|Mayor of Richmond, California|
January 9, 2007 – January 13, 2015
|Preceded by||Irma A. Anderson|
|Succeeded by||Tom Butt|
|City Council member of Richmond, California|
January 13, 2015
January 2005 – January 9, 2007
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Profession||Educator and activist|
Gayle McLaughlin (born 1952) is an American politician from California. A member of the U.S. Green Party, she was first elected to the City Council of Richmond, California in 2004. She won two consecutive four-year terms as the city's mayor in 2006 and 2010. After reaching the mayoral term limit, she won re-election to the City Council in 2014 and 2016.
McLaughlin's election in 2006 made Richmond the largest U.S. city to be led by a Green Party official. She has led a spirited pursuit of progressive policies including a minimum wage increase and a widely reported plan to forcibly appropriate foreclosed home mortgages from banks. Most famously, she has led an ongoing effort to restrict the municipal influence of Richmond's largest employer, the Chevron Corporation, and to refashion its environmental obligations.
Background and experience
During the 1980s, McLaughlin was an activist with the Central American solidarity movement and a steering committee member of CISPES (Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador). She also played an active role in the North Star Network, a national networking effort to unite progressives, and in coalition-building efforts with Rainbow/PUSH. She continues to work as a social activist in the peace, social justice, civil rights, and environmental movements.
McLaughlin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, with graduate study in psychology and education. She has worked as a postal clerk, teacher, caregiver for the elderly, and tutor/clinician for children with learning disabilities. She has also worked in the capacity of support staff for various not-for-profit health and educational organizations. She has lived in Richmond since 2001.
Richmond Progressive Alliance
McLaughlin is a founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a non-partisan progressive group in western Contra Costa County, composed of members of the Green Party, Democratic Party, and the Peace and Freedom Party, as well as independent voters. In 2004, the RPA ran a slate of candidates to replace a municipal government that was widely seen as dysfunctional: "There are vacancies in virtually every major administrative department," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle, "and the city is operating with an interim city manager, city attorney, police chief and fire chief. The city has no library director and no parks and recreation director, and no one running its housing authority." Together with RPA colleagues, McLaughlin won her first election to the Richmond City Council in November 2004.
In Richmond, McLaughlin's activism has found her involved in many local struggles in support of both social and environmental justice. She opposed the Patriot Act, the criminalization of the homeless, and Chevron's Richmond Refinery tax perks. She has also been involved in an ongoing effort to stop development on the North Richmond shoreline and supports the Service Employees International Union.
In 2006, McLaughlin decided to challenge Richmond's incumbent mayor Irma Anderson. She was elected on November 7, 2006 by a 242-vote margin over Anderson. At the time, her victory made Richmond the largest city in the country with a Green Party mayor. McLaughlin won a second term in office in the 2010 municipal election. She overcame a well-funded offensive to unseat her during the re-election campaign.
Under McLaughlin's mayoralty, the "small, blue-collar city best known for its Chevron refinery has become the unlikely vanguard for anticorporate, left-wing activism". McLaughlin was a strong proponent of Measure N, a proposed municipal soda tax that was met by determined, well-funded resistance from the American Beverage Association and other business interests. She also spearheaded a 2014 effort to raise Richmond's local minimum wage to US$12.30 per hour. Although the raise was postponed by the city's chamber of commerce, it provided impetus to the broader statewide minimum wage movement. McLaughlin was a member of the nationwide advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition.
McLaughlin was criticized for attending an Occupy rally on Veterans Day of 2011 instead of a symbolic ship-launching portrayal at the former Richmond Shipyards. McLaughlin stated she was a supporter of Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Eminent domain against banks
The U.S. mortgage crisis of the late 2000s had a powerful impact on Richmond. Even by 2013, nearly half of all home mortgages in the city were "underwater", with owners owing more than their houses were worth – on average, homeowners with mortgages were indebted for about 45% more than the original value of their homes. McLaughlin mounted a unique and highly controversial effort to gain control of the mortgages. The city, in partnership with a private San Francisco-based financing company, would seek to purchase mortgages from banks at fair market value and then allow the homeowners to refinance for a minimal fee. If the banks refused, the city would seize the mortgages using the legal power of eminent domain.
Defending the plan, McLaughlin said mortgage seizures were necessary to alleviate "an unjust set of circumstances" facing homeowners after the Great Recession, and the use of eminent domain would be justified for the common good by preventing urban blight caused by abandoned foreclosed homes. Opponents in Richmond countered that the plan would help only a small subsection of mortgage-holders, while two banks, Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, immediately filed lawsuits against the city. Arguing that it was an illegal use of eminent domain, the banks also warned that it would severely damage the U.S. mortgage industry by encouraging other municipalities to do the same. Other cities, including Newark, North Las Vegas, and Seattle were all said to be considering mortgage seizure, although only Richmond publicly pursued the plan.
More than anything else, it is McLaughlin’s contentious relationship with the Chevron Corporation that has defined her political history. The multinational energy corporation maintains a massive, century-old oil refinery in Richmond, and it has long dominated the city's economy and politics. After the RPA took root, however, the shift in government caused friction with Chevron, particularly after the McLaughlin administration fought it in court over the payment of various taxes. A major fire at the refinery in August 2012 led to another hotly contested lawsuit, this time for "willful and conscious disregard of public safety".
Chevron gave $1.2 million to McLaughlin's opponents in the 2012 race. Even after her mayoralty ended, Chevron continued to oppose her vigorously, "spending some $3 million – an unheard of amount for a small, local election – to campaign against McLaughlin and her slate" in the 2014 City Council elections.
Richmond City Council: 2015 to present
Gayle McLaughlin was elected to Richmond City Council in 2014 and continues to serve in this role. Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, a chronicle of the McLaughlin administration's rise and legacy, was published in 2017.
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