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Voters Reject Oil Titan Chevron, Elect Progressive Bloc in Richmond, California

Tom Butt elected mayor and slate of progressive candidates all win city council seats after grim battle with corporate power

Members of the Asia Pacific Environmental Network march against Chevron in Richmond, Califordia on August 9. (Photo: Malena Mayorga/Flickr)

A slew of progressive candidates were elected in Richmond, California on Tuesday night in a resounding defeat of corporate power, after a multi-million-dollar opposition campaign funded by Chevron brought national attention to the race but failed to take control of City Hall.

Local politician Tom Butt, a Democrat, was elected mayor with 51 percent of the vote, beating the Chevron-backed candidate, Nat Bates, by 16 points. Richmond Progressive Alliance representatives Eduardo Martinez, Jovanka Beckles, and outgoing  Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also won three of the four open seats on the City Council.

Collectively, those candidates became known as Team Richmond.

In a victory speech from his campaign base, Butt said, "I’ve never had such a bunch of people who are dedicated and worked so hard. It’s far away above anything that I’ve ever experienced."

The sweeping win in the David-and-Goliath story was seen by many as an excoriation of corporate influence in elections after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

Uche Uwahemu, who finished third in the mayoral race, said, "The election was a referendum on Chevron and the people obviously made it clear they did not appreciate the unnecessary spending by Chevron so they took it out on the rest of the candidates."

Chevron spent more than $3 million funding three political action committees that executed an opposition campaign including billboards, flyers, and a mobile screen, spending roughly $72 per voter in hopes of electing a slate of candidates that would be friendly to the oil giant.

Martinez, Beckles, and McLaughlin have all criticized the company and promised to tighten regulations on it. Chevron has an ugly history in the city, particularly in the wake of a large and destructive fire at their refinery in 2012, for which Richmond sued the company.

Butt spent roughly $58,000 on his campaign—a shoestring budget relative to Chevron's resources.

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