With checks on political spending falling away left and right, the strength of our democracy was tested this election cycle. But voters proved that democracy is alive and well in Richmond. Chevron—whose 3,000-acre refinery in the town is the state’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter—spent close to 4 million dollars on political ads with the goal of packing the city council and mayor’s office with industry-friendly candidates. Avalanches of mailers, television spots, web ads, billboards, and canvassers targeted local progressive candidates who promised to hold Chevron accountable, and forced Richmond residents to endure one of the nastiest political smear campaigns in history. Despite negative reactions from the community, Chevron kept the lies flowing all the way to the end of Election Day.
The Bay Chapter endorsed a slate of progressive city council candidates who banded together as “Team Richmond”: termed-out mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, and Planning Commissioner Eduardo Martinez. Martinez is a member of the Bay Chapter’s West Contra Costa County Executive Committee. The Club also endorsed Jael Myrick for a two-year term city council seat and Tom Butt for mayor.
Sierra Club members and supporters joined in the grassroots efforts to help Team Richmond defeat the corporate-backed candidates. We made phone calls, walked precincts, passed out slate cards, and put in as many hours as we could. And the hard work paid off: all five Sierra Club-endorsed candidates won, with McLaughlin, Beckles, and Martinez coming in first, second, and third place respectively; Myrick receiving 52% of the vote, with his closest competitor (Corky Booze) garnering only 31%; and Mayor-elect Butt taking 51% of the vote, with Chevron-backed Nat Bates coming a distant second with 35% of the vote.
Chevron’s campaign of lies only made Team Richmond stronger, helping to attract a loyal volunteer base that wanted a local government that would provide responsible oversight for the refinery’s 1-billion-dollar modernization project; aggressively pursue a lawsuit against the oil giant over the 2012 refinery fire; and generally provide strong oversight. Sierra Club member Victoria Stewart exemplified the passion of Team Richmond supporters, volunteering to knock on doors despite being in chemotherapy.
Richmond’s neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by the fossil fuel industry. The entire city lies in the blast zone of a potential oil-train explosion; our children breathe in the toxic emissions from the refinery; and our neighbors suffer the consequences when lax safety standards cause fires and other refinery accidents. Our newly-elected city government understands these threats and will work to correct them. Just a few weeks before the election, Mayor McLaughlin brought a resolution to the city council to formally denounce crude by rail and call upon the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to revoke Kinder Morgan’s permit for shipping highly explosive and toxic Bakken Shale oil into Richmond—a permit that was issued in secrecy. That same night, the candidates made stopping bomb trains and all fossil fuels by rail a priority cause. On election night, Richmond’s voters delivered five strong allies in the fight to turn away from our dependence on fossil fuels, and toward a safe and secure clean-energy future.