Andrew Young in Richmond: prophet of urban renewal or Big Oil’s reverend for rent?
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Sid Shniad
2014-10-23 23:24:16 UTC
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*Beyond Chron 10/23/14Andrew Young in Richmond: prophet of urban
renewal or Big Oil’s reverend for rent?*
* by Steve Early*

In his remarkable six decade career in public life, 82-year old Andy Young
has been many things to many people: civil rights movement minister and
courageous ally of Dr. Martin Luther King, Democratic Congressman from
Georgia, U.S. emissary to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter,
two-term mayor of Atlanta in the 1980s, and then leader of the National
Council of Churches.

On Monday night, he appeared before a largely African-American crowd at a
“community dinner” in Richmond,CA, a city of 100,000 that is nearly 85%
non-white. The visit was sponsored and arranged by a 501 (c) (4)
organization known as For Richmond, which dispenses grants to local
non-profits like the YMCA. Young’s appearance showcased his most recent
incarnation as a skilled, if not uncontroversial, friend of private
enterprise, including some of the biggest firms in the world. The timing of
his visit was not unrelated to Richmond’s upcoming municipal elections.

In advance publicity for the dinner, the guest speaker was identified as
“Ambassador Andrew Young.” That’s a title he lost in 1979, when his United
Nations-based outreach to Palestinian critics of Israel led to his forced
resignation from the Carter Administration. Instead of dwelling on old war
stories about his “mobilization of the Third World in the interests of the
United States of America,” Young regaled his Richmond audience with
colorful, if narcissistic, tales of economic revival in Atlanta under his
city hall leadership.

In Richmond on Nov. 4, voters face a stark choice between two local mayoral
candidates who have conflicting ideas about how to sustain Richmond’s
recent renaissance—and even disagree on whether there has been one. Both
contenders to replace Green mayor Gayle McLaughlin—city council members Nat
Bates and Tom Butt–were present to hear Young’s thoughts about creating “a
global community of peace, prosperity, and inclusion.”

*Lessons in Social Responsibility*

Kyra Worthy, executive director of For Richmond, hailed Young’s visit as a
“unique opportunity” to “learn how communities can economically flourish
from the seeds of social responsibility.” In the printed program for the
evening, Worthy thanked two major funding sources not always known for
their corporate “social responsibility” on questions related to sugary
drink taxation or refinery safety regulation. Both Coca Cola, headquartered
in Atlanta and Chevron, based in nearby San Ramon, helped bring Young to

As the city’s largest and, for nearly a century, most dominant employer,
Chevron was clearly the senior partner in this joint venture. When For
Richmond was launched, all of its $500,000 in start up money came from the
energy giant, plus $100, 000 for grants distributed locally in 2013. As of
a year ago, Chevron was still For Richmond’s only donor; the company’s
other local philanthropy includes a pledge to spend $15.5 million on
neighborhood programs and public schools over the next five years.

Meanwhile, down in Atlanta, the Andrew J. Young Foundation displays, with
equal pride, a familiar white and blue corporate logo on its website. A
foundation official told me that Chevron provided $550,000 in funding last
year, making it a “sustaining sponsor” more generous than mere “sponsors”
like Lockheed Martin, Delta Airlines, Honda, Wells Fargo, Bank of America,
Georgia Power, AT&T and others similarly situated on the Fortune 500 list.
In its 2011 IRS filing, Young’s charity reported administrative costs and
expenses three times greater than its total gifts and grants; Chevron’s
donation was clearly a major boost to its bottom line.

Not surprisingly, Young’s rambling but entertaining after-dinner talk
stressed themes dear to the heart of his major donor. Young also reinforced
the campaign messaging of Nate Bates, our leading local beneficiary of Big
Oil’s extraordinary largesse. Bates is the 83-year old African-American
Democrat running to replace McLaughlin, a two-term mayor he has long
accused of being unfriendly to business. Bates and three city council
candidates favored by Chevron have been aided by $3 million in oil industry
PAC money, making their own local fundraising almost unnecessary. (For
details, see:

In his campaign for mayor, longtime Richmond city councilor Butt has
questioned the traditional mindset of colleagues like Bates, whose first
priority has always been “to take care of Chevron and developers and the
industrial community.” As Butt explained to *The Chronicle’s* Chip Johnson
in August, this “was Richmond’s version of the trickle-down theory.” He
argues instead that, “the reason businesses come to a city is not because
the council kisses their ass. They’re looking for amenities and quality of
life because that’s what their employees want
.And that’s what I’ve tried
to do—make Richmond a place where people want to live.”

