RICHMOND -- Mayor Gayle McLaughlin will run for a City Council seat in November, and the editor of her political organization's newsletter will run to replace her as the city's mayor, according to a Richmond Progressive Alliance announcement Thursday.
The RPA also announced it will support the candidacies of incumbent Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez, who narrowly lost a race for council in 2010, saying the four-person slate dubbed "Team Richmond" is committed to "Richmond's remarkable transformation during a decade of progressive policies spearheaded by McLaughlin."
Five of seven City Council seats are up for election in 2014, spelling a potential seismic shift in the composition of city government, which since 2010 has been dominated by RPA leaders and their progressive-leaning allies, a coalition that has helped pass a ban on plastic bags, open new marijuana dispensaries, sue Chevron for the 2012 refinery fire, quash casino-development plans and advance a broad progressive agenda in the historically industry-dominated town.
"Every election is a big deal," said Councilman Tom Butt, one of two members not facing re-election. "But this one is going to feature some tough races, and we'll see where we are when the dust settles."
Mike Parker enters a potentially tight three-way battle for mayor with West Contra Costa school board President Charles Ramsey and City Councilman Nat Bates. Incumbents Beckles, Jael Myrick, Jim Rogers and Corky Boozé are all expected to run for re-election. Council seats held by Bates and Tom Butt are not up for re-election.
Parker was born in Cleveland but has been a force in Richmond grass-roots organizing for years. Known as a fierce and loquacious advocate for RPA causes, Parker routinely speaks at public meetings in a booming voice and sometimes caustic style toward more conservative council members such as Boozé and Bates. He also pens lengthy news articles and essays on the RPA website and in e-letters to subscribers.
In recent years, he has been a prominent voice opposing casino-development proposals at Point Molate and supporting controversial measures such as the failed local ballot measure to tax sugar-sweetened beverages.
Asked why he chose to run, Parker said he wants to continue the city's progressive direction, which he called "an example to the whole country."
Parker's critics say he is an ideologue who is too irascible and inexperienced to lead the city.
"I'm shocked that this guy is running," said Boozé, who has had numerous clashes with Parker in recent years. "This guy can't work with anybody who doesn't see things his way."
Parker disagreed, saying his work as a political organizer makes him well-suited for office.
"I've spent most of my life organizing people to participate in politics," Parker said. "You work with people who are close to you and finding ways to work with people who are further away on issues on which you agree."
Parker, 73, has never run for political office before. He moved to Point Richmond in 2007 after a career as an electrician for Ford, Chrysler and other companies linked to the auto industry.
He holds degrees in political science from the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley, where he earned a master's degree in 1965.
McLaughlin said he is the man to lead the city and continue the course she helped set.
"Running for office was the last thing on my mind before I first ran 10 years ago," McLaughlin said. "When it becomes clear that your voice and skills are needed in the arena, there are those of us that are willing to step up, and Mike is ready."
McLaughlin, 61, has served two terms of often-tumultuous times as the city's mayor thanks to narrow victories in three-way races in 2006 and 2010. McLaughlin's surprising victory in 2006 -- when she defeated incumbent Irma Anderson -- made Richmond the largest city in the country to be run by a Green Party mayor. McLaughlin said she leaned toward retiring from public office until recent weeks, and that Chevron, a major spender in local politics and McLaughlin's longtime foil, helped convince her to come back by buying up billboard advertisements all over the city.
"It's clear that Chevron wants to take back our gains, and I have been committed to Richmond for too long to let it happen," McLaughlin said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.