next term. Recinos was the only Spanish speaker, and her departure leaves the council without any Spanish speaker in a city with a substantial Latino population.

Sue Wilson, a member of the RPA steering committee, said she was concerned about Recinos’ defeat, in part because the council would have no female members in the next term.

“I think we are all worse off not having Ada’s perspective on the council,” she said.

Asked how the change would affect Richmond, Wilson said the political group remained optimistic about the city’s future.

“We believe that this new city council will be able to do good work together,” Wilson said. “The overall direction of our city government in the last decade has been in the direction of progressive values, and that the RPA has played an important role in that.”

West Contra Costa Unified School District Board: Hernández-Jarvis top vote-getter
With three seats up for grabs in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, teacher Stephanie Hernández-Jarvis has won 14.54 percent of the votes counted so far. Incumbent Valerie Cuevas was the next highest vote-getter with 14.14 percent, and former teacher Consuelo Lara also looked likely to take a seat with 13.94 percent. Two incumbents, Madeline Kronenberg and Elizabeth Block, appeared to narrowly fail to secure seats, the initial votes indicated, with 100,329 votes counted in the race so far.

The school board winners would serve for two years, as opposed to the normal four, as a result of the district switching from an at-large voting system to a district-based one. This switch is expected to be implemented during the 2020 election, when all five school board seats will be open.

Measure FF adopted, funding East Bay Regional Park District.
Mail-in voters in Contra Costa County cast ballots overwhelmingly in favor of regional Measure FF, which will extend an expiring $1 per month parcel tax on properties in western Alameda and Contra Costa counties. With more than 32,000 votes counted, about 80 percent of voters approved the measure.

Measure H adopted to raise property transfer tax.
Sixty-three percent of voters supported passing Measure H. The measure would increase property transfer taxes on Richmond properties valued over $1 million. Currently, there’s a blanket 0.7 percent tax on the transfer of all properties. Properties valued between $1 million and $3 million would face a 1.25 percent tax, while owners of properties valued between $3 million and $10 million would see the tax rise to 2.5 percent. Properties with a value over $10 million would be taxed at 3 percent.

Measure T, the proposal to tax most vacant property, fails.
Fifty-eight percent of Richmond voters sought to pass Measure T but it failed to get the required two-thirds majority. The measure sought to place a tax on most vacant properties. The revenue would have funded homeless services and supported affordable housing, in addition to efforts to fight blight and illegal dumping.

Mara Kardas-Nelson, Christi Warren, Alex Nieves, Brandon Yadegari, Tessa Paoli and Ravleen Kaur contributed to this story.


  1. Tom McMahon on December 8, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Are the results for City Council finalized?

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