The Richmond City Council meeting opened Tuesday night against the backdrop of a coordinated political attack on Mayor Gayle McLaughlin by the firefighter and police unions.
At a press conference immediately prior to the council meeting, McLaughlin publicly defended her ability to lead the city, against accusations that she is unfit for office because of a 2001 bankruptcy and her treatment for mental health problems. McLaughlin, the City Council and community members then filed into the council chamber for a brief and largely ceremonial meeting.
Nearly 100 people filled the chairs in the chamber, waiting for the public comment session that opens City Council meetings.
On Monday, Councilmember and rival mayoral candidate Nat Bates e-mailed McLaughlin’s 2001 bankruptcy filing to the media. The documents show that at the time, she had more than $100,000 of student debt and that she had been receiving Social Security disability payments for a “serious psychological” condition for about nine years.
Twelve of the 17 speakers used their 90 seconds to express support of the mayor and rebuke Bates.
“I have never seen such dirty politics in all my life,” said Richmond resident Jackie Thompson.
Some community members said that in light of the new revelations, the mayor was unfit to lead. When community member Antoine Cloy spoke, Bates sat up straight and looked directly at him. The mayor, Cloy said, “is teaching our kids to use the system by claiming disability.”
Ordained minister Michael Beer was one of several speakers who quoted the same Bible verse from the story of how Jesus stops a group of people from stoning a woman: “He that is without sin among you,” Beer recited, ”let him first cast a stone.”
“We are not concerned about what you did,” Beer told the mayor, “but what you’re doing.”
At one point, Richmond Police Commissioner Roberto Reyes asked Councilmembers Ludmyrna Lopez and Maria Viramontes to state what they thought about the issue. Lopez said she did not receive the e-mail and had no knowledge of it. Viramontes remained silent.
After everyone spoke, Bates replied to the accusations. “I didn’t do anything except read an e-mail and transfer it to a few friends,” he said. “We all do that all the time.”
“I will absolutely not respond,” said McLaughlin. “I already made my statement. That’s all I’m saying.”
Councilmembers then carried on with the agenda.
Among other actions, members voted unanimously to offer ceremonial support for a lawsuit against the State of California that demands that the current education finance system be declared unconstitutional and that schools be funded based on what it costs to meet state education mandates.
“The finance system,” said Councilmember Tom Butt, “is a very strange animal. We might see the day that everyone gets their constitutional right to the education they deserve. And I can tell you that it’s not happening right now.”
In another item of business, the council approved adding a new function to the city’s Human Rights and Human Relations Commission: the active promotion of a culture of peace in the city.