For the past 8 years the city of Richmond, California has had a progressive mayor and a majority on the City Council that has thought globally while acting locally. During this time Richmond, led by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, has become a city that is immigrant-friendly, promoted diversity and has reached out in solidarity with the people of the world, especially Latin Americans.
In 2007, the Mayor of Richmond organized a campaign for visas for two of the wives of the Cuban Five who were being denied entry visas from the U.S. government to visit their husbands in prison. Twelve other California mayors joined McLaughlin in this effort sending a letter to then U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In April 2009 the City Council of Richmond unanimously passed a resolution asking for the freedom of the Five, the right of family visits and the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. The city of Richmond also enjoys a vibrant Sister City Project with Regla, Cuba.
Fire in 2012 at the Chevron refinery in Richmond
But Richmond is also home to a huge refinery owned and operated by Chevron Oil that has done everything in its power to turn the city into a company town complete with its own government. The history of Chevron in Richmond has been one of complete corporate apathy for the health and safety of the residents. The most recent, in a long list of serious fires at their refinery, was in 2012 when toxic smoke sent 15,000 people fleeing to local hospitals seeking treatment for respiratory problems. Chevron eventually had to pay a fine. At the same time as the settlement, however, the Mayor and City Council decided to file its own law suit, accusing Chevron of “a continuation of years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs.” Fourteen other incidents of toxic gas releases from the refinery since 1989 were cited in the filing.
During the recent elections, in retaliation against a city government that implemented the highest minimum wage in the San Francisco Bay Area, among many other community-oriented social improvements, Chevron launched a negative smear campaign against McLaughlin and the progressive slate running for mayor and the city council seats. Chevron came up with its own slate of candidates who they orchestrated and promoted financially. It is important to mention that none of the Richmond progressive candidates accepted any money from corporations.
Due to term limits Gayle was not able to run again for mayor but was one of those on the progressive slate for city council. Chevron’s campaign was filled with lies and slander against Gayle that included a stopgayle.com blog. One of the main attacks against her was for her long standing solidarity with Cuba and the Cuban 5.
Parliamentary participants at the 3rd “5 Days for the Cuban 5” in Washington, D.C. from left to right, Aracely Ferreyra, Argentina; Hugo Gutierrez, Chile; Renato Simoes, Brazil; moderator Vania Ramirez, Sweden; Mayor Gayle McLaughlin of RIchmond, CA and Damian Alegria, El Salvador. Photo Bill Hackwell
This past June Gayle McLaughlin proudly attended the third “5 Days for the Cuban 5” in Washington DC, speaking at a media teleconference with Rene González and Fernando González who are back in Cuba after serving out their entire prison sentences. She also joined people from 31 countries who lobbied Congress asking for the release of the remaining three; Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández. It was this solidarity that Chevron thought they could use against her, but they were wrong.
Despite throwing $3 million into a dirty campaign to defeat Gayle and the other progressives, the people of Richmond saw through the hate and the lies by rejecting Chevron and electing the entire progressive slate including Gayle who received the most votes.
The results of this last election is a victory for the city of Richmond, for the cause of the Five and for all peace loving people of the world.