RICHMOND -- Actor and social justice advocate Danny Glover has come out in favor of Richmond's controversial local ballot measure to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a news release issued early Wednesday by tax supporters.
Glover, 66, a veteran of Hollywood blockbusters and a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, said the 1-cent-per-ounce fee on businesses that sell sugar-added drinks and a companion measure advising city officials to use proceeds on sports and nutrition programs are good steps toward improving health, particularly in low-income minority communities.
"The science is there, and the community is fighting for kids' health," Glover said in the news release.
Richmond's City Council voted 5-2 earlier this year to place Measure N on the November ballot. The measure would charge businesses 1-cent-per-ounce on sales of sugary drinks, like soda. The tax does not apply to beverages that have no added caloric sweeteners.
Measure O is the nonbinding advisory measure to fund sports programs and other anti-obesity efforts with the proceeds from the tax, which could generate about $3 million annually.
Glover's publicist did not respond to emails Wednesday. Glover's Twitter feed, which has almost 1.5 million followers, had made no mention of the Richmond tax as of Wednesday afternoon.
Jeff Ritterman, the former cardiologist and city councilman who has become the leading proponent of Measures N and O, said he secured Glover's endorsement on Saturday, when he saw the actor at a fundraising event in Oakland's Rockridge area for the Aristide Foundation, a Haitian health and development venture.
"I asked Danny for his endorsement, and he told me yes and that he was following the Richmond Soda Tax," Ritterman posted to his Facebook page the next day. "He gave us permission to publicize his endorsement of the Richmond Soda Tax, Yes on N!"
The issue has drawn increasing national attention, as Richmond could become the nation's first city to impose a per-ounce tax on sodas and other sugary drinks. El Monte, a Los Angeles area suburb, has followed suit, with its council putting an identical tax on its November ballot.
The measures, along with similar efforts in Philadelphia and New York, are part of a new public health push that puts soda in a similar category with cigarettes -- labeling it a costly menace to public health that should be reduced through taxation and regulation.
Ritterman said he is not done appealing to big-name potential supporters. He is scheduled to meet in Philadelphia with that city's mayor, Michael Nutter, on Saturday.
In Richmond, the national attention and celebrity endorsements are up against the powerful American Beverage Association and a coalition of local groups who see the tax as paternalistic, regressive and racially divisive. The local anti-tax campaign spent more than $350,000 through July 31, more than 50 times the spending by the pro-tax groups.
Joe Fisher, treasurer of the Bay Area Political Action Committee and an opponent of the tax, said Glover's endorsement means little.
"The pro-tax side hasn't been successful in getting local African-Americans to sign on to this, so they have to go to Hollywood to get an African-American actor to stand with them," Fisher said.
There is some division within the city's large African-American voting bloc over the issue. The local NAACP has joined groups such as BAPAC and Black Women Organized for Political Action in opposing the tax.
Meanwhile, Blacks Mobilizing, Organizing and Educating Richmond and the Rev. Alvin Bernstine, a prominent African-American pastor, have expressed support.
Anti-tax spokesman Chuck Finnie, who is contracted by the ABA, said the tax will hurt businesses and siphon money from Richmond's poorest residents.
Glover was born in San Francisco and is among the most outspoken and politically engaged actors in mainstream movies. He is famous in part for his starring roles in the "Lethal Weapon" film series, "Mandela," "Beloved" and "The Color Purple."
According to the news release, which came from the "Fit for Life" campaign, Glover said, "I come from a basic family of working-class people who worked very hard and had solid values. It's important for people of color to link up with issues around food security, health and the environment. Big corporations that sell sugary drinks are profiting while our kids grow sick and overweight."