Making a weekend campaign stop in Berkeley, Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb asked party faithful not to judge him on his showing in November.
“Our goal this election is to nurture the Green Party at the local level and build capacity,” he told roughly 15 supporters at the home of Jesse Townley, a Green Party candidate for Berkeley City Council. Earlier in the day he addressed a few dozen supporters at a fundraiser at Berkeley’s Cafe de la Paz.
Berkeley should be the poster child for Cobb’s pitch. Berkeley Greens, already outnumber Republicans, number more than 4,800 (nearly seven percent of registered voters), and boast five elected representatives, including City Councilmember Dona Spring, School Board President John Selawsky and Rent Board commissioners Howard Chong, Chris Kavanagh and Selma Spector.
But if 2004 is the year to bolster the ranks of Green officeholders, other cities are going to have to pick up Berkeley’s slack.
Besides Townley, only Selawsky, who is seeking reelection, is running as an active member of the local Green Party. District 3 candidate Jeffrey Benefiel has told party leaders that he’s a registered Green, but they haven’t had prior contact with him.
In 2002, the Greens ran five candidates in city elections and the only one to lose, L. A. Wood, was defeated by Spring.
“There is disappointment that we aren’t running many candidates,” Commissioner Chong said in a Monday interview. “A lot of people active in the Green Party don’t seem interested in holding political office.”
“This was a difficult year to recruit,” said Bob Marsh, treasurer of the Alameda County Green Party. “It’s not easy to find someone to run for City Council in particular.”
Spring, however, wasn’t bothered by the lack of candidates this year.
“People’s politics are more important than their party,” she said. “Ultimately you have to base your support on a record of experience.
Spring is backing Democrat Max Anderson over Benefiel in District 3. Her willingness to cross party lines is typical of local Greens. Chong, who two years ago helped persuade Mayor Tom Bates, a Democrat, to run for office, has not yet endorsed Townley. Selawsky has signed the ballot argument opposing a citywide measure to decriminalize prostitution, which the Green Party has officially endorsed.
Lack of party discipline is rooted in the Greens’ political culture, Chong said. “People are passionate and work on whatever they feel like so it’s hard to keep them under control.”
For Berkeley Greens, perhaps more important than any local candidate this November is a ballot measure to publicly finance city campaigns. If Berkeley voters pass the proposal and Alameda County allows for instant runoff voting, approved by Berkeley voters in March, party leaders hope it will build momentum to initiate the reforms statewide.
“That would really level the playing field,” Selawsky said. “In Berkeley we can run candidates and win elections. On the state and national levels, that’s another story.”
Cobb has no delusions of leading the Greens to victory in 2004. As he tours the country, he’s urging party members in swing states to vote Green locally, but giving them carte blanche to support John Kerry for president.
However he said that California, where polls show Kerry ahead by a comfortable margin, is a different story.
“Any [California Green] who votes for Kerry is wasting his vote,” Cobb told supporters. He labeled Kerry “a corporatist military sellout,” but added he was far preferable to President Bush.
Cobb, a 1993 graduate of the University of Houston Law School, quit his law practice in 2000 to manage Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign in Texas. He has since moved to Humboldt County and in June won the Green Party nomination after Nader announced he would not represent the party in 2004.
Aside from strengthening the Green Party base, Cobb has also struggled to emerge from his former boss’s formidable shadow.
He said he encounters many Greens at rallies who announce their intention to vote for the former Green standard bearer, but argued he was assuming Nader’s legacy of creating a viable alternative to the two major parties.
“Ralph will do what he will, but the Green Party will continue to build on Nov. 3,” Cobb said.›