“For many of us, Mayor Butt represents politics as always”: Richmond reacts to Butt’s decision to leave public life

There was a time when most Richmond voters would have been disappointed with Mayor Tom Butt’s decision to make this term his last. That was before they voted on a list of progressives whose majority on the city council drowned out many of Butt’s opinions and initiatives.

“For many of us, Mayor Butt represents politics as usual: connected to the big companies, protection of big developers and from progressive taxation and social policy,” said Benjamin Mertz. “Richmond is a majority minority city. We are diverse and work great. This older, powerful, long-established white man no longer represents the city. I never had the feeling that he understood those of us who walk these streets. “

In an interview with Richmond Confidential last month, Butt, 77, announced that he will no longer run for public office after his term ends in early 2023. This ended a 27-year political career that included two terms as mayor. Some see Butt as a pillar rather than a fixture in the community and hoped that he would stay in office for many years to come.

“Tom shouldn’t be wasting his talent in Richmond,” said Richard Katz, Butt’s neighbor in Point Richmond, a week before Butt broke the news. “I want him to run for higher office. I want him to run for governor of the state of California. “

Councilor Gayle McLaughlin won’t be sad if Butt leaves the council. His most valuable political legacy is the stance he took at the beginning of his public life, especially against the influence exerted by the city’s largest employer, the Chevron Refinery, she said.

“Unfortunately, Tom soon – especially after becoming mayor – gave up this stance and many promises, joined the business as usual camp and increasingly faced a growing progressive movement determined to reduce pollution and chevron and making others pay their fair share of taxes. “Our city,” added McLaughlin, a former Richmond mayor who co-founded the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

Reimagine Richmond, who is allied with the RPA, was more direct after hearing that Butt was not running for another office: “Good because we have work,” the organization wrote on Instagram

In recent years the RPA has been bitterly against Butt, and after the last elections its members occupied the majority of the council seats, so that Butt has lost many votes. From the mayor’s point of view, the RPA is “obsessed” with derailing its agenda.

“In a way, they’re either not interested in it, or they’re against everything else that has to do with a successful city,” he said. “They don’t like business. They don’t like corporations. They don’t like someone who has money. You are against living. Many of the things that are crucial to a city just stand opposite them. “

In 2018, Butt was re-elected after a controversial campaign by defeating RPA-backed challenger Melvin Willis. He also had a particularly strained and hostile relationship with Claudia Jimenez, a member of the RPA steering committee, which was among the candidates to sweep the city council in 2020.

Jimenez did not respond to Richmond Confidential’s request to comment on Butt’s impending departure.

In recent months, Butt has been cornered even more after his unsuccessful attempt to get rid of City Manager Laura Snideman and City Attorney Teresa Stricker. He accused them of using unauthorized tax dollars to investigate whether he directed the city business to his architectural firm – a claim that was not made public and that Butt denies.

The only person on the city council who is often on Butt’s side is Nat Bates – who ran for mayor’s office in 2014 and lost to Butt. Chevron had backed Bates and spent about $ 3 million getting him and other candidates to run. Butt walked a comparable fine line, a David to Bates’ Goliath.

“Tom worked hard. He did a lot for the city [that] a lot of people don’t know or honestly appreciate it, ”said Bates. “He worked hard to make Richmond a better city.”

Richmond Confidential reached all city council members through their official emails. Only Bates and McLaughlin answered.

Butt, an architect by profession, kept trying to build new housing units in Richmond, a city that is experiencing an acute housing crisis similar to the rest of the Bay Area. While his willingness to ignore environmental concerns has been criticized, his image as a proponent of housing has also earned him admirers.

Joe L. Fisher, a broker and president of the Coronado Neighborhood Council, said Butt had served with integrity and transparency and was missing.

“His entire family has shown nothing but true love for the city of Richmond,” said Fisher.

Butt’s son Andrew, who is also an architect, previously served on Richmond commissions and boards, as did Butt’s wife, Shirley. His son Daniel is a local lawyer. Tom and Shirley Butt moved to Richmond in 1973 after Butt graduated with an architecture degree and served in Vietnam. He continues to work at Interactive Resources, the company he founded in Richmond nearly 50 years ago.

Over the years, Butt has become more associated with politics than its craft. And he’s been an elected official for more than a quarter of a century.

Even so, some residents like Mertz found him out of reach. Marco Lemus, an official at the purely voluntary Richmond farm Urban Tilth, shares a similar opinion.

“I just wish he would get together with other volunteers and get their hands dirty more often without a camera,” he said.