By Tara Siler and Molly Samuel
Chevron is once again wading into Richmond city politics. The oil giant is funding billboards in support of mayoral candidate Nat Bates. His main rival is fellow City Councilman Tom Butt, a frequent critic of Chevron.
The corporation is also supporting people running for City Council.
KQED’s Tara Siler spoke with Robert Rogers, a reporter with the Bay Area News Group who is covering the Richmond elections.
In his story in the Contra Costa Times, Rogers says Butt is in the unaccustomed role of underdog in the race — at least when it comes to the support Bates may be able to tap:
Bates’ most recent campaign disclosure forms show that he had $22,235 on hand as of June 30. But that is just loose change compared with the more than $1.7 million sitting in a campaign committee called Moving Forward, described in documents as “a coalition of labor unions, small businesses and public safety and firefighter associations, (with) major funding by Chevron.”
All of the money came from Chevron, according to the campaign documents.
“Chevron and Nat Bates have a long and fruitful, from their perspectives, history together,” Rogers told Siler. Bates has been on the Richmond City Council on and off since 1967. “He is the longest tenured by far public official in the city of Richmond and has always been a supporter — and recipient of support from — Chevron.”
But that relationship is a double-edged sword, says Rogers.
“Particularly as the city has sort of moved away from its biggest employer and biggest taxpayer, and has more and more misgivings about the activities that Chevron has in town. Other candidates run against Chevron, actively, and they find that sometimes to be a profitable approach.”
Chevron is also supporting three people who are running for seats on the seven-member council: Charles Ramsay, the school board president, former Councilwoman Donna Powers, and Al Martinez, whom Rogers describes as a “relative unknown.”
“The big mystery is not whether Chevron is going to support Nat Bates and how successful they’ll be,” says Rogers. “The big question is what their money will do for these council candidacies. Because in the city of Richmond, the mayor has relatively few powers beyond a council member. They are just one vote on a seven-member council.”
What, exactly, is coming up on Chevron’s agenda in Richmond is an open question.
Chevron’s plan for a $1 billion upgrade to its refinery was passed by the council last month.
“The modernization plan was a major hurdle, and Chevron passed it,” said Rogers. “What they foresee as being an issue in which their interests could perhaps be decided by the council is relatively unknown.”