Q&A: Nat Bates on Returning to City Council

Interview, Malcolm Marshall | Photo courtesy of Richmond Confidential

Editor’s Note: In November, Nathaniel “Nat” Bates won the closest victory of any race on a California ballot: winning by nine votes to claim his eighth term on the Richmond city council. Bates recently spoke with Richmond Pulse about returning to the City Council and why Richmond voters keep supporting him.

Richmond Pulse: Many people were surprised when you entered the race. Why did you want to get back on City Council?

Nat Bates: I had a lot of inquiries and interest in me getting back from primarily the business community and also several senior citizens who I’m very fond of, with the feeling that they were not getting representation after I left the council, especially the business community. I have been very supportive of business navigating development and so forth through the city’s bureaucratic planning department. No one up there seemed to have assumed that responsibility or interest in assisting the business people as they try to apply for permits and try to expand their business.

So, as a result of interest, and also after listening to their concerns, it was suggested that they would support my candidacy if I chose to run.

RP: How many years will this be for you on City Council?

NB: This will be about 40 plus years. When I first got elected in 1967, we had six-year terms and I was re-elected on several occasions. Then, I lost an election in I think ‘84 or ’85, and I came back about 10 years later. Then, I was on until 2016 when I lost the election.

RP: You garnered the third most votes in the election out of a field of 13 candidates? Why do you think so many of the voters in Richmond keep putting their trust in you?

NB: I think part of the voting population votes for people that they know and that they can trust, especially people they’ve had interactions with over the years. Having been in the political arena for this length of time, it’s thousands and thousands of people that I know, and if I don’t know some of the new voters,

I know their parents and grandparents. It comes down to who you know and who you can perhaps trust.

Richmond is a community where being familiar with candidates is so important. Of the 13 candidates running, there were only a few that had been in Richmond say more than 10 or 12 years. As good as they may be, people don’t know them. A good example is Demnlus [Johnson]. He was born in Richmond, he grew up here. So people gravitate to individuals that they know, and they know their family, their brothers, sisters, cousins and aunts. It’s a natural that you vote for people that you know and you can trust until they deceive you and do something stupid to lose that trust.

RP:  During the election season there was some criticism from some in the local black community that said you should have been grooming the next generation of black politicians in Richmond instead of running against someone like Demnlus. Do you have any response to that criticism?

NB: First of all, I wasn’t running against Demnlus any more than he was running against me. Some of his supporters took that viewpoint, but I am a seasoned veteran, and we were both running to get elected. There were three seats available.

That’s the problem with too many people in the community who always see competition against each other.

We at the BMW [Black Men & Women political organization] supported all three of the African American candidates, including Eleanor Thompson as well Demnlus and myself. That’s the kind of approach that should have be taking place within the African American community, not pitting one against each other. I resent the fact that there were elements trying to divide us instead of unify us.

RP: Even as we have seen a steady decline in Richmond’s black population, we now see four black people on the City Council. What do you think that says about Richmond?

NB: You got four of the seven — (Melvin) Willis, (Jael) Myrick, Johnson and myself — that should be working together for the betterment and interest of the black community. That doesn’t mean that we deny and ignore the needs of the other communities, like the Latinos and the Caucasians. But we should solidify ourselves, and that has not occurred. That will probably be part of my responsibility as the elder on the council.

RP: Looking forward, minus two Richmond Progressive Alliance members, how do think this new council will work together?

NB: If we can engage politically, working for the betterment of the city, then the significance of being RPA or non-RPA shouldn’t enter into the equation. It’s like Democrat and Republican. If you want to work for the betterment, you have to put aside your political affiliations. If the RPA people can do that, I can work with some of the members of the RPA. I’ve worked very well with Eduardo (Martinez). I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Willis and Ben Choi.

I’ll work with people on the issues that benefit the city. If we can collectively focus on those issues we can do okay. I can’t get hung up on just representing only black folks, I got to represent the entire city, and that’s who elected me.

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