Elections Reshape Richmond’s Leadership

By Abené Clayton | Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small  |  Updated 11.29.18

Richmond’s voters elected two new city councilmembers and a pair of new school board members, creating significant change in the city’s political landscape.

Mayor Tom Butt will retain his position after beating Vice Mayor Melvin Willis. Willis was one of three candidates supported by the Richmond Progressive Alliance for council seats. Of the other two, incumbents Ada Recinos and Eduardo Martinez, only Martinez will remain on the dais.

The election also brought to an end the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s supermajority on the city council. Before the election, five members were part of the RPA: Jovanka Beckles, Ben Choi, Martinez, Willis and Recinos. Now, Beckles and Recinos are out, to be replaced by Richmond’s youngest and it appeared at press time, one of the city’s most senior councilmen.

25-year-old Demnlus Johnson received almost 12 percent of votes, more than any other contender. As of this writing when county officials are still counting ballots, the unofficial vote tally shows two-time Richmond mayor and seven-time councilmember Nat Bates, 87, leading in the race for the third seat, ahead of Vinay Pimplé by 20 votes and Cesar Zepeda by 73 votes.

The RPA’s loss is not the only major demographic shift on the city’s governing board. The addition of Johnson and the return of Bates (Pimplé or Zepeda) creates an all-male Richmond Council in a city that is about 51 percent female an 49 percent male, according to Richmond’s most recent fact sheet.

Without Recinos and Beckles, the official body will also be without any Spanish-speaking members, whereas 35 percent of the city’s families speak the language in their homes.

Another local governing body seeing notable change is the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s board, which will also receive two new members. District teacher Stephanie Hernandez-Jarvis (who received the most votes of the 13 candidates) and retired teacher Consuelo Lara joined incumbent board president Valerie Cuevas in the winner’s circle.

That puts three Latinas on the five-member county school board. The settlement of a lawsuit filed earlier this year against the district means the new board members will only hold their seats for two years instead of the usual four.

Richmond voters also decided on Measures H and T. Measure H, which passed by a wide margin, is a transfer tax on properties valued at $1 million or more. The measure was created and backed by Richmond’s RYSE center. The revenue is meant to fund Kids First Richmond, which was approved by voters in May and was originally to be funded by a soda tax.

Measure T, a vacant parcel tax that was meant to fund services to decrease blight and support the city’s homeless population, failed by a 17-percent margin. The measure required a two-thirds majority to pass.

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