First it was Big Oil: Chevron, Richmond’s largest employer (and biggest polluter), which Gayle McLaughlin has made a regular habit of holding accountable — most notably in 2010, when the city wrested a $114 million tax settlement out of the oil giant, and in 2013, when it sued for damages stemming from a massive refinery fire. Then it was Big Soda: the American Beverage Association, which McLaughlin and other members of the city’s progressive wing went to bat against two years ago by attempting to levy a per-ounce tax on sugary beverages (the measure lost narrowly at the ballot box after the soda companies dumped millions into an anti-tax campaign). And then last year, McLaughlin went up against the biggest Big of ’em all — the American banking system, whose predatory loans and unethical (and in some cases, illegal) practices left thousands of Richmonders broke, debt-ridden, and scared. The city’s plan to use eminent domain to seize underwater homes from the banks is currently stalled after a legal challenge and conservative opposition, but its impacts are being felt across the nation as other cities contemplate similar programs — and McLaughlin is being heralded as an example for progressive-minded city mayors everywhere.
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