Longtime Richmond city councilmember Tom Butt has decided to run for mayor this year. Butt, a liberal who often votes with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), will square off against fellow councilmember Nat Bates, who is being backed heavily by Chevron. Butt has often taken a tough stance against the oil giant, which is both the largest polluter in the city and is Richmond's biggest private employer. Current mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a progressive who also has battled with Chevron over the years, is being termed out.
Butt, an architect and a nineeen-year veteran of the council, made his decision to run late Thursday night just in time for Friday’s filing deadline. “I have no money, no campaign manager and no organization,” the 70-year-old Butt said. “I’m going to have to crank it up, but I know how to do it. I’ve done it before.”
In addition, Mike Parker of the RPA has decided not to run for mayor this year. Parker had been the best hope for progressives in 2014. But with Butt's entrance in the race, he and Parker might have split liberal votes, allowing Bates to win.
Over the years, Butt has developed a reputation for being a good government politician and a leading advocate for preserving the Richmond waterfront's unique World War II history.
Butt said one of reasons he decided to run was because it's important for Richmond residents to have a clear political choice. “All anyone has to do is look at our voting records to see that we are pretty much 180 degrees opposed to one another politically,” Butt said of him and Bates. “This election is going to give residents a choice about where they want Richmond to go and how they want to get there.”
In a written statement, Parker said he decided to pull out of the race in order to help Butt’s chances to win. “My supporters and I determined that in this race the progressive vote would be split," Parker's statement reads. "We decided my time is better spent campaigning for our team of progressive candidates…”
Parker had recently criticized Butt for his part in negotiations with Chevron over its plans to upgrade the Richmond refinery. Chevron agreed to give the city $90 million over several years as part of the council’s agreement to approve the necessary permits to make refinery upgrades. Three councilmembers, Butt, Jael Myrick and Jim Rogers negotiated with Chevron lobbyist Eric Zell on how the money would be spent. The negotiations resulted in funding for green transportation projects and the Richmond Promise program. Championed by Myrick, the unique educational program will offer college tuition to any student who graduates from Richmond’s public high schools. However, Parker criticized Butt and the other two councilmembers because no money was directed to Doctors Medical Center, which is in the process of reducing services to patients due to a regular budget shortfall of $18 million a year.