Chevron spent more than $3 million to back three candidates for city council in Richmond, Calif. But voters rejected all three, in favor of candidates who have been critical of the oil giant, which is the largest taxpayer and employer in the Northern California city.
Richmond, north of Berkely, is about 45 minutes’ drive from San Ramon, to the south, which is the headquarters for Chevron. As Al Jazeera America reports:
For years, Richmond was known in the San Francisco Bay Area simply as a hub of high crime, pollution, and poverty. Politicians here had unabashedly close ties to Chevron — until 2008, most local elected officials were sympathetic to the company, which maintained a desk in the city manager’s office through the 1990s. But city politics began to change in 2004, when McLaughlin won a city council seat and then, two years later, became mayor.
The city has since risen into the national spotlight several times, partly because of [former mayor and Green Party member Gayle] McLaughlin’s willingness to take on Chevron, which is Richmond’s largest taxpayer and employer. Last year, the city sued the refinery after a 2012 fire sent thousands to area hospitals complaining of respiratory problems. “We don’t see Chevron as the source of keeping our economy going,” McLaughlin said defiantly at the time.
In response, Chevron has gone to great lengths to try to regain public sympathy, and to oust its opponents from local office. Earlier this year, the company launched its own online news outlet, the Richmond Standard, which offers both daily stories on local events and a section called “Chevron Speaks,” where the company posts its views. In the weeks before the election, the company plastered local billboards and stuffed residents’ mailboxes with ads attacking McLaughlin and her allies and supporting candidates backed by Moving Forward, one of its Richmond-based political action committees.
The campaign tactics seemed to have backfired, because all three candidates supported by Chevron lost. Now six of the seven spots on the Richmond council belong to Chevron critics.