In a year of politics by extremes — trash-talking candidates, journalism by celebrity- and scandal-mongering, voter anger on the left and right — there are antidotes. One of them is a courtly, retired schoolteacher serving his first term as an elected official in a West Coast city of middling size and less-than middling means.

Eduardo Martinez, is a member of the city council in Richmond, California, a city that regular visitors to may remember. As Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening activists gather this week in Washington, DC, to demand new restrictions on big political donations and an end to restrictions on ballot access, the story is an apt one.

On paper, Richmond seems an unlikely showcase for civic empowerment. A town just shy of 109,000 residents, it’s only 18 miles north of San Francisco, but economically a world away. In San Francisco, the median household income is $83,000 a year. In Richmond, it’s $55,000. Nearly 18 percent of Richmond residents live below the poverty line; half of the population speaks a language other than English at home, according to federal data compiled by the Census Reporter project.

Two years ago, Martinez and a slate of allied candidates put Richmond on the map when they won a majority on the City Council despite a better-than $3 million campaign to defeat them by Chevron.

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