Mayoral candidate Tom Bates and Councilmember Donna Spring were the big winners at Wednesday’s Berkeley Green Party nomination event. Both candidates won overwhelming support in preliminary votes and are now all but assured the official endorsements, to be named Sunday.
For Bates, who represented Berkeley in the state Assembly for 20 years, the support of Berkeley’s 5,000 registered greens is pivotal. His race against incumbent Mayor Shirley Dean is expected to be close, and Bates says having progressive factions behind him is necessary to win.
“I really do value you guys,” Bates told party members at a member’s home on 2000 block of Blake Street, adding that he would seek their counsel on policy issues if he were elected mayor.
Although other environmental organizations have endorsed Bates, he is considered a centrist by most progressives, and several greens worry that he is too conservative on issues such as the environment, development and human rights.
“I want a sense of how the city is going to be different other than nicer city council meetings,” said Laura Stevens, expressing concern that Bates’ positions weren’t much different than Dean’s.
But most greens voiced support for Bates. “Tom has done more since he returned from the Assembly than a lot of elected officials who are getting paid,” said Pam Webster.
Green party members faced an unprecedented choice in having two green candidates to choose from in the city’s 4th District race. Community activist L A Wood has challenged the party’s standard-bearer, Councilmember Donna Spring.
Party members had no difficulty deciding who to endorse as Spring won 16–2 in the preliminary vote.
“I’m deeply concerned about two greens running in the same district,” said Tom Kelly. “We’re putting ourselves in jeopardy.”
Bob Migdal, an attorney and former rent board commissioner, is supported by the council’s moderate faction and is expeted to mount a strong campaign. David Freeman a former Zoning Adjustment Board member is also running for the council seat.
Wood, though expecting the endorsement to go to Spring, wasn’t happy about the decision.
“The [green] power structure is in the hands of so few people and the county party is not working to overcome it,” he said.
Wood sparked controversy recently when he claimed green party leaders purposely excluded him from a meeting Aug. 26 to plan to give the endorsement to Spring. Spring supporters, though, maintain that the meeting was publicized and held in the public library for anybody to attend.
There was one surprise endorsement by the greens.
In the 8th District, Green Party member Carlos Estrada was shunned in favor of Peace and Justice Commissioner Anne Wagley.
According to party members, Estrada gave disappointing answers on a questionnaire provided to the candidates. He was was too concerned with UC Berkeley rather than with city issues, said Elliot Cohen. Wagley’s endorsement was made at an earlier meeting.
While the greens were united on nearly every issue, the height initiative drove a wedge through the party. The controversial initiative will appear on the November ballot and, if passed, would decrease allowable building heights in several neighborhoods.
Party members decided not to offer an official opinion on the initiative after a preliminary poll showed that six members supported height limits and seven opposed them.
Those against the initiative said limiting building heights would lead to more urban sprawl and more cars on the road. “We are becoming the laughing stock of the smart growth movement,” said Stuart Cohen.
Supporters said the initiative was the only way to stop developers from forcing out-of-scale development on a compliant City Council and planning staff.
Bob Marsh, Berkeley Green Party treasurer said he would probably vote for height limits, but understood the divide. “This is an emotional idea,” he said. “People are going to vote on what they think Berkeley should look like.”
With 5,000 members, Berkeley’s chapter of the Green Party constitutes 8 percent of the city’s registered voters. Donna Spring is the only party member in City Council, but greens are represented on the Rent Board and School Board.