RICHMOND -- Longtime West Contra Costa school board trustee Charles Ramsey announced in an email to supporters Monday that he is withdrawing from the race to be Richmond's next mayor and will instead run for City Council, triggering a seismic shift in the race.
"After careful thought and consideration, I believe I can be more effective and get more things done as a council member rather than as Mayor," Ramsey wrote.
The announcement, which was rumored for months but denied by Ramsey and his backers, comes on the heels of a resounding rejection in June of a $270 million school construction bond ballot measure that Ramsey had championed.
Ramsey's exit from the mayor's race opens up the field for the three remaining front-runners and makes the race for four open City Council seats in November more competitive.
In addition to Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who is termed out and running for a council seat, incumbents Jovanka Beckles, Jim Rogers, Corky Boozé and Jael Myrick will all seek re-election.
"I'm disappointed," said Councilman Tom Butt, who endorsed Ramsey for mayor. "He told me within the week that he was still running. I thought he could win."
With Ramsey out, the mayoral field narrows to three front runners: Longtime Councilman Nat Bates, Richmond Progressive Alliance member Mike Parker and Uche Uwahemu, a local business owner and community leader.
Sources close to both camps have said that Bates hoped to dissuade Ramsey from running because the two might split votes, paving the way for Parker or Uwahemu to win. Both Bates and Ramsey have strong backing from big business and unions, with Bates being a consistent favorite of Chevron Corp., which runs a massive refinery in the city. Parker, a progressive candidate, eschews any corporate donations.
RPA leader McLaughlin won both her mayoral elections in part because of similar scenarios in which two better-funded candidates split the same voting blocs.
Bates greeted the news with a shrug, saying he is "focused on winning, period."
"My focus has always been upon putting together a strong and winning campaign regardless of who the opposition may be," Bates said. "As we see in the World Cup soccer, one does not choose their opponents and the same is true in politics."
The news of Ramsey's move was met with a mix of concern, skepticism and joy on "the realRICH," a popular Facebook group focused on local news.
"Double-bonus," wrote Felix Hunziker, a local architect and Police Commission member. "Not splitting the vote means the progressives will have to give up that race, plus we avoid a hothead (for mayor) who will still be a formidable council candidate."
Millie Cleveland, a local union leader, wrote, "I think Chevron is concerned (Ramsey) and Bates will split votes."
Ramsey has reported more than $100,000 in campaign donations, mostly from labor and building firms that benefitted from the more than $1 billion in school construction bonds he helped pass over the last decade. First elected to the school board in 1993, Ramsey has had well-publicized outbursts in which he publicly berated parents, a teacher, union leaders and school board candidates, building a reputation as a brash and sometimes out of control leader.
The RPA, which has dominated local politics with their pro-environment, pro-labor agenda for years, faces a tall challenge in the mayor and council races, which are sure to draw big money from the business community, led by Chevron. The RPA is running a four-person slate dubbed "Team Richmond," with McLaughlin, Beckles and new candidate Eduardo Martinez running for council and Parker running for mayor.
"(Ramsey's decision) raises some new challenges for the RPA's slate, for sure," Butt said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.