Gayle McLaughlin at one time had a fairly high profile as the two-term Green Party mayor of Richmond, from 2007 to 2015.
In 2012, The New York Times described Richmond, a bayside city of some 110,000 people, as an "unlikely vanguard for anticorporate, left-wing activism ... having seized the mantle" from traditional progressive havens like Berkeley. McLaughlin lived up to her Green Party billing, in part by becoming a major antagonist of Chevron, which operates a refinery in the city. McLaughlin, who is no longer a Green Party member, also did a stint on the City Council from 2015-17 and ran for California lieutenant governor in 2018, drawing over a quarter of a million votes.
Now, it looks like McLaughlin, 68, will be returning to the Richmond City Council, one that will have a strong progressive bent. At last count she had gained about 52% of the vote in the race for the District 5 seat, and McLaughlin told KQED's Julie Chang on Thursday that Ahmad Anderson, who is in second place, had already called her to offer his congratulations.
Below are excerpts from Chang's interview with McLaughlin, edited for length and clarity.
Why did you feel the need to run for City Council this election?
Gayle McLaughlin: I ran to get Richmond back on track. I mean, we saw that the current mayor and the current council majority were making things worse for regular working families in Richmond. So I really felt it was important that we got our progressive direction cemented in Richmond so we could help.
Our working families are struggling — the residents, who are a wonderful, diverse community with a lot of challenges given we have Chevron in our backyard, given we have a lot of low-income families.
What are some things that you want to tackle right away?
McLaughlin: I want to tackle things like the many unhoused people we have, finding a safe place like a transitional village where people can set up their tents or their vehicles and perhaps some structures the city could build with services, so those without homes can get their lives back on track.
We want to address permanent affordable housing. We want to reimagine public safety. We want to really reassert pressure on Chevron. We want to show them that they need to be accountable and we need their pollution to stop. They need to pay their fair share of taxes.
And we want to protect renters and homeowners from foreclosure once the moratorium from the pandemic is lifted.
How would you describe Chevron's relationship with Richmond?
McLaughlin: Chevron is a major multinational corporation that is extremely powerful and makes billions of dollars in profits every year. And it causes Richmond the brunt of the pain and suffering from its pollution. You know, our kids shouldn't have to be dealing with inhalers when they're in school. Ultimately, we would like them to decommission the refinery.
Chevron taxes make up a big portion of the city's general fund. If it were to shut down, would that be a big problem?
McLaughlin: That is something we have considered, and I'm working with some environmental justice groups on it.
We want to set up a task force where we bring Chevron into negotiations and discussions about decommissioning the refinery in a phased way over the next 10, 15 years. We want them to understand that we have paid the brunt while they have been reaping the profits. We think they should pay more so that we have time to start diversifying our economy. We want to work with them.
Chevron did not respond to a request for comment.
Chang also spoke with Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who, you might guess from McLaughlin's criticism of him, did not support her or some of the other progressives who are poised to win seats. Butt said he had "major differences" with the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which was co-founded by McLaughlin and has now placed four of its members on the seven-member City Council.
Butt said the new bloc of progressives will likely slow down economic and housing development. As for Chevron, he said, "Everybody almost who's either on or been on the City Council recently, you could classify him as a critic of Chevron, including me."
But, he said, it was part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance's "schtick" to "talk about how they're going to run Chevron out of town and close Chevron down. And you know, at the end of the day these things are not really going to happen."
Butt said that if Chevron "disappeared tomorrow and took their tax revenue with them, Richmond would be in bad, bad shape."
— Jon Brooks (@jbrooksfoy)