In Photo Finish It Looks Like Calvin Over Richard In 6th Ward Race

It now appears that Kimberly Calvin has defeated incumbent Bessine Richard in this year’s race for councilwoman in San Bernardino’s Sixth Ward.
Calvin’s victory is widely seen as a final repudiation of the John Valdivia political machine that had used bare-knuckled tactics to commandeer control over the county seat in the 2018 election, ran roughshod for 13 months in a fashion that garnered the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the California Attorney General along with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, and which has imploded in scandal since the start of the current year.
The woman Calvin challenged, Councilwoman Richard, was heavily backed by a host of monetary contributors and campaign operatives affiliated with Valdivia. The mayor had formed an alliance with Richard five years ago. Valdivia, then a councilman in San Bernardino’s Ward Three, threw his support to Richard in the 2015 election, when the city functioning under its then 100-year-old-charter which has since been reconstituted held its political contests in odd-numbered years. Following Valdivia’s defeat of then-incumbent Mayor Carey Davis in 2018, Richard became a key member of the ruling council coalition that Valdivia assembled thereafter. On virtually every substantive issue that came before the council in public session, Richard toed the line with regard to Valdivia’s positions, and more than one member of the council described Richard as “blindly” adhering to Valdivia’s directives during the council’s closed sessions. As 2019 progressed and preparations began well in advance of the March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary election in which Richard would need to stand for reelection, the degree to which Richard had politically bound herself to Valdivia became apparent. Running Richard’s campaign was political consultant Chris Jones, who had been the architect of Valdivia’s 2018 mayoral victory. In addition to strict electioneering guidance, Jones provides overarching support to the candidates he works for, which includes granting them access to an established network of political donors. Many, indeed most, of those donors are deep-pocketed individuals and entities whose business and personal interests are in some fashion dependent upon governmental action, approvals, licensing and operations. Suggested but never directly stated is that the support from these donors provided to the stable of politicians with whom Jones has a working relationship will eventually result in action favorable to those donors, either individually or collectively, when those politicians for whom Jones works are in office and are called upon to vote with regard to issues impacting those donors.
Valdivia, working independently or in tandem with Jones, was able to bring in at least $31,000 in donations to Richard’s political war chest in 2019 and 2020.
When Calvin, who from the outset ran a surprisingly strong, active and energetic campaign, appeared to be making inroads on the electorate in the Sixth Ward, Jones and his band of operatives, who had previously presumed that Richards would be able to cruise to an easy reelection, stepped up their efforts on Richard’s behalf when polling showed that Calvin, who had no prior political experience, had name recognition equaling and even exceeding that of Richard in several parts of Ward Six. The Richard campaign responded with upbeat political mailers lionizing Richard and touting her record in office, while three separate “political hit pieces,” mailers attacking Calvin on various issues, manifested throughout the ward, at least two of which originated with the Jones organization but which were ostensibly sent from an independent expenditure committee not directly tied to Richard herself. For many voters in the Sixth Ward, however, the connection between the mailers attacking Calvin and Richard was rather obvious.
Another development during the campaign that hurt Richard was her predecessor as 6th Ward Councilman, Rikke Van Johnson, endorsing Calvin. That triggered a response from Valdivia, who sought to undercut Johnson by working behind the scenes at City Hall to have Johnson removed from his position on the city’s water board. That action, which ultimately failed and did not materialize until after the election, nonetheless served to illustrate the degree to which Valdivia was invested in keeping Richard on the council.
On January 18, 2020, sensing that Richard’s campaign was in trouble, Valdivia made a $2,000 transfer from his own campaign fund to Richard’s campaign to give his ally a final boost as the election was approaching.
During the run-up to the election last fall, Valdivia had openly endorsed Richard, what at the time was considered to be an advantage to her. In late January and continuing into February, however, a scandal broke out into the open in which at first two women, and then eventually six individuals altogether, all of whom had formerly been among Valdivia’s closest associates at City Hall, accused him of a variety of wrongdoing, ranging from genderist comments to sexual harassment to abusive behavior, drunkenness, misuse or misappropriation of public facilities, personnel and money, as well as bribe taking.
The night of the election, and over the five following days, it appeared that Richard had outlasted Calvin, albeit by a very slim margin. Just after the polls had closed, Richard had garnered 510 of the 1,017 votes that had come in, with Calvin claiming three fewer, 507. As of 6:30 the next morning, by which time 1,950 votes had been counted, Richard had opened up a slightly more substantial lead, with 983 votes to Calvin’s 961.
By Friday of that week, Calvin had closed the gap to just seven votes. Richard at that point claimed 1,232 votes or 50.14 percent, as Calvin nipped at her heels with 1,225 votes or 49.86 percent.
The following Monday, Calvin leapt past Richard by 11 votes. In all subsequent counts, Calvin has remained ahead. Later in the week, Calvin laid claim to 1,365 votes, compared to Richard’s 1,343.
In the intervening time, Richard has gained back some ground, but not enough to take the lead. Today, in the last posting of unofficial results before the election is to be certified next month, Calvin is up by 13 votes, 1,436, or 50.23 percent, to 1,423 votes, or 49.77 percent.
