For those of us who relish harebrained crusades and the fuzzy-headed politicians who bring them to life, it will be a sad day in 2014 when Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is termed out of office.
That thought struck me while enjoying a four-column photo of the mayor that appeared last Wednesday on page B1. She was speaking from the steps of City Hall, framed by the puppet image of what appeared to be a giant Amazon tribesman, alongside a hand-lettered sign that read: "Standing with Ecuadoreans."
If there's one thing Richmond residents demand of their elected officials, it's that they protest the desecration of South American rain forests by oil companies that no longer exist.
The mayor only recently returned from a six-day tour of Ecuador -- at the expense-paid invitation of the Ecuadorean government -- to examine the environmental devastation allegedly caused by the former Texaco oil company, which merged with Chevron in 1992. McLaughlin is the blood enemy of Chevron, which has had the audacity to refine oil and emit exhaust in her city for 111 years. Any chance to disparage it is not to be missed.
"What I saw brought home to me the importance of solidarity," she told reporter Robert Rogers, making Richmond and Ecuador sound like allies in a holy war. "We're all interconnected, and this is an international struggle against corporate domination."
That fervent, irrational fire is what separates McLaughlin from her contemporaries. You'll notice nobody invites the mayors of Concord or Pleasant Hill to Ecuador. Other East Bay city leaders think too provincially.
Antioch is consumed with adding police and fighting crime. Martinez is focused on revitalizing its downtown. Walnut Creek is merely trying to fund city services and balance its budget. McLaughlin sees Richmond as having far loftier goals.
Last year, it set out to end obesity -- what's bigger than that? -- by floating a doomed measure that would have taxed sugary drinks 1 cent per ounce. More recently, the mayor aimed to upbraid the mortgage industry through a tortured interpretation of eminent domain. Then she marched on Wells Fargo, even though it owned none of the underwater mortgages that fueled her fury.
The obvious challenge going forward is to find more fantastic wars to wage. You can command the spotlight only as long as the quests keep growing more improbable. Evel Knievel mastered this brand of showmanship.
She's tackled Big Soda. She's tackling Big Banks. She will never stop tackling Big Oil. But what will be the next Big Thing in her cross hairs? The mayor didn't ask for my help, but she'd be wise to follow Walnut Creek's lead by surveying residents. Let them select the next half-baked crusade.
To which of these important tasks would you like to see Gayle McLaughlin dedicate her remaining time as mayor?
a) Restoring the Arctic ice pack
b) Stamping out piracy on the high seas
c) Ending famine in Somalia
d) Reforesting the Sahara desert
e) Negotiating peace in the Middle East
Maybe she can try all five. She's not going anywhere until 2014. Then I dearly hope she runs for county supervisor, because I can't wait to hear her platform.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.