The eighth-grade math teacher challenging Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia in the June 7 primary election bluntly describes the incumbent’s tenure in office as “the 24 year term of THE RAT.”
That’s the comment Richmond resident and political newcomer Hulan Barnett posted on the private Facebook group “Everybody’s Richmond California.” He’s also intimated a threat of violence against the District 1 supervisor he wants to unseat.
“Go their events and raise HELL!” Barnett commented. After being asked by another user to clarify what that meant, he added, “That is the surprise. Hopefully, the Supervisor is there. We won’t hurt women and children.”
Gioia, an outspoken progressive hoping to represent the county’s western region for another four-year term. shared screenshots of the comments with this news organization,
Barnett, an executive board member of the Fairmeade/Hilltop Neighborhood Council, defends the comments, saying he wanted to make the supervisor feel as uncomfortable as he was made to feel by Contra Costa County’s COVID-19 vaccination policies.
District 1 covers the cities of Richmond, San Pablo, El Cerrito and part of Pinole, along with unincorporated communities such as North Richmond and El Sobrante.
Here’s a rundown of the major issues in the election and the candidates’ positions:
District 1 was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with San Pablo recording the county’s highest COVID-19 case rates to date. Still district residents have gotten vaccinated and boosted in larger numbers than those in the county’s more rural eastern communities.
Gioia credits the encouraging numbers to a robust vaccination rollout by the county’s health department, which largely overcame early inoculation equity gaps.
According to the county’s data70% of its Black residents have received two vaccine doses, compared to roughly 76% of Hispanic or Latino residents, 78% of White residents and more than 90% of Asian American residents.
Gioia doesn’t apologize for the county’s controversial COVID-related health mandates, including one that had required certain businesses to check patrons for proof of vaccination to enter.
When public speakers at Board of Supervisors meetings questioned the worth of vaccines, Gioia often referred to the consensus of health officials that vaccines are safe and effective, at times interrupting speakers to make that point.
“Vaccines save people’s lives,” he said, “and the numbers (of COVID-19 deaths) are a testament to that.”
Barnett is unvaccinated but says he regularly tests for the virus in order to keep teaching at Dallas Ranch Middle School in Antioch.
He vehemently opposes vaccine mandates, equating them to Nazism and the Holocaust. And he contends the federal government is lying about vaccines to profit pharmaceutical companies.
“When you cross the line in forcing children in schools (to get vaccinated), that’s when I have a problem,” Barnett said.
Cleanups, community health
Barnett also accuses Gioia of not having done enough to reduce traffic in Richmond, either by installing red-light cameras or paying for more law enforcement to crack down on drivers doing “doughnuts.”
Barnett said he’d not only push for that but also for beautifying the west county and getting rid of the blight there: “I’d put out a bunch of things to try to work on it,” he said.
Gioia points out that a county supervisor doesn’t have any jurisdiction in Richmond, an incorporated city that governs itself. And the California Highway Patrol manages traffic enforcement in unincorporated communities such as North Richmond or East Richmond Heights, he noted, adding that decades’ worth of illegal dumping and vehicle abandonment are bigger issues there.
Last fall, however, Gioia voted against spending money from a countywide half-cent sales tax increase on additional law enforcement patrol in unincorporated communities.
But during a recent board discussion, he supported putting more money into the sheriff’s budget. Gioia says he has tried to find a balance between progressive ideas and pragmatic law enforcement measures.
“I am for things like closing juvenile halls, getting people out of incarceration,” he said. “We need more investment on the (crime) prevention side.”
Barnett’s comments in “Everybody’s Richmond California” prompted moderators to kick him out of the Facebook group. Gioia has taken his challenger’s inflammatory comments as real physical threats.
When the League of Women Voters reached out to Gioia to discuss an election forum between the two candidates, he requested the event be held virtually, because “it’s not appropriate that we’re in the same room.”
For his part, Barnett claims he was also physically threatened by another Facebook user in the group, but said he couldn’t provide evidence because he had since been removed.
Barnett has been involved in past controversies. In 2019, he was accused of repeatedly disrupting a town hall held by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier. He initially refused to leave and only did so after police were called, according to Radio Free Richmond.
“I don’t have a problem making people feel uncomfortable,” Barnett said. Asked whether he would consider physical violence against Gioia or another elected official, he said, “If anything ever did happen– I don’t have a plan to do that right now to anybody.”