[Marxism] ZCommunications | The Progressive City on the Bay (And It’s Not Berkeley or S.F.) by Steve Early | ZNet Article

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 16 07:21:21 MDT 2013

When we sat down to talk with 60-year old Gayle McLaughlin, the mayor of 
Richmond, Calif., she had just been through a summer media whirlwind. 
Policy innovation and political controversies landed McLaughlin and her 
East Bay city of 100,000 on the front page of The New York Times, on 
MSNBC with Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, and on Democracy Now with Juan 
González and Amy Goodman. Even Fox News recently hosted a debate between 
two Richmond city council members about the merits of a new “ban the 
box” ordinance passed to ease the re-entry of former prisoners into the 

The national media’s rediscovery of Richmond began last fall when the 
Times informed an unsuspecting world that McLaughlin’s “small, 
blue-collar city best known for its Chevron refinery has become the 
unlikely vanguard for anticorporate, left-wing activism in recent years, 
having seized the mantle from places like Berkeley, just south of here, 
or San Francisco, across the Bay.”

Since 2007, Richmond has approved a business tax increase and defeated a 
casino development scheme; opposed Immigration & Customs Enforcement 
raids in the city and created a municipal ID card to aid the 
undocumented; sought fair property taxation of Chevron and sued the 
giant oil company over the damage done by a huge refinery fire and 
explosion last year; and supported “community policing” initiatives 
introduced by Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus, which have helped 
reduce violence.

In 2012, Richmond progressives failed to win voter approval for a 
penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, a public health measure bitterly 
opposed by the beverage industry. And since Richmond became the first 
city in the country to threaten the use of eminent domain to avert 
foreclosures, major banks have sued to block the plan and some investors 
have shunned the city’s municipal bonds. Homeowners without mortgage 
problems have been flooded with banking-industry funded mailers claiming 
that their property values will be adversely affected. At a Sept. 10 
meeting attended by 300 people, the city council voted, by a 4 to 3 
margin, to resist these pressures and pursue McLaughlin’s 
anti-foreclosure initiative. (Actual use of the city’s eminent domain 
powers will require five council member votes.)

While the outcome of the anti-foreclosure fight has yet to be decided, 
the city’s expanded bike lanes, urban garden network, public art 
displays and worker co-op initiatives are all flourishing. On August 3, 
a crowd of 2,500, joined by McLaughlin, marched to the Chevron refinery 
gates in the largest environmental justice protest in Richmond’s history.

We asked McLaughlin about her own background and the recent changes in a 
city better known, in the past, for its problems with drugs, crime, 
gangs and industrial pollution.

How did you first get involved in politics?

McLaughlin: I was born into a working-class family; my dad was a union 
carpenter and my mom worked in factories and as a housewife. Most of the 
work that I had done prior to coming to Richmond [in 2000] was for 
causes that had a national and international focus. I was involved in 
the Central American solidarity movement and campaigns against racism 
and sexism and for education and jobs. I decided once I moved here that 
it was time to put down roots and get involved in local work.


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