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Mayor Butt says he’s leaving public life after term ends

on September 16, 2021

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who has spent more than a quarter century in public office, said Thursday that he won’t run for office again after his term ends in January 2023.

“No, no, I’m done,” he told Richmond Confidential, when asked about his political future. “I have no plans to run for anything anymore when my term as mayor ends.”

“I have been doing this 26 years. It will be 27 by that time,” he added. “It’s a long time.”

The longest continuously serving council member in Richmond’s history, Butt has been on a collision course recently with his progressive colleagues, whose bloc—the Richmond Progressive Alliance — holds the majority. His relationship with top city officials including City Manager Laura Snideman and City Attorney Teresa Stricker also has soured, significantly constraining his ability to press ahead with his agenda.

“I’m pretty much a lame duck,” he said. “You know, I don’t have a City Council I can work with. I don’t have a city manager I can work with. Yeah, there’s really not a lot I can do.”

Butt, 77, is finishing his second term as mayor, and under the city charter, could not run for another term. But he could run for City Council, where he served for 20 years before becoming mayor.

A Vietnam veteran from Arkansas, Butt came to Richmond in 1973 and set up the architectural firm Interactive Resources. He was elected to City Council in 1995 and ran successfully for mayor in 2014. The mayoral election was seen as a David and Goliath contest, with Butt — then the progressive candidate — defeating Nathaniel Bates, whose campaign was heavily supported by Chevron’s Richmond refinery, the city’s largest employer and a recurring source of pollution. Butt made national headlines with the win and, for a time, enjoyed a honeymoon period on council.

Since his reelection in 2018, the political tides have turned, putting him at the losing end of many council votes. As Butt has moved more to the center, the council has shifted to the left, with the Richmond Progressive Alliance winning a majority in the last election. Ironically, Butt’s staunchest ally has been his former rival, Bates.

In the past few months, Butt has become even more isolated, after pushing unsuccessfully for the resignation of both the city manager and city attorney. He has accused them of using taxpayer money to investigate whether he steered city business to his architectural firm — a claim that hasn’t been made publicly and which Butt denies. The council voted 5-1-1 in June to retain Snideman and Stricker, with Butt casting the only negative vote.

In this 2014 file photo, Tom Butt (center), with his wife and campaign manager, reacts as unofficial election results show him winning Richmond’s mayoral seat.

Butt has taken a particular interest over the years in preserving Richmond’s history and has had a hand in rebuilding and preserving some of Richmond’s iconic historic sites — the Hotel Mac, the East Brother Lighthouse and the SS Red Oak Victory, among others. 

He has long been involved in the Richmond Rotary Club, Boy Scouts of America Herms District and many veterans’ causes. When the Richmond Unified School District declared bankruptcy in 1991 and closed the schools six weeks early, Butt and other parents successfully sued the state to keep the schools open.

Butt followed his father and grandfather into public service. His grandfather was the mayor of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a small city in the Ozark Mountains, and a state senator. His father was a longtime Arkansas judge. Butt’s public service started when he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1966, and he later served in Vietnam. That tradition of service carried into the next generation. Butt’s son, Andrew, who also is an architect, has served on Richmond commissions and boards, as has Butt’s wife, Shirley. His other son, Daniel, is a lawyer in Richmond.

After leaving office, Butt intends to keep working as an architect, saying, “There’s a great deal of satisfaction doing a project and seeing it completed and being able to move on to the next one.”

That, he said, is very different from politics, where “nothing ever gets completed.”

Editor Christine Schiavo contributed to this report.

4 Comments

  1. Ellen Seskin on September 18, 2021 at 10:23 am

    The article makes it sound like Tom won’t be doing anything to serve the city. He may not.hold an elected office, but he will continue all the things he has done over the years, not because it was part of his job, but because as a resident he cares. When Tom steps down, we will lose possibly the best political figure we’ve ever had, but we will never lose the legacy he built and will continue to build. His legacy many not have his name on it, but it will live on.

  2. Ursa on September 19, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Hallelujah! Leaving! So great!

    We are sick and tired of Tom King Butt’s machinations to destroy our shoreline (Point Molate and AstraZeneca), get his way via closed door sessions which violate the Brown Act, and make his developer and corporate friends happy as opposed to doing what is right for the people of Richmond.

    He also brought us Violia, a private corporation that runs our sewer systems. The property tax for “Richmond Sewer” is astronomical! Gee, thanks Tom Butt for bringing us a multinational corporation that cares only about profit.

    Yep, part of the “ol boy network”. That’s Tom King Butt.

    He can’t leave soon enough!

  3. Sandra Davenport on September 23, 2021 at 7:55 pm

    I shudder to think what will happen when Mayor Butt leaves. He’s provided a stable reasonable voice now surrounded by a council of nut cases. And that’s a complement. The current City Council is driving the city to bankruptcy, slashing the police force so the public has less safety, and channeling funds to their “buddies”, friends who run the agencies to whom they directed funds. Talk about corruption. You are correct. Councilperson Bates, Tom’s former opponent, is now his biggest backer. That’s the way it should be. We should be mature enough to see the issues and not the power plays behind it. The RPA needs to stop trying to save the world (or they “think” they are) and start saving our community that they are destroying.

  4. […] an interview with Richmond Confidential last month, Butt, 77, revealed that he won’t run for public office once his tenure ends in early 2023. That […]

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