Berkeley’s political establishment—scarcely having drawn a breath since the abortive battle over the parcel tax measure—has jumped into the next round of City Council elections fully eleven months before voters head to the polls.
Confirming rumors circulating throughout the city for at least a year, one-term 5th District Councilmember Miriam Hawley announced this week that she won’t run for reelection next fall. Her district sits in the northwestern corner of the city, beginning at Vine Street, ending at the northern city limit, and including the upper Solano Avenue business district.
“I just thought it would be good to clear the air,” Hawley said. “I’ve been getting questions daily from people who were suspecting, and had heard the rumors. And if I’m going to be a lame duck, it may as well be official. And it gives people who want to run a chance to think about it.”
One recent rumormonger was Mayor Tom Bates, who said during last week’s Council meeting that he understood “at least two, and maybe three, councilmembers will not be running for re-election next year.”
Though Bates didn’t say which councilmembers, the terms of Margaret Breland (District 2), Maudelle Shirek (District 3), and Betty Olds (District 6) all end next year.
In a prepared press statement, Hawley said she was retiring because of “family obligations.” Although the statement didn’t cite personal health issues, Hawley suffered a minor stroke during her Council term, and walks with the aid of a cane.
While Hawley’s announcement came as no surprise, the last line of her press statement—sent out from her official city e-mail address—ignited the first controversy of the still-infant campaign to replace her. “Ms. Hawley,” it read, “is encouraging Berkeley businessman and long-time resident Laurie Capitelli to run for the District 5 seat next November.”
Capitelli, a Realtor and former high school teacher, is the president of Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustment Board. He also chairs the Mayor’s Advisory Task Force on Permitting and Development.
City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque said she first learned of the Capitelli endorsement from a reporter. “They called me and said they had the press release and there seems to be a statement in it that would be improper because it appears to be endorsing a candidate,” Albuquerque said.
“I hadn’t seen the press release before that. It was completely fine, except that it had this almost throwaway last sentence in there about encouraging someone else to run. I thought that was improper to put that in the e-mail, the problem being that it was sent out from her City of Berkeley e-mail address. It could be construed as improperly using city resources to promote a candidate, which is against the law.”
Albuquerque called Hawley’s office and recommended that the press statement be reissued with the offending paragraph deleted. Hawley’s office immediately complied, sending out a new release asking all recipients to “please disregard and discard the previous press release.”
Albuquerque called the incident an “inadvertent mistake. Sometimes these things happen.”
Capitelli confirmed his candidacy for Hawley’s seat. But even with Hawley’s endorsement, he can’t be considered the favorite in the race—not until the giant looming in District 5, former Mayor Shirley Dean, decides what course she will take.
Dean held the District 5 seat from 1986 until her election as mayor in 1994, and with Hawley’s announcement, rumors raced through the city that she was considering a run for her old seat. Dean was defeated for mayor by Tom Bates last year.
“Shirley Dean would be a formidable challenge, given her ability to raise money,” said Berkeley progressive political activist Carrie Olson, one of three candidates who lost to Hawley in the 2000 District 5 election. She said Capitelli “would be an excellent candidate, if he’s interested”—and that was before she learned that Capitelli was running.
The Dean-as-the-800-pound-gorilla sentiment was expressed even more strongly by former public interest lawyer Tom Kelly, a Green Party member who came in second in the 2000 District 5 race. “If Shirley Dean says yes early enough, then everybody else will scoot,” Kelly said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her say that she’s going to take it on.”
Dean would neither commit to the race, nor rule it out.
“My comment is ‘no comment,’” she said, laughing. Asked if she had any interest in running for the District 5 seat at some point in the future she laughed and offered another “no comment.”
“I think what we all ought to do is enjoy the season, and put our minds to work about the city’s fiscal crisis and not get all embroiled in political things at this point,” she said.
Dean then proceeded to embroil herself in political things.
On Hawley’s anointing of Capitelli, the former mayor said she thought it was “a little early to be out there making an endorsement.” Dean also took issue with Hawley’s position on the recently dropped parcel tax. It was Hawley who made the motion at Council to put the tax on the ballot, stating that her constituents were in favor of it.
“I disagreed with Mim Hawley’s comment that the district was in favor of it,” Dean said. “I personally was not in favor of [the parcel tax], and many people in the district told me they were opposed to it. Nobody told me they favored it, and I heard from a great many people.”
If Dean isn’t a declared candidate, she’s certainly sounding like one—or at least like someone itching to get back into public life in one form or another. Asked how she’d get the city out of its present budget crisis, Dean said, “I think that the city has to stop spending. I listened to the conversation very carefully about the deficit that they’re in on this year’s budget, let alone next year’s budget. Yet the Council took no action whatsoever on that meeting to stop their own spending.”
For his part, Capitelli said he needed to do more studying of the city budget process before advancing any suggested solutions.
“I haven’t been following the budget debate on council closely,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t say that at this stage of the game that I’m an expert on the city budget. I do think that everybody needs to come to the table, including the unions, to talk about how the pain should be shared. Everybody needs to come to the table with that perspective. Not, ‘How am I going to protect my turf?’ And that’ll be a tough one. I think people need to act in good faith and acknowledge that we are in a pickle.”
Capitelli, who moved into the District in 1972, said he felt he’d fit in well with a council that needed to bring a host of competing economic interests together. “My business is problem-solving and negotiation,” he said. “That’s what I do as a Realtor.”
But even without Dean, next November’s election might still be crowded. At least two potential candidates don’t rule out a run.
Asked if she might run, former Dean aide Barbara Gilbert answered, “Maybe. I’m considering it.”
Gilbert, one of the leaders of the drive to keep the parcel tax off the ballot, said the early timing of Hawley’s re-election announcement was “part of an effort to shore up a political machine that is scared. It’s scared because of the huge outpouring against the proposed parcel tax and a new definition of what the real issues are.
“And there are more people in the city questioning what had been previously accepted assumptions about housing development, about taxation, about the labor unions.”
Kelly, laughing, said his take on a run for Hawley’s seat depending on what time of day he was asked. “Early in the day, I’ll probably say yes. Late in the day after I’ve been run over by things, I’ll say no. I’ve thought about it, and sometimes I’ve thought that I might do it again. It’s a lot of work. I’m not saying no. I’m not saying yes.”
Whether or not he’s the one to be sitting on City Council, he said a distinct change in the demographics is needed. “If you look at the makeup of the city council, the only people who can really afford to run are either retired people or people that have their own private source of income,” he said.
“Working people cannot get on the city council, because it doesn’t pay enough. It doesn’t pay a living wage. And yet it’s a full-time job. I think that that hurts the city in a way, because there’s a whole group of people that are in their 30s or 40s that are raising families who could probably make a real contribution to the city but just can’t consider it, because it would mean that they couldn’t afford to live here.”
Three years into a job she’ll soon be relinquishing, Hawley has distinct ideas about the type of councilmember who should replace her. “I think it should be somebody who’s pretty well known in the district as a person who’s thoughtful,” she said.
“Our district is very fond of thoughtful people who will be responsive to them when they call in with problems. Somebody who’s already had leadership position in the city, so that they know something about government. Somebody who can probably be a conciliatory person, who can continue to work with everyone on the Council, and who knows how to come to consensus.”
While the ability to reach consensus is a prerequisite for whoever replaces Miriam Hawley as the next District 5 Councilmember, consensus over who that next Councilmember will be still seems a long ways away.