But, like Nat Bates at Richmond candidate debates, Young touted the virtues
of tax breaks and incentives to attract job-creating foreign capital. “If
Asian economies want to grow, what better place to create a business,
educate your children or invest your money than right here?” he asked his
Richmond crowd. When he was mayor of Atlanta, he reported, would-be
investors from Germany, Holland, Japan, and other countries were told that,
if they had any problems setting up shop, they should call him personally.
“You don’t have to worry about the city council or bureaucrats,” he assured

“We’re not going to be able to raise taxes. People are paying enough in
taxes,” he asserted on Monday night. “You can’t do it [economic
development] with government money. It’s got to be private-public

*Who’s Selling Us Out?*

In recent years, Young’s own lucrative partnering with global business has
increasingly tarnished his reputation as an esteemed elder in the
African-American community. As Bruce Dixon, editor of the Black Agenda
Report, noted last year, one of “Young’s first big clients was Nike
mounting public outrage over labor practices in its global sweatshop
empire, Young ‘toured’ some of Nike’s Asian factories and produced a
glowing whitewash report depicting happy and contented Nike workers sitting
on porches strumming guitars.”

Then, there was Young’s short-lived stint as the chairperson of “Working
Families for Wal-Mart.” On National Public Radio, Young claimed that this
was “a citizen organization, though it’s funded in part by Wal-Mart and
Wal-Mart suppliers.” This was definitely not a group devoted to improving
the lot of retail store employees, lacking job rights or benefits. Instead,
Young defended their low-wage employer’s role in “generating new wealth.”
He even insisted that Wal-Mart’s “pluses outweigh the minuses” in the area
of health insurance (which remains unaffordable to many and was recently
terminated for 30,000 part-timers).

Young was mainly deployed as a leading advocate of Wal-Mart’s urban
expansion. His management-financed gig ended abruptly after he was
interviewed, rather disastrously, by the *Los Angeles Sentinal*. In that
widely-read African-American weekly, Young downplayed the negative economic
impact of Wal-Mart on smaller, independent businesses located in older
downtown areas and operated by immigrants.

“You see those are the people who have been overcharging us,” he told
* Sentinal* readers. “And they sold us out and moved to Florida. I think
they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First, it was Jews, then it was
Koreans, and now it’s Arabs.” (For more on Young’s tawdry work on behalf of
Wal-Mart see:

The only verbal gaffe he made on Monday night in Richmond was relatively
minor. As councilor Butt reported the next day, Young spoke to a smaller,
private reception before the main event at Lovonya DeJean Middle School.
There, he related how, under his leadership, concerned citizens of Atlanta
had forged a “progressive alliance” to help revitalize the city during the
1980s. From Chevron’s standpoint, that was poor, if ironic, phrasing—not
repeated later in Young’s after-dinner speech. In Richmond, a local
Progressive Alliance has been challenging Big Oil’s agenda for the past
decade and running candidates who may prove, in this election, difficult
(or, at least, very costly) to defeat.

Writing last year about Young’s less distinguished service as a “high
priced lobbyist, fixer and go-between for multinational capital,” Bruce
Dixon noted that the former ambassador was “due for a rest.” The black
journalist expressed the hope that “that he goes somewhere and sits down,
before he can do any more damage.” Young was sitting down all right, as he
addressed his attentive crowd of three hundred on Monday night, before
exiting the stage slowly. But he sure wasn’t resting on his laurels as a
pitchman for corporate America and, by implication on this occasion, for
its well-funded Richmond mayoral candidate as well.

*(Steve Early is a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and a
supporter of Tom Butt for mayor of Richmond. He is the author of Save
Our Unions: Dispatches From A Movement in Distress and other books. Early
is currently working on a book about politics and public policy
controversies in Richmond. He can be reached at ***@aol.com
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