RICHMOND -- After weeks of speculation over how they would fill the vacant seat on a sharply divided City Council, Richmond's elected leaders chose to forgo a special election and appoint a 27-year-old legislative aid who finished a distant eighth in November's race.
Jael Myrick, a field representative for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, was appointed after nearly five hours of comment Tuesday to take the seat won by Gary Bell, who fell ill around the time of his November election.
Councilman Jim Rogers' decision to back Myrick helped tipped the vote in his favor.
"(Myrick) approaches things with a lot of concern similar to mine," Rogers said. "I feel very connected with him."
Myrick was embraced by well-wishers after the decision.
"It's a little surreal at this moment. I don't know what to say," Myrick said.
Myrick finished behind several other appointment candidates in November's council race, including fourth-place Eduardo Martinez, a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance who was a few hundred votes behind Bell.
The vote to appoint Myrick was 4-1-1, with Councilman Corky Boozé voting no and Councilman Nat Bates abstaining.
The vote came moments after Martinez failed to get the required four votes, with Boozé and Bates voting no and Rogers abstaining.
The appointment means the city avoids a June special election, which city staff said would cost more than $200,000.
Myrick will have the seat at least until November 2014, when he will be up for election.
The decision was the culmination of a raucous meeting during which a dozen council hopefuls made their case, and more than 40 public speakers also weighed in. The proceedings were stopped several times because of noise.
Myrick cast himself as a potential alternative who could appeal to both sides of the polarized council.
He repeatedly referred to himself as a "progressive" voice and highlighted his work with Skinner's office on behalf of the formerly incarcerated and people with criminal records. Rogers cast the decision as one that could be palatable to all sides.
"Hopefully, this will help usher in a new era of cooperation," Rogers wrote in an email Tuesday. "And, when Eduardo's supporters look back at Jael several years from now, I think they will be pleased with what they see."
Butt, who had pushed for Martinez, said Myrick could be a healing force in a divided city government.
"The council majority was looking for a statesman, not a politician," Butt said.
Most of the 40-plus public speakers advocated for Martinez, Kathleen Sullivan or a special election.
Sullivan, 57, had the support of the coalition of local African-American groups that supported Bell.
City Clerk Diane Holmes read a statement from Bell's wife, Shelley, urging a special election. "(An election is) my and I believe Gary's wishes," she wrote.
Bell fell into a coma after suffering a severe nasal infection and undergoing two neurosurgeries, according to his family. Bell's victory came with the help of more than $1 million from Chevron, which supported him and opposed the RPA candidates. Rogers said he respected Martinez and his supporters but there was "something special" about Myrick.
Boozé said he supported Sullivan but knew he could not get four votes to appoint her. "I wanna give it back to the public and let the public vote," he said.
RPA member Andres Soto said he and his allies had appealed to Rogers and told the councilman during public comment that he should vote for Martinez. "You can be the hero or you can be the goat, and the people will remember in 2014," Soto said.
Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said Martinez was the best choice because he narrowly lost the seat to Bell.
But both gave their support to Myrick after the failed vote for Martinez. Some observers were outraged that the RPA-backed council members didn't stand firm for Martinez.
"Last night, the RPA threw Eduardo Martinez under the bus," wrote Charles Smith, a local activist, in a Wednesday morning email to RPA members.
Occupation: Richmond field representative of Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.
Education: Kennedy High School in Richmond
Past experience: California League of Conservation Voters, where he worked on environmental issues and fundraising. Cofounded Standing To Represent Our Next Generation, STRONG, whose purpose was working toward involving the youth in the political process.
Past positions: Opposed Measure N, the so-called "soda tax" that lost in Richmond in 2012. Ran in 2012 on a platform that included the city putting up $5 million to ensure every young person in Richmond who wanted to go to college or trade school could go.
Past statement: "I will focus on increasing opportunities for young people as a long-term strategy to combat unemployment and reduce violent crime."
Personal: Father of infant son