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Students gain political clout with 3 commission appointments

By Neil G. Greene, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday June 01, 2002

Berkeley’s city government is about to get a breath of fresh air with the appointment of three students to the energy, labor, and human welfare commissions. Councilmember Chris Worthington, who selected the students, said plenty of seats are still available for qualified applicants. Worthington’s District 7 is teeming with a resource outside the jurisdiction of other councilmembers’—the UC Berkeley campus, a veritable hive of young men and women looking to make a difference in their immediate and global community. Worthington said that though some of his recent appointees lack experience, their enthusiasm and intelligence qualify them for the job. 

“I'm always trying to encourage more young people to get involved in city government. Some young kids may not have 20 years experience, but they have good ideas,” said Worthington. “Some people appoint people who volunteer and give money to their election campaigns. I try to do outreach to the community. I try to treat it as merit based, rather than political patronage,” he added. 

According to Councilmember Miriam Hawley, not all councilmembers should be  

expected to select students. 

“There's been talk about how everybody has to appoint students and minorities,” said Hawley. “I'm helping to appoint people that represent my district — my district has a tiny potion of students and a relatively small amount of minorities. I don't appoint students unless they're particularly active, so Kriss Worthington should appoint them,” she said. 

There are currently openings for the commission on the aging and the solid waste management commission in Hawley’s District 5. 

Peter Tadao Gee, a 20 year-old sophomore, with a double major in Rhetoric and Ethnic studies was selected by Worthington to serve on the Labor Commission. Last summer Gee worked in Los Angeles for the Korean Immigrant Worker Advocate, a community organization seeking to improve labor rights for immigrants in the service industry. Involved with the Korean Town restaurant Worker Campaign, Gee helped improve the working conditions in downtown Los Angeles' Korean restaurants. 

“Seeing those issues, and how workers were being exploited concerned me,” said Gee. “I felt there needed to be stronger support, and better working conditions for immigrant workers,” he said. 

Gee hopes his presence on the nine person commission will offer Berkeley a fresh perspective, and that his constituency will see him as a resource and channel to the labor commission and city council. 

Some upcoming agenda items he hopes to discuss with his colleagues include the day laborer issue, and U.C. Berkeley's treatment of their service employees. 

“Berkeley is one of the largest employers in Northern California, and I'd like to make sure their laborers are treated fairly, and present a voice for those workers on general working class issues.” 

Jorge Guzman, a 20 year-old junior studying Political Science and Sociology, was selected to serve on the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission.  

And while Guzman acknowledges his lack of experience in city government, he recognizes he has to start somewhere. 

“I wanted to see how the city works, and thought the position would be a good introduction to city politics,” said Guzman. “The other guys had so much experience, it's nice that [Worthington] let me in,” he added. Guzman said he hopes to help bridge the gap between Berkeley’s Latino residents and the City Council. “I know allot of Latinos are not involved in city politics. There are allot in the city, but few on the council. It could be a language issue, so that's one way I could get involved.” 

Nicole Hopper was selected to serve on the Energy Commission could not be reached for comment. In District 7 there are presently seven vacancies available on the Waterfront, Arts, Early Childhood Education, Fire, Peace and Justice commissions.