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Student seeks City Council seat

David Scharfenberg
Thursday October 10, 2002

He’s 22 years old. He’s a graduate student at UC Berkeley. And he could be your next City Councilmember. 

Andy Katz, one of three candidates vying for retiring Councilmember Polly Armstrong’s 8th District seat, has been a politician since high school, when he served on the San Mateo Union High School District school board. 

Katz spent his undergraduate years at UC Berkeley working on community issues and pressing the flesh. And now with Election Day a month away, he has lined up more than 1,000 endorsements – essentially, a who’s who of progressive politicians in Berkeley. 

“He has a stunning record of achievement for someone his age,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who appointed Katz to the Zoning Adjustments Board last year and has endorsed the student’s candidacy. “He’s been very actively involved in housing and transportation and public safety issues.” 

Progressives, who currently hold a 5-4 edge over the moderates on City Council, see Katz’s candidacy as a boon to their side. 

Katz, who would be the first student to win a seat on the council since Nancy Skinner in 1984, touts the backing of liberal figures like Worthington and Congresswoman Barbara Lee. He also takes a strong stand on progressive issues like the environment and tenants’ rights. 

But he resists the “progressive” label and insists that he has broad appeal in the district, which stretches south of the UC Berkeley campus through the hills. The district has repeatedly elected moderate candidates like Armstrong to office. 

“I’m much more concerned about issues than labels,” said Katz. “There’s a lot of people who care about the issues like I do.” 

Katz said he just wants to make Berkeley work, and he talks fluidly about the ins and outs of bread-and-butter issues like traffic, housing and public safety. 

Planning commissioner Gordon Wozniak, who will face off with Katz and human rights consultant Anne Wagley for the 8th District seat next month, said there has been a lot of overlap on the issues on the campaign trail. 

But, he said there is a fundamental difference between Katz and himself. 

“I have a lot more experience,” said Wozniak, who has the backing of moderates. “I’ve lived in the district for more than 30 years.” 

Katz brushes off questions of experience, arguing that he has done real work on district issues. In 1999, Katz notes, he helped to negotiate AC Transit bus passes for UC Berkeley students. The passes, he said, have helped reduce traffic in the neighborhood. 

Katz said his record has helped dispel voter concerns about his age. 

“When I tell voters about my experience working on city issues and let them know how I’ve worked with city leaders... I overcome those barriers very quickly,” he said. 

But Armstrong, who is supporting Wozniak, argued that Katz’s electoral base is among students and predicted that he will have trouble mobilizing support. 

“On Election Day, it’s really hard to get students organized to vote in big numbers,” she said. 

Katz said he is working hard to enroll student voters and get them to the polls. But, he said that he is meeting with community groups throughout the district and argued that his appeal goes beyond the UC Berkeley campus. 

Armstrong also predicted that Katz and Wagley will split the progressive vote in the district and Wozniak will march to victory. 

But Wagley, who has focused much of her campaign on issues of open public process, argued that she falls outside the traditional “progressive” and “moderate” camps and rejected Armstrong’s prediction. 

Katz also took exception with the council members’ view.  

“There’s three candidates running,” Katz replied. “I’m looking to take at least 45 percent of the vote.” 

“I think the conventional wisdom would be because Gordon has so much money and moderate endorsements that he’s the one to beat,” said Worthington. “But Berkeley is not always as predictable as it could be.”