Signature gatherers hit the streets for Richmond election initiative

Signature gatherers hit the streets for Richmond election initiative
A signature gatherer works in front of the Mira Vista Post Office on San Pablo Avenue. Photo/ Linda Hemmila

Signature gatherers have begun work to place an initiative on the ballot to change how Richmond voters elect city council members and the mayor. The measure's leading proponent, Don Gosney, has offered to come to you for a signature.

A political action committee called Richmond Votes Matters has proposed an amendment to the city's charter that would incorporate a nonpartisan primary municipal election into the selection of leaders. 

Under Richmond's existing system, candidates can win without a majority, a situation the initiative's proponents argue might lack support from most voters.

Gosney said the Richmond Election Reform Act would require that Richmond elect a mayor and council members the same way the president, governor, senate and assembly members, and county supervisors are elected.

Initiative seeks to change how Richmond elects leaders
A new initiative aims to amend the Richmond city charter by introducing primary municipal elections to ensure that elected officials receive a majority of the votes. If approved by voters, the amendment will add a nonpartisan primary to the process of how residents choose their leaders. In the cur…

"To win a city council seat or the mayor's race, you have to get 50 percent of the vote plus 1. If nobody gets 50 percent in the primary, it goes to a runoff election between the top two candidates," Gosney wrote. "This way, we make sure that the winner represents the majority of the people."

Petition gatherers have popped up in front of businesses and post offices in the past few weeks and have already collected about 2,700 of the signatures needed. The initiative's backers say they at least 8,500 valid signatures. 

Richmond Votes Matters has raised $121,000 from union PACs, including $25,000 from the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers Local 549, $20,000 from the Richmond Police Officers Association, $25,000 from Steamfitters Local 342 and $25,000 from Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159. Richmond Police Officers Association President Benjamin Therriault is listed as a principal officer of Richmond Votes Matters on campaign disclosure forms.  

As of the last available election filing, Richmond Votes Matters has spent $50,942 for petition gathering with Democracy Werks, a California LLC formed in January.

On social media, some have condemned the measure as a "sore loser initiative" and said the backers are changing the rules after losing elections.

On social media, Sue Wilson, Communication Committee Chair for the Richmond Progressive Alliance, whose members hold a majority on the Richmond City Council, said the initiative's backers are sad that progressives keep winning seats. 

"Some people are acting like this is a good-government reform, but it's pretty clearly trying to game the system to elect more conservative people (by dialing down the influence of POC young people and low-income people, who are MUCH less likely to vote in primaries," Wilson wrote on social media.

Wilson mentioned that almost all California cities conduct mayoral and city council elections like Richmond's, where the candidates with the most votes during the general election emerge as the winners.

"Their hope is those primary voters will eliminate the leftier candidates before POC, young people, and lower-income people vote in November. Constraining the choice, if you will," Wilson wrote.

North and East resident Felix Hunziker said he sees the initiative as an opportunity to elect representatives with 50 percent of the vote.

"Whether that person is RPA or not, at least then we can say they truly represent the views of this city (or at least a majority of it). I also think this will force candidates and elected officials to lean towards the center and be responsive to constituents in order capture and hold that base," Hunziker said.

Contact Don Gosney at 510.685.2403 to sign the petition. 

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