A cheering, clapping crowd of more than 200 people filled Richmond’s City Council chambers Jan. 8 as the city swore in the mayor and three council members, ushering in a new era for the city’s politics.
Mayor Tom Butt was re-elected in the Nov. 6 election, as was Councilman Eduardo Martinez, while longtime Councilman Nat Bates returned to office after a four-year absence.
But the most applause was for 25-year-old Richmond native Demnlus Johnson III, who won a seat on his first try.
“This is a new era in the city of Richmond. We are poised for a lot of great changes,” Johnson said in an impassioned speech that drew repeated applause and yells of approval from his supporters in the standing-room-only crowd.
In addition to the fresh face on the City Council, the election brought about a major shift in the balance of power.
The Richmond Progressive Alliance no longer holds a supermajority. Before the election, five members of that political group held seats on the seven-member council. The RPA lost two seats in the election.
Also, the RPA’s mayoral candidate, Melvin Willis, lost to Butt, though Willis retained his council seat.
When the supermajority held sway on the council, meetings were contentious, often lasting past midnight. Members were characterized as resisting compromise.
“I’m looking forward to a City Council that is easier to work with,” Butt said in an interview. He served on the council for decades before becoming mayor in 2014. “The RPA was not willing to sit down and work through things.”
Martinez, a member of the RPA, fired back, “People who say that are looking at the RPA through an outdated political prism that has no concept of how an alliance works. The RPA makes compromises in policies, but never principles.”
Asked if he would approach council matters in a collaborative manner in 2019, Martinez said, “I hope so. I have always worked cooperatively with everyone on the council. Some people think, like (President Donald) Trump, if you don’t capitulate, you are not cooperating. That is a concept that needs to be put in the trash.”
Martinez, a retired West Contra Costa County Unified School District teacher, is one of the three remaining members of the political group on the council. Ben Choi, who was not up for re-election, and Willis, are the other two.
Council member Jael Myrick, who does not belong to the RPA, was not up for re-election in November. Bates, a City Council veteran and former mayor, returns to the council after being voted out in 2014. Bates is not in the RPA.
Butt said one of his top goals is “addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in Richmond by building more housing for all income levels and establishing a managed and serviced location for homeless people to stay temporarily in tents or RVs.”
He added, “The ultimate goal, of course, is to find permanent housing for everyone.”
In an interview, Johnson said, “These are goals I most definitely am interested in working toward. The housing and homeless situation is number one. We can’t service our way out of the problem. It’s going to take legislation and real leadership.
“We should treat housing and homelessness as equally important,” Johnson said.
The first-time council member said he is “most definitely” interested in building more housing for all income levels, and that finding permanent housing for all is his ultimate goal as well.
Johnson, whose family has lived in Richmond for decades, thanked his family and his campaign workers at length in a speech at the swearing-in. Bates also thanks his supporters at length.
Mindy Pines, a 10-year Richmond resident, said, “I’m excited about Demnlus, who brings youthful energy, Richmond roots, and genuine concern for the communities he is about to serve. I am hopeful for a council that is more interested in helping people of Richmond than espousing any particular ideology.”
Carolyn Wysinger, a teacher at Richmond High School who was born and raised in Richmond, commented, “I work with (Johnson). He is our community service outreach worker. The youth really trust him. He’s not just a talking head.”
The ceremony also included the presentation of service awards to Jovanka Beckles and Ada Recinos. Beckles, an RPA member, stepped down from her council seat in her failed run for the state Assembly in November, and Ada Recinos, another RPA member, failed to garner enough votes to retain her council seat.
Story originally published by Bay City News.