RICHMOND -- It was a night to celebrate and look ahead, but a solemn air hung over Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony for the new City Council.
Re-elected incumbents Tom Butt and Nat Bates thanked supporters and pledged four more years of service, while outgoing Councilman Jeff Ritterman highlighted the efforts of those who helped him during his four years on the job.
All took time to ask for prayer and strength for the election winner who was not there, Gary Bell. Bell won't be able to serve and remains in a coma following a severe sinus infection and two neurosurgeries, according to his family.
"Tonight is both a happy occasion and a sad occasion," said Bates, the 81-year-old official first elected to the City Council in the 1960s.
Bell, 54, was hospitalized in the days following his Nov. 6 election. On Nov. 10, his condition worsened, and he was rushed to a Kaiser facility in Redwood City for emergency surgery to relieve swelling on his brain. His family announced Jan. 3 that Bell would not be able to serve his term.
According to the city charter, the council can appoint a replacement or call for a special election within 60 days. The council is divided on whether to appoint Eduardo Martinez, the fourth-place finisher in the race, or a different candidate or call a special election.
A coalition of Bell's supporters led by the Black American Political Action Committee announced Monday that they oppose the appointment of Martinez, a progressive candidate with a starkly different platform from the pro-business one on which Bell was elected.
But the political maneuvering was largely on hold Tuesday as officials and a chamber packed with residents congratulated the victors and thanked Ritterman.
One by one, Ritterman's colleagues praised the former cardiologist for his work on a variety of issues, including negotiating a $114 million tax settlement with Chevron, wooing the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to build a new campus in the city and leading a failed campaign to tax sugary beverages.
Butt said Richmond is "better off fiscally and physically thanks to your work."
Councilman Jim Rogers compared Ritterman to Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan and Richard Nixon for his ability to negotiate with Chevron and to "make us all better."
Even Corky Boozé, Ritterman's harshest critic, offered measured praise of his fiercest opponent.
"Richmond is a better place because you were a councilperson," Boozé said. "I'm really going to miss you because I am not going to have anybody to fight with anymore."
Ritterman himself delivered lengthy remarks, urging continued emphasis on health initiatives in the city and challenging leaders to ween themselves off dependence on tax revenues from Chevron, which runs a major local refinery and provides about one-third of the city's tax base. He said local government must continue to support education and focus on long-term planning to reduce emissions and brace for the effects of climate change.
Ritterman praised his colleagues and hailed the work of the past four years, noting that then the city seemed on the cusp of opening a massive casino, yet now is attracting high-tech investment and green energy jobs.
"We changed the course of the city," Ritterman said.
In their remarks, council veterans Butt and Bates defended their records and praised the past four years. Butt said his most recent term was the best of his nearly two decades on the dais, especially his work on the new General Plan.
Bates said he garnered more votes than any council candidate in city history, and pledged to use his clout to re-elect his ally Boozé in 2014. In contrast with the progressive-leaning council, Bates said Richmond must embrace Chevron, comparing its importance to the city to that of high-tech industries to Silicon Valley.
"I do not apologize for working closely with Chevron," Bates said.