RICHMOND -- Jael Myrick, a 27-year-old field representative for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, was appointed to the City Council Tuesday to fill the vacant seat of Gary Bell, who fell ill around the time of his November election and remains in a coma.
Councilman Jim Rogers ended weeks of questions swirling around who he would support by saying he was inclined to vote for Myrick, a decision that ultimately tipped the vote in Myrick's favor.
"(Myrick) approaches things with a lot of concerns similar to mine," Rogers said. "I feel very connected with him."
Myrick was embraced by well-wishers after the decision.
"It's a little surreal at this moment, I don't know what to say," Myrick said.
The vote to appoint Myrick was 4-1-1, with Councilman Corky Booze voting no and Councilman Nat Bates abstaining.
The vote came moments after Mayor Gayle McLaughlin moved to appoint Eduardo Martinez, a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. That move failed to get the required four votes, with Booze and Bates voting no and Rogers abstaining.
The appointment means a June special election, which city staff said would cost more than $200,000, will not be necessary.
Myrick will have the seat at least until November 2014, when he'll be up for re-election.
The decision was the culmination of a nearly five-hour meeting during which a dozen council hopefuls made their case to the council, and more than 40
Myrick cast himself early on as a potential alternative who could appeal to both sides of the polarized council.
He repeatedly referred to himself as a "progressive" voice and highlighted his work with Skinner's office on behalf of the formerly incarcerated and people with criminal records.
Most of the 40-plus public speakers advocated for Martinez, Kathleen Sullivan or a special election.
Sullivan, 57, had the support of the coalition of local African-American groups that supported Bell.
City Clerk Diane Holmes read a statement from Bell's wife, Shelley, that a special election was "my, and I believe Gary's, wishes."
Bell fell into a coma after suffering a severe nasal infection and undergoing two neurosurgeries, according to his family. Bell's narrow victory came with the backing of more than $1 million from Chevron, which supported him and opposed the RPA candidates. Rogers said he respected Martinez and his supporters, but there was "something special" about Myrick.
Booze said he supported Sullivan, but knew he couldn't get four votes to appoint her. "I wanna give it back to the public and let the public vote," Booze said.
RPA member Andres Soto said he and his allies had appealed to Rogers, and told the councilman during public comment that he should vote for Martinez. "You can be the hero or you can be the goat and the people will remember in 2014," Soto said.
Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said Martinez was the best choice because he finished just a few hundred votes behind Bell.
"The people have spoken, I am listening," Beckles said. McLaughlin echoed Beckles' comments and noted that the council elections are decided by a ranked system of highest votes.
"To me it's a question of democracy," McLaughlin said.
But both gave their support to Myrick after the failed vote for Martinez. Myrick ran for the seat in November, but did not finish among the top six vote getters.
Martinez addressed Rogers' past statements that the cost of an election is small compared to the city's overall budget.
"If you do anything tonight make sure you appoint someone," Martinez said. "(Or take the election costs) from the money allocated to the city council."
The packed council chambers was pulsed with energy, and proceedings were stopped several times due to noise. One candidate, Mark Wassberg, was ejected from the chambers for an outburst directed at another candidate, John Marquez.
"Well it's been a heck of a show tonight, hasn't it?" said candidate Don Gosney.