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Signature Snafu Knocks Councilmember Shirek Off November Ballot: By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday August 10, 2004

In what one prominent Berkeley progressive—Jaqueline DeBose—angrily said “appears to be a gentrified left-wing conspiracy,” the 20-year City Council career of Berkeley legend Maudelle Shirek may have come to an abrupt end last week when her campaign for re-election was disqualified by the Berkeley city clerk’s office. 

The decision came around 7:30 p.m. last Friday night, two and a half hours after Shirek’s nominating petition had been turned in at the close of filing for the District 3 seat. City Clerk Sherry Kelly said she immediately telephoned longtime Shirek aide Mike Berkowitz to inform him that Shirek would not be placed on November’s ballot because only nine of the signatures on the petition were valid, 11 short of the 20 needed. 

Fourteen of the 25 signatures on Shirek’s petition were from Berkeley citizens who lived outside District 3. Last March, Berkeley voters passed a City Council-sponsored ballot measure mandating that council nominating petitions be gathered only inside the district in which the candidate was running. Prior to this year, candidates could gather petitions from registered voters living anywhere in the city. 

By late Monday afternoon, Berkowitz said that Shirek’s office was considering challenging Kelly’s ruling, and that he was consulting with the law office of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell of San Leandro. 

Attorney and former City Councilmember Don Jelinek—one of the petition signators—said, however, that “I don’t think it can be challenged—they had a whole weekend to be calling around for legal help." 

Meanwhile, using the state election code procedures when an incumbent fails to qualify for re-election, the city clerk’s office extended the District 3 filing until 5 p.m. Wednesday for any possible new challengers. Outgoing Rent Stabilization Board Chair Maxwell Anderson and political newcomer Jeffrey Benefiel had already filed for the District 3 seat. Following the announcement of the Shirek disqualification, consultant James Peterson—who lost to Shirek in 2000—picked up nomination papers from the clerk’s office, saying at press time that he had not decided whether or not he would run. 

Berkowitz released the following statement on the situation: “My job is to check all of the registration materials before they go in and I failed to check all of the signatures against the requirements of the new law. I’ve heard people blame the signature gatherers, the law, the city clerk, and even Maudelle. That’s wrong. I had the final responsibility, as I’ve had the last 20 years. I was totally wrong.” 

In addition to being Shirek’s aide, Berkowitz is the chief of Information Services and Neighborhood Planning in the City of San Francisco Planning Department. 

Shirek did not return telephone calls in connection with this article. Another long-time aide, Dale Bartlett, declined to make a statement on Monday afternoon, saying it was “too crazy around here to talk today.” 

Ninth District Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a longtime Shirek supporter, said that “it’s tragic that a staff mistake would end a great and brilliant career in this way. Maudelle Shirek should make her own decision based on whatever options are available to her, and we will support her in whatever her decision is.” 

DeBose did not elaborate on her charges of a conspiracy against Shirek, but asked if she didn’t think the petition failure might have been inadvertent, she said “Mike [Berkowitz] has been [Shirek’s] campaign manager from the beginning. How many times has she run? Five times? That’s your answer.” DeBose said that Shirek was “probably the last person on City Council who votes consistently with compassion and conviction on progressive issues. She’s a mosquito on the collar. She’s ‘too left’ for the gentrified left in Berkeley.” 

DeBose also took a swipe at Mayor Tom Bates, who was quoted in a local paper as saying that Shirek’s disqualification might have been a “blessing in disguise” for the long-term councilmember, since she was headed for a “difficult election” against “a formidable opponent.” 

In a reference to Bates’ infamous newspaper-trashing incident during his 2002 election, DeBose said “Yes, maybe it would be a difficult campaign for Maudelle if she has to go out in the middle of the night and steal 5,000 newspapers. You need a younger person to do that.”  

Shirek’s office took out the nominating petition papers from the clerk’s office on July 30. City Clerk Kelly said that—as is done with all city office candidates, whether or not they are incumbents—her office conducted a half-hour briefing of Shirek and Bartlett at the time the petitions were picked up, informing them of all of the pertinent election laws. Kelly said that the briefing included the information that signatures had to be gathered from voters living within the district. In addition, the information with the new signature law is readily available to the public, both on the city’s website and on a candidate pamphlet handout which is on the public information racks in the clerk’s office at City Hall. Kelly said that Berkowitz was not present at that briefing, but said that it was her understanding that the responsibility for the petitions was passed on from Bartlett to Berkowitz. 

Kelly said that she “encourage[s] candidates to file their petitions early” because of the possibilities of nominating petition problems surfacing at the last minute. Kelly said that the petitions of three other City Council candidates were returned to the candidates “early on Friday” because of signature problems. Because those individuals were candidates in districts whose nominations did not close until Wednesday, they will be allowed to resubmit the petitions. 

Shirek’s office did not begin gathering signatures until Thursday afternoon of last week, the day before the deadline. Berkowitz obtained as many as six signatures on the petition that afternoon, including those of Police Review Commission member Jacqueline DeBose and her husband, Charles, who live in District 3. The DeBoses said they did not fill in their addresses on the petition. Those addresses were later added to the petition when it was turned in, but—because the addresses were incorrect and did not match the DeBoses’ address on their registration certificates—the DeBoses’ signatures were also disqualified by the city clerk’s office. 

On Thursday evening, during a Shirek campaign committee meeting, Berkowitz turned the signatures over to campaign volunteer Jae Scharlin, asking her to complete the petition. Scharlin, who expressed anguish over the situation, said that she received a list of suggested signators from Berkowitz, which included citizens from both inside and outside District 3. Scharlin said “at least two” of the petition signers questioned whether outsiders could sign the petitions, but she did not pay attention because she was working from Berkowitz’ list, and assumed he knew what he was doing. 

Jelinek said, "The irony is that I was on a long distance call when Jaye Scharlin came with the petition, and she had flipped it to the second page, so I thought it was to get the filing fee waived. It’s the first time Mike didn’t do it himself. I was just stunned when I got the call [telling me that the petition had been disqualified], and I feel very sad for the pain I know Maudelle is feeling now.” 

Scharlin obtained the rest of the 25 signatures on Friday, and returned the nominating petition to Berkowitz on Friday afternoon. Berkowitz turned the nominating petition in to the clerk’s office on Friday a few moments before the 5 p.m. deadline, after signing an affidavit certifying that he had circulated the petition himself, and that he had “witnessed the appended sponsor’s signatures being written in [his] presence.” 

Berkowitz said later that turning in nominating petitions near the deadline was standard political procedure in Berkeley, and was done to keep potential opponents off balance. 

“It hurts,” he said. “She’s the one I love. She’s the godmother of my child. She’s someone I’ve worked and struggled with for more than 30 years.”?