Nat Bates for Mayor Image

Nat Bates for Mayor

By Alan Ng | July 14, 2022

Bradley Berman and Eric Weiss tell the story of politics in their documentary Nat Bates for Mayor, which is as untraditional as it can get… unless you’re living in Richmond, California. The feature film simply epitomizes Northern California politics.

As the title suggests, the documentary is about the 2014 Richmond mayoral campaign of Nat Bates. The Bay Area city of Richmond, CA, is located just north of Berkeley and is home to one of Chevron’s largest oil refineries. It’s easy to see that Chevron brings the most tax revenue to Richmond and employs most of its citizens, so there are those in leadership that will bow to Chevron’s every whim. All this changed in 2012 when the Chevron refinery caught fire, spewing smoke and pollutants into the air. It was a visible disaster that some claim may have been photoshopped.

Chevron is now seeking the city’s approval to build a newer, “safer” refinery. Still, heavy resistance comes from the Progressive city council members and the current mayor. As the mayor is about to be termed out of office, 83-year-old Nat Bates is running, backed by Chevron to the tune of $3 million in campaign aid.

Meanwhile, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) is putting Councilman Tom Butt against Bates and three other progressive members to run for the other council seats. This election is primarily about how much control Chevron will have in the city council, as Bates has been a staunch supporter of Chevron and their economic benefit to the city for the past several decades. The RPA, though, sees Chevron as the catalyst for environmental catastrophe on a global scale.

“The RPA, though, sees Chevron as the catalyst for environmental catastrophe on a global scale.”

While the campaign is about Chevron and jobs, Nat Bates for Mayor soon shows how things devolve into character attacks and smear campaigns on both sides. First, Bates attacks Butt over his treatment of the rapidly dwindling Black community and the repeated dismissal of the conditions of the low-income residents. On the other hand, Bates is accused of being homophobic as he solicits the help of the city’s black churches and prominent civil rights leaders.

The most intriguing aspect of the documentary is I have no idea what side the filmmakers are on. It does everything I wish political documentaries would do and simply present the facts and let us, the audience, come to our own conclusions. In fact, this is how campaigns should be run. Let the candidates speak for themselves and show them in action — to hell with smear campaigns, let the politicians smear themselves. It will save us a lot of time and heartache.

I found the moments surrounding race to be utterly fascinating and truly lie in waiting within the story’s subtext. There’s no more liberal or progressive place on Earth than Northern California. Yet, in this election, the battle is reduced to black and white — but with the white candidates and party portraying themselves as the most liberal, progressive, and inclusive in the ultimate political role reversal. You may or may not agree with my summation of this issue, but it’s not hard to watch this divisive issue play out and then want to talk about it afterward.

Berman and Weiss do an excellent service to civics in America with Nat Bates for Mayor simply by giving us an unbiased take on the state of local politics and how this insanity has bubbled its way up to the top. Agree or disagree with whatever side, it’s eye-opening to see how corporate America has influenced the political arena for the worse. Equally so is to witness how radical movements on the left are not all that much better, peddling fear and the environmental apocalypse. After you see this, ask yourself if the system can ever be fixed.

Nat Bates for Mayor (2022)

Directed and Written: Bradley Berman, Eric Weiss

Starring: Nat Bates, Tom Butt, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Nat Bates for Mayor Image

"…does an excellent service to civics in America..."

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