Editorial: Start Running Now

Becky O'Malley
Friday May 28, 2004

The next Berkeley City Council race should be shaping up right about now. The first of a series of important dates for potential candidates is today, May 28. This is the first day to take out petitions to file as a candidate without paying a fee. Ordinarily, a candidate running for local office in the City of Berkeley is required to pay a filing fee of $150 at the time he or she takes out nomination papers. However, instead of paying all or part of the fee, a candidate can get signatures of support from up to 150 Berkeley registered voters. Each valid signature reduces the filing fee by $1. The city clerk’s office at City Hall (2180 Milvia St.) has the petition forms, which must be filed at least 15 days prior to the close of the nomination period, which closes Friday, August 6. Candidates who pay the fee can wait until then to file, though they also must collect some signatures to be eligible. The city clerk’s office has ample information on all this in the form of a pamphlet and on the city’s website. 

Only one incumbent (Hawley) has announced her intention of retiring as yet; two candidates have spoken of seeking her seat. As far as the public is aware, the other three incumbents (Breland, Shirek, Olds) are still in the race. However, people who live in those districts should be exploring the possibility of candidacy should their councilmember drop out before August.  

An incumbent’s late departure from the race gives insiders, especially insiders supported by the incumbent, a better chance to succeed. This motivates incumbents who want to continue to retain influence over government to delay announcing that they’re not running as long as possible. This makes it hard for ordinary citizens who don’t like the way things are going in government to consider running for office. Berkeley’s habit of choosing the mayor and councilmembers from the inside track like this has not produced good government lately. 

There’s no better illustration of what’s wrong in Berkeley than the ongoing machinations around the Planning Commission. The commission has recently been packed, by both Mod and Prog mayor and council members, with advocates of super-density, much to the alarm of neighbors of University Avenue and residents of West Berkeley. The crowning outrage was Councilmember Margaret Breland’s unceremonious dumping of West Berkeley Planning Commissioner John Curl—an artisan who supports the West Berkeley Plan—in favor of an outspoken proponent of redeveloping the area which the plan now reserves for light manufacturing and arts. A cursory analysis of the large percentage of mega-developer money in Breland’s campaign contributions in the last two elections could have predicted this outcome, of course, but it’s disheartening to citizens who participate in planning processes in good faith. 

That’s why the question of her replacement, if any, is one that citizens of her district should start taking seriously, and now. Even if Breland runs, University Avenue and West Berkeley residents might want to oppose her. And if she doesn’t run, as seems likely, they should certainly find the right replacement. At least one potential candidate, Peralta College Boardmember Darryl Moore, has spoken privately about his desire to succeed Breland, and he might be a good choice, but district residents should leave nothing to chance, and particularly nothing to back room deals in which they can’t participate. 

Residents of the other two possibly contestable districts might take the same advice. They shouldn’t just sit around waiting to find out who’s going to run, they should be proactively seeking candidates who represent their interests, in case vacancies “turn up” just before the August filing date, as they have a habit of doing. Be prepared, as the Boy Scouts and Tom Lehrer used to say. 


—Becky O’Malley›