The Berkeley Democratic Club, home to the moderate wing of the city’s Democratic Party, overwhelmingly endorsed Charles Ramsey for the 14th State Assembly District seat and Jacki Fox Ruby for the Alameda County Board of Education on Thursday. Both candidates are up for election in March.
“I’m just happy and delighted and grateful for the support of the club,” said Ramsey. “I look forward to serving its constituency.”
Almost 80 percent of more than 100 club members present, voted to endorse Ramsey, a member of the West Contra Costa Unified School Board since 1993.
Seventeen percent supported former Berkeley mayor Loni Hancock, and 3 percent voted for David Brown, chief of staff for Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker.
In the county’s school board race, 60 percent of the members backed Fox Ruby, a long-time Berkeley teacher. Thirty-six percent voted to endorse incumbent Jerome Wiggins.
Club members said they were impressed with Ramsey, and troubled with Hancock’s record as mayor.
“We all like his warmth and his knowledge,” said City Council member Betty Olds, discussing Ramsey’s appeal. “Loni’s history goes against her for this club.”
Olds said Hancock’s record on certain issues, such as her support for rent control, alienated members of the club.
The session, which took place at Northbrae Community Church on The Alameda, began with opening statements by the Assembly candidates, one of whom will replace Assemblymember Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, who must leave office next year because of term limits.
Brown urged club members to buck Berkeley’s tradition of “machine” politics, and vote for an outsider.
He also trumpeted his work as a teacher in the Richmond Unified School District, arguing it would be helpful in tackling statewide education issues.
Hancock touted her experience in economic development and environmental issues as the city’s mayor during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and called on the moderate club to reach across the divide and support her progressive candidacy.
“Often, this club and I have not agreed on local issues,” Hancock said.
“I am quite sure we would agree on issues at the state level.”
Ramsey said he has experience dealing with budget difficulties, like those confronting the state, noting that the West Contra Costa Unified School District went bankrupt only two years before he took a seat on the school board.
“We all know about earthquakes,” Ramsey said. “Well, I fought the aftershocks.”
The candidates agreed on most issues discussed, and focused on the importance of education, the environment, affordable housing, healthcare and economic recovery.
The biggest clash of the night came after a question about Proposition 13 – a 1978 ballot initiative approved by California voters that capped property taxes, once a primary funding source for the state’s public schools.
A club member, in a written question, asked whether the candidates would vote to repeal the measure. “Yes, I would,” said Hancock. “I think that Proposition 13 was a very bad piece of legislation.”
Hancock said the measure has led to declining spending on education, and the loss of local control over school policy.
Ramsey differed. “I think it would be a very irrational act to repeal 13,” he said. “To eliminate a law that has been in place for almost a quarter century would create havoc in the economy.”
Ramsey, who is African-American, said the rise in property taxes that would result from the repeal of Proposition 13 would hit people of color particularly hard.
Brown also opposed the repeal of the law, arguing that rising property taxes would harm senior citizens on fixed incomes. “It’s unfair to pull the rug out on them,” Brown said.
Susan Wengraf, president of the Berkeley Democratic Club, said the debate over Proposition 13 caught her eye. “If Loni is in favor of repealing 13, that really does hit the pocketbooks of long-time residents,” she said.
Wengraf said that, ultimately, Ramsey’s skill at getting things done set him apart. “I think Loni is an idealist...but I’m not sure she’s effective at implementing it,” she said. “And I think Charles is a problem-solver.”
Mayor Shirley Dean was also impressed with Ramsey. “I think he came across as a very steady, serious candidate who is well-informed on educational issues,” Dean said, “not on the theoretical level, but on the day-to-day level.”
Several club members said they liked Brown, but that he was simply too inexperienced at this point to be an Assemblymember.
Joaquin Rivera, vice president of the Berkeley Board of Education, said the Democratic Club made a good decision in endorsing Fox Ruby, arguing that she could help to heal divisions on the county board, one of Fox Ruby’s leading arguments for her candidacy.
Kriss Worthington, a progressive City Council member aligned with Berkeley Citizens Action, the more liberal political club in the city, said the BCA will make its endorsements on Feb. 3 at the North Berkeley Senior Center.
Worthington, who removed himself as a candidate for the Assembly in favor of Hancock’s candidacy, said that he was surprised to hear about Ramsey’s position on Proposition 13. “It’s a pretty shocking position to take in the Democratic Party,” he said, arguing that progressives are pushing for a repeal of the proposition, combined with a shift of the property tax burden from homeowners to commercial real estate owners.