If that holds through the certification, Richard will from now until December be a lame duck. At present, she and Juan Figueroa, who first replaced Valdivia as Third Ward councilman in a special election last May and was reelected with Valdivia’s assistance in the March 3 Third Ward race against challenger Luis Ojeda, remain as the only two members of the council yet allied with Valdivia. That is a stark contrast to a year ago, when Ted Sanchez, Sandra Ibarra, Henry Nickel, and Richard represented a controlling four votes on the six-sevenths strength council that gave Valdivia power to implement his policies as he saw fit.
Calvin is the executive director of the Akoma Unity Center, the original charter for which was to provide programs and services specifically designed to meet the needs of San Bernardino’s historically-excluded African American community, particularly its youth, by providing academic enrichment, an after school program, summer day camp, a male mentoring program, cultural enrichment, parent empowerment with school districts and wraparound services to assist families. Calvin was instrumental in extending Akoma’s services to Latino residents, as well.
Her involvement in Akoma provided the foundation for much of her campaign.
This morning, prior to the registrar of voters releasing the most recent tally of the votes from the March 3 election, Calvin told the Sentinel, “I’m confident. My lead has continued to grow.”
Calvin said she believe she had earned her victory through hard work and by outhustling her better-financed opponent.
“I was assisted by a group of good grassroots organizers who know how to run a campaign and organize,” she said. “I covered this entire district on foot. It was exhausting at times, but I was able to keep going. My organizers told me the only way I could win was to get out there and know the ward, and that is what I did. I knocked on doors in every part of the ward. I worked hard on an absentee ballot campaign. I wanted to make sure our community knew who I am. I tried to reach every voter.”
Calvin was critical of Richard in more ways than one. At the most basic level, she said, Richard was not as immersed in and knowledgeable about the ward and her constituents as she should have been. Richard did not campaign energetically or take advantage of how a campaign could have familiarized her with the ward and those she represented. Furthermore, Calvin suggested, the campaign Richard ran, or had others run for her which involved personal attacks that had nothing to do with the issues of importance to the residents of the 6th Ward, betrayed the degree to which Richard had no in-depth record to run on, despite her having been in office for more than four years.
“I was astounded that she had the number of votes she did,” Calvin said. “I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I saw the progress of the campaign on the ground all along and in the last few weeks. I didn’t see her out there. I know she had some notoriety in the Sixth Ward, but this is where I have worked for the past four years building my familiarity with the community. When I started, I really didn’t know how large this ward is. I didn’t see it all together until I canvased it. I started in August. That meant I needed to get into every neighborhood, every district. There are actually seven smaller communities within the Sixth Ward, each very different than the next. I have been dedicated to this entire community in the past and I know I have four more years of hard work in front of me. When I’m up for reelection, I don’t want to be faced with what the incumbent was up against. When I was knocking on doors, I’d ask, ‘Do you know who your councilwoman is?” 85 to 90 percent couldn’t give me her name name. I want to remain face-to-face with my constituents on a constant basis. I don’t want to be trying to raise votes in four years as a councilwoman nobody knows.”
Calvin continued, “We knew she had money. She plastered the Sixth Ward with signs. I put up signs too, and they would be taken down within 24 hours. I didn’t have the money to buy more and then more and then more. Fortunately, the people in my organization reassured me. I was told, ‘Signs aren’t the only thing that’s going to win an election. If your signs get knocked down, just get out there and make sure the community knows you.’ I met with senior citizens. Our elders are the heart of our community and are very important. I wanted them to know I will be watching out for them. I was just as ready to engage with folks of middle age and our youth. I didn’t miss an opportunity to go into the churches. My work puts me in contact with the schools and people in the school district. I am constantly out there in the community. I am engaged in hard work throughout the precincts, and I think people saw that.”
Richard was not able to gain traction in the race, Calvin said, because she had not been engaged in representing the Sixth Ward in the past, did not know what was important to her constituents, and did not have any ideas about how the city could meet their needs in the future. This was demonstrated, Calvin said, by Richard’s campaign resorting to attack mailers that were essentially fabrications, which simply did not have the ring of truth.
“She sent out three negative pieces on me, along with emails,” Calvin said. “I never did one negative piece. I wanted to. There sure were things I could have done. I had to be talked out of it. I think that’s one of the ways they got as many votes as they did, because they were putting out things that weren’t true and drew attention away from how she had accomplished nothing over the previous five years. Nothing has taken place. There has been no growth. There has been no new development. With nothing going on in the Sixth Ward, all they had was negative ads. I wanted to go negative. My organization wouldn’t let me. They said, ‘That’s not who you are. Keep your head down to the grindstone. Share your message. Educate the voters. People will see. We don’t need to do that.’”
With the election over and what appears to be the likelihood she will now be taking her place up on the council dais, Calvin said, “I’m excited. I was born in this district. My father and grandmother were born in this district. My aunt on my mother’s side built an apartment complex here in the early 1980s. It is going to be my greatest pleasure to serve as councilwoman here and honor those in my family who are still living and those who have transitioned.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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