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Election Contests Set (By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR) In All Four City Districts

Friday August 13, 2004

After a hectic period that began with the announcement of veteran Councilmember Maudelle Shirek’s disqualification for the November ballot, the filing deadline for candidates in the fall Berkeley City Council election closed with some minor shakeups, the non-appearance of one potential major candidate, and some interesting, competitive races developing. 

Several reporters and political officeholders hung around City Hall at the close of filing on Wednesday evening to see if former mayor Shirley Dean might opt to attempt to reclaim her old District 5 City Council seat, now being vacated by Councilmember Miriam “Mim” Hawley. Dean didn’t show, ending months-long speculation that she might use the District 5 seat as a steppingstone for a rematch race against Tom Bates, the man who removed her from the mayor’s office in the 2002 elections. 

That left District 3 as the most talked about—and still somewhat uncertain—council race. 

Before Shirek failed to make the November ballot because her campaign failed to obtain the proper nominating signatures, she was being challenged by Rent Stabilization Board Chair Maxwell Anderson and jeweler and political newcomer Jeffrey Benefiel. 

On the Monday following Shirek’s Friday evening disqualification, two more candidates quickly took out nominating papers— housing developer James Peterson and neighborhood organizer Laura Menard. Peterson ran an unsuccessful race against Shirek four years ago. On Wednesday of this week, the last day for qualifying, a fifth potential candidate also took out papers—boutique owner Helen Davis. 

But between Monday and Wednesday Peterson changed his mind, opting not to turn in his nominating papers, and instead filed for the Peralta Community College District Board. Davis turned in her papers to the City Clerk’s office just at close of business on Wednesday evening, but was disqualified herself after city workers determined that she did not have the 20 necessary nominating signatures of voters registered in the district. It was a somewhat embarrassing failure for a candidate who entered the race only after the widely publicized disqualification of the incumbent for the same offense. 

That left Anderson, Benefiel, and Menard officially in the race for the District 3 Council seat. And, unofficially, Councilmember Shirek herself. 

Berkeley political circles were rife with widespread rumors this week that Shirek was huddled with advisors, considering running for her old seat as a write-in candidate. Shirek did not return telephone calls from the Daily Planet concerning this possibility. 

State election law allows a write-in candidate to submit a candidate’s statement and nomination papers beginning 57 days before the election, which means a formal decision on a possible Shirek write-in might be held off until the first or second week in September. 

Meanwhile, with her candidacy only a few hours old, Menard was making her own political fumbles. In her candidate statement filed with the City Clerk’s office, she said that she was “endorsed by almost every neighborhood group in the district.” That would have been a remarkable coup, given that Menard had only announced her candidacy after Shirek was bounced from the ballot, and most of the neighborhood groups hadn’t even met in the few days that had passed since that stunning development. Menard later qualified her assertion, saying that several representatives of neighborhood groups (Ralph Adams of the 62nd Street Neighborhood Association, Laurie Bright of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, Robin Wright and Sam Herbert of the South Berkeley Crime Prevention Council, Karl Reeh of the LeConte Neighborhood Association, and Frankie Lee Fraser of the San Pablo Park Neighborhood Association) had signed her nomination papers, but only as individuals, not in any official capacity. Menard did say that the Alcatraz Avenue Neighborhood Association had a meeting Monday night and “they’re on board,” but she later called back and said that she’d received misinformation, and the group had not yet formally made a decision on the District 3 race. 

Menard did cite one prominent city political heavyweight in her campaign statement: former mayor Shirley Dean. With Mayor Bates listed as a reference in Max Anderson’s statement, that may set the District 3 race up as a revival of the old moderate-progressive political battles that once dominated Berkeley politics.  

Menard, who lists membership in the South Berkeley Crime Prevention Council, Budgetwatch, and the Berkeley High Safety Committee as her record of community service, said in a telephone interview that she saw three issues as the most important in the upcoming race: crime, commercial development, and school-city cooperation. “We need to follow up on the commitment from the Berkeley Police Department to implement an effective community-involved policing plan,” she said. “We need to restore the health and vitality of the commercial districts along Shattuck, Adeline, Alcatraz, and Sacramento streets. And we need to further refine the coordination of services between the school district and this community. In the after school hours, we have a lot of potential to coordinate the kinds of services kids need.” 

She said her main difference with opponent Max Anderson was that, “I’m an independent individual who’s focused on practical, doable remedies. I’m not interested in the political machinery.” 

Asked the same question, Anderson said that the difference between him and Menard was that, “I take a very comprehensive view of community building. I don’t rely exclusively on a military solution to our problems. I think there’s enough evidence around the world that strict military or police solutions only deal with the tip of the iceberg. If we don’t pay some attention to real prevention, instead of just reacting, we’ll be reacting in perpetuity.” 

A former member of the Planning Commission and the Charter Review Commission, Anderson said he couldn’t name individual issues as “most important” in this race. “Most issues are interrelated,” he explained. “Even if you’re talking about crime—with two homicides in the last couple of weeks, that’s gotten everybody’s attention. But we have to look at the underlying causes. We have the health disparities in the community. We need approaches that are inclusive to people that live in the community. We need an arts district, as well as a more vigorous economic activity in our commercial corridor. And it’s time to put something together for young people in this community, whether it’s arts or jobs or recreational activities.” 

Anderson said that he was not going to change his attitude towards the race now that Shirek—at least for the present—was not an opponent. 

“I’m going to put my best foot forward and run a very aggressive campaign,” he said. “I’m not going to proceed as if there are no opponents now. I don’t see it as a cakewalk in any way, shape or form. I’m hoping that the sad incident of the circumstances surrounding how Maudelle was not able to qualify can be converted into an opportunity for all of us to unify and work towards the goals that many of us share in South Berkeley.” 

Benefiel appeared to still be formulating his political platform. In his nominating papers, he said simply that “while my personal opinions make up my personality they are always subservient to the opinions of the residents of District 3.” Asked if he had been endorsed by any neighborhood groups—as Menard had claimed—he said that no, he hadn’t, but if any of them called him, he would ask them. 

In the remaining Berkeley races whose nomination periods closed on Wednesday evening: 

In Council District 2, Peralta Community College Board Trustee Darryl Moore will compete with political newcomer Sharon Anne Kidd—a public relations executive—for the seat being vacated by Councilmember Margaret Breland. 

Council District 5—vacated by outgoing Councilmember Miriam “Mim” Hawley—will be contested by Zoning Commissioner Laurie Capitelli, former Mayoral Aide Barbara Gilbert, and sales manager Jesse Townley. 

Eleanor Walden is the only incumbent opting to compete for four open seats on Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board. Walden was appointed to that position in February of this year to complete the term of Matthew Jay Siegel. Four other candidates—Housing Commissioner Jesse Arreguin, attorney Jack Harris, Boalt Law School student Seth Morris, and Tenants Rights Director Jason Overman—are also running for seats on the board.