In a city that lives and breathes politics, Saturday was enough to leave even Berkeley’s biggest political junkies a little short of breath.
Five political campaigns kicked-off around town and the Daily Planet ran the gauntlet.
First up, at 9:30 a.m., was the United Democratic Campaign—a novel concept in Berkeley where rival Democrats duke it out every other November, as well as all year long.
True to form, attendees disagreed over when Berkeley last had a United Democratic Campaign (UDC) headquarters. UDC Chair Andy Katz said this was the first one in Berkeley since 1992. But Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he definitely remembered one in 1996 and Rent Board Commissioner Paul Hogarth said he was at the opening in 1998.
The UDC, headquartered th is year at 2026 Shattuck Ave., is sponsored by the Alameda County Democratic Party, which sets up field offices to promote candidates and ballot measures it endorses.
In the four City Council races this year, the county Democrats have given their blessin gs to left-leaning Max Anderson and Darryl Moore and more conservative candidates Laurie Capitelli and Betty Olds.
Capitelli and Olds, however, likely would have struggled to find supporters among the staunchly progressive crowd of about of about 60 peo ple gathered Saturday.
“I don’t know what to tell you about Betty Olds,” said Rent Board candidate Jason Overman, who seemed more comfortable defending rent control then explaining his presence at an event that endorsed two council candidates critical of the current pro-tenant Rent Board.
None of the four City Council candidates endorsed showed for the kick-off.
Morning speakers included County Supervisor Keith Carson, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Sierra Club member Norman La Force, School Board c andidate Karen Hemphill and Peralta Community College District candidate Nicky Gonzalez Yuen.
The field office will double as the home of the Yes on J, K and L campaigns—three tax measures facing fierce oppositions from organized neighborhood association s.
The unenviable task of passing the measures falls to Vicky Liu, a 21-year-old recent UC Berkeley graduate, who works part time for Mayor Tom Bates.
Liu, