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Vancouver to Cuba: Council on Vacation

Friday August 01, 2003

It’s Tuesday night. Do you know where your City Council is? 

Summer is here, and Berkeley’s top politicians are taking their annual warm weather break—leaving City Council chambers empty until a new season of Tuesday night meetings begins Sept.. 9. 

Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Linda Maio are already thousands of miles from the headaches of local government. Wozniak is taking a bike trip on Prince Edward Island in Canada and visiting a daughter in Maine, while Maio is in the midst of a lengthy vacation with stops in Cuba, New York City and Italy, according to aides. 

But others are staying closer to home. 

“I lead a boring life, what can I say?,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

Operating on a councilmember’s modest annual salary of $25,000, Worthington said he just doesn’t have enough money to afford a big trip. 

“The stereotype is, as an elected official, you get rich from all the bribes,” he said. “[But] if you don’t take those bribes—I’m actually much poorer as an elected official than I was decades before that.” 

Worthington said he will while away the summer hours organizing a local 40th anniversary celebration of the civil rights movement’s March on Washington, featuring Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, and pursue the more mundane task of cleaning his apartment. 

“Compared to all the political battles, cleaning your apartment is actually a nice, boring thing,” he said. 

Councilmembers said coping with a $9 million budget shortfall this year—closed with a selective hiring freeze, tax hikes and cuts—made for tough times at City Hall. 

But the city’s top politicians, and their aides, said a new truce between the moderate and progressive factions on the council, facilitated in large part by Mayor Tom Bates, made for a much more civil debate this year than in the past. 

“The sense of people working together up here is just wonderful,” said Maio aide Brad Smith. 

But with an $8 to $10 million deficit looming next year, no one is looking forward to the fall. 

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to take a look at more cuts next year,” said Councilmember Miriam Hawley. 

In the meantime, Hawley is working her way through Tony Hillerman’s latest mystery, “The Sinister Pig,” and planning for a two week trip to Vancouver with a stop in Seattle. 

Hawley said she plans to visit the recently-opened Peet’s Coffee in Seattle—patronizing a chain, with Berkeley roots, that has just made a small dent in the heart of the Starbuck’s empire. 

Mayor Tom Bates was in Sacramento this week, waiting for his wife, State Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, to escape the legislature’s budget quagmire. 

“Free Loni!,” he cried Tuesday afternoon in a telephone interview with the Daily Planet, just hours before the Assembly, in a marathon session, passed a long overdue, $100 billion budget. 

Bates said the lengthy budget fight had already scotched plans to visit Hancock’s father, a Unitarian minister who lives in the Transylvania section of Romania—the birthplace of the Unitarian movement. 

But the mayor said he planned a week’s vacation with his wife at Lake Tahoe to rest up for this fall’s political season. 

Councilmember Betty Olds said she has no travel plans and will, instead, focus on tidying up her garden and enjoying the pleasures of summer in the city. 

“It’s certainly a restful time in Berkeley,” said Olds. “It’s foolish for people to leave Berkeley in the summertime when life is so quiet and serene, when the university really isn’t operating. 

“The students aren’t here,” she said. “You can find a parking place.”