Will Shawn Dunning be Richmond’s next mayor?
on October 12, 2022
Richmond Confidential posed the same questions to mayoral candidates Nathaniel Bates, Shawn Dunning, Eduardo Martinez and Mark Wassberg. Their answers are being presented verbatim, in the order they were received, with light editing, where necessary, for brevity.
Today’s Q&A is with Shawn Dunning.
Where are you from, and how many years have you lived in Richmond?
A: I was born in San Francisco, and I grew up outside the small town of Colfax, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Since going off to college, I’ve traveled the world and gone back and forth between the Bay Area and the East Coast, having worked for both nonprofit and private-sector organizations. I’ve lived in Richmond since 2016.
In no more than 200 words, why are you running for mayor?
A: In recent years, Richmond has become a microcosm of the US in terms of political polarization. I want to bring my conflict resolution and collaborative problem-solving skills and experience to bear in slowing the pendulum of party politics before it turns into a wrecking ball. We don’t have to see eye to eye on everything to make progress, but we DO need to work together. I feel that our current political leaders have not been doing that. Instead, when it comes to divisive issues like police funding, rent control, and environmental causes, well-meaning leaders often alienate a significant portion of the population by their seemingly unilateral decision-making and block voting. They ought to invite all relevant stakeholders for problem-solving. My entire candidacy is based on the principle of getting everyone to the table without anyone owning the table. For example, even though I agree with some of the goals of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), I’m concerned about the apparent lockstep voting of the four RPA- sponsored Councilmembers. It’s time that our elected officials listen, consult with, and represent all 116,000 residents of Richmond rather than representing a special-interest group.
What qualifies you for this job?
A: Politics as usual is not working, so I am offering a new way. Making Richmond better – safe, clean, and fair for all – will require everyone at the table to build a future we will all be proud of. My education (BA in Speech Communication, MS in Conflict Analysis & Resolution) and career in conflict resolution, collaborative problem-solving, and leadership development has prepared me to take on the challenges we face. I have what it takes to be the next Mayor of Richmond. My 20-year career in solving conflicts and developing collaborative leaders all over the world has taught me we can achieve just about anything when we work together. As Global Director of Leadership & Training for Search for Common Ground, the world’s largest peace-building organization, I helped build positive relationships between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. With Congressman John Lewis as my mentor, I facilitated conversations on race amongst leaders in Congressional districts in CA, LA, and NC. As Senior Facilitator, Director, and COO for a private sector firm, I served thousands of clients in dozens of fields, including preparing the US Antarctic Program’s South Pole Crew for 9 months in isolation. Having run over 500 miles through every neighborhood in Richmond, I have demonstrated my dedication and ability to listen, respond, and confidently represent the majority of the people of Richmond. In another time and place, I would not be a relevant candidate, but given the conflict and division in today’s Richmond, I’m the best qualified candidate to take on the task of building unity while solving problems.
What are your top three priorities if you become mayor, and what would you do to accomplish them?
A: After having run 400 miles through every neighborhood of Richmond to hear from over 4,000 people about what THEY believe the priorities should be, I have heard the people loud and clear. I aim to work toward a Richmond that is:
1) Safe – where everyone belongs, feels that their basic needs are met, and knows that help is on the way when they need it. From mental health support to police response and traffic enforcement, our community needs increased services. From those currently unhoused to those in wealthy neighborhoods, everyone deserves to feel safe.
2) Clean – where residents and visitors feel welcomed by a clean environment, breathable air, and streets and sidewalks free of trash.
3) Fair – where elected leaders listen to, include, and represent the diverse set of stakeholders in Richmond communities when it comes to policymaking. At the root of solutions for these goals, in addition to more collaborative leadership, we need to work toward economic vitality. Given that roughly half of our city revenue comes from businesses, and given that we have lots of space for new development, we should do everything possible to attract and support healthy business growth as well as build more housing. As mayor, I will invite everyone to the table to get things done, starting with renegotiating the Measure U business tax rates to levels that make sense.
What is the first big issue you would tackle?
A: Polarization. In order to make significant progress, opposing leaders need to start working together more effectively. That’s why my first order of business will be to convene a retreat for stakeholder leaders in order to build trust across divisions and develop a plan for more effective collaboration. The ongoing process, likely to take several meetings, will include leaders from the nonprofit sector, elected officials, city staff, and community.
What do you want people to know about you and your campaign?
A: I want people to understand that what I’m talking about is not theoretical; it’s based on firsthand experience. Collaborative leadership can work. Remarkable people all over the world have shown me that it is possible to transform conflict into solutions, but leaders need to hold the space for collaboration to work. Richmond has the most extraordinary amount of potential of any Bay Area city, and I believe we can forge a future that we can ALL be proud of. My campaign is about inviting everyone to the table.
Coming Thursday, a Q&A with Nat Bates.
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