SAN PABLO -- With an almost 100-vote lead on his nearest rival, and only some provisional ballots left to be counted, Rich Kinney is getting used to the idea he will be on the City Council come December.
Kinney, a substitute teacher at Richmond High School and Helms Middle School, will replace Leonard McNeil, a political-science professor at Contra Costa College who has served a total of 12 years on the San Pablo City Council, including the past eight; he earlier served a four-year term.
McNeil is a longtime champion of immigrant rights, public health and public education in this largely low-income city, the first and so far only one in Contra Costa County with a Latino majority, according to U.S. Census data.
The two other incumbents won re-election Nov. 6 in a six-person race for three council seats. Cecilia Valdez, the current mayor, finished first by a comfortable margin, followed by Kathy Chao Rothberg, who was appointed this past April to serve out the unfinished term of former Councilman Arturo Cruz, who resigned for health-related reasons.
Kinney was third, followed by McNeil and challengers Frank Ybarra and Franklin Onwubuariri.
Kinney also is a teacher for the Contra Costa Economic Partnership Summer Camps and has been summer camp supervisor for the city's recreation division, according to his candidate statement. He has been assistant basketball coach at Contra Costa College and Richmond High, and a tennis coach,
Kinney also is senior pastor of Revival Generation Ministries in San Pablo -- until 2005, Calvary Assembly of God -- and has been chaplain for the Richmond and San Pablo police departments and the Contra Costa County Sheriff's office.
He attributed his good showing in the election to the many connections he has made over the years with students and their parents in the various educational venues where he has worked.
McNeil said he was surprised and disappointed by the Nov. 6 result, given a list of endorsements that he said included Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner; Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia; the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council and Building and Construction Trades Council, individual unions and other elected officials.
Valdez, a retired San Francisco Superior Court reporter, was vice chairwoman of the Contra Costa Democratic Party Central Committee before her election to the council in 2008. Chao Rothberg is executive director of the nonprofit organization Lao Family Community Development.
McNeil cited among his and the council's accomplishments during his tenure the development of Wanlass Park; the opening of the West County Health Center; increasing the city's tax base with new stores such as Ross, Walgreens and Las Montanas and the hiring of many San Pablo residents in those stores; the new Rumrill Boulevard Bridge, the planned Helms Community Center; establishment of the San Pablo Economic Development Corporation; winning a $300,000 Koshland Fellows grant; and the successful Measure Q sales tax initiative in June.
"I do feel a sense of loss with respect to being separated from something that has been central to helping me live with purpose," McNeil said in an email last week. "I intend to focus on teaching at Contra Costa College, publishing my master's thesis, rebuilding my personal website, getting back to regular exercise and other projects that have been put off for lack of time. I would like to volunteer to support the San Pablo community schools initiative and the childhood obesity prevention effort."
In 2011, partly on the strength of McNeil's advocacy, San Pablo became the first city in Contra Costa, and among the first in the entire nation, to incorporate a health element in its General Plan. Later that year, a Contra Costa County Health Services Department study, commissioned by the San Pablo City Council, on the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on the health of the city's residents found that more than half of the city's school children are overweight, including 29 percent who are obese.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.