RICHMOND -- The city's always-raucous political season got a new jolt Friday with a shuffling mayoral race, as Richmond Progressive Alliance mayoral candidate Mike Parker bowed out and longtime Councilman Tom Butt confirmed that he would throw his hat in the ring.
"After five months of vigorous campaigning for the office of Richmond Mayor, I am withdrawing from the race," Parker wrote in a statement Friday. "My supporters and I determined that in this race, the progressive vote would likely be split (between Parker and Butt)."
Reached by phone Friday, Butt said he spoke with Parker that morning, then went to City Hall to officially file for his candidacy.
"Parker standing down took away some of my hesitations about running," Butt said. "I really appreciate what he did. It's hard for him. He and his friends have invested a lot of time and money in this campaign; it was difficult for him (to drop out), and I appreciate it."
The last-minute moves pave the way for a showdown between longtime council rivals Butt, a 70-year-old architect, and Nat Bates, 82, who has served on the council off and on since the 1960s and typically enjoys the backing of big business and public employee unions.
Observers say it's a matchup of two longtime heavyweights with no love lost, and the outcome could steer the city either toward the progressive direction it's been on for years or toward policies more amenable to Chevron and other industry groups, which back Bates. Both Bates and Butt live in Point Richmond, the city's tiny, elite enclave that's been home to many political leaders over the years.
"It will be a competitive race between the two most senior members of the council, who have very different styles and politics," said county Supervisor John Gioia, who added that Uche Uwahemu could exceed expectations.
Uwahemu, a 41-year-old Nigerian-born businessman, is also expected to run for mayor.
Bates could not be reached for comment Friday.
Butt said Friday he didn't want to run a "negative campaign" but didn't shy away from lobbing a critique at Councilman Corky Boozé, a Bates supporter.
"I think that the choice for Richmond voters will really boil down to style and political philosophy," Butt said. "I actually like Nat, and in many ways Nat's been a good council member. He doesn't misbehave like Corky. He respects decorum, has a great sense of humor and so forth. But his politics and mine are 180 degrees different."
Butt and Bates squared off for mayor in 2001, but both lost to Irma Anderson. Butt came in second, Bates third.
The city clerk's website confirmed Friday evening that three candidates would run for mayor and 13 for City Council.
Incumbents Boozé, Jim Rogers, Jovanka Beckles and Jael Myrick are all running for re-election. If Bates or Butt become mayor, a fifth seat will be filled either by council appointment or special election.
In a twist, three people are running for Myrick's two-year seat, including Boozé. The abridged time period is owed to Myrick being appointed by the council to fill the seat in 2012 when the winner of the election, Gary Bell, died after falling ill with a severe sinus infection.
Before confirming his candidacy for the two-year seat, Boozé said Thursday that if he did take on Myrick, it would be at least in part because he was unimpressed with the 29-year-old's performance.
"Jael just does whatever the RPA (Richmond Progressive Alliance) tells him to, so I'm going to run against him," Boozé said.
Myrick said he welcomed the challenge, and pointed out that he has voted differently from RPA members on numerous occasions.
"For an incumbent who has been in local politics for decades to try to run for a two-year seat is the height of desperation," Myrick said.
Anthony Creer is the other candidate for the two-year seat.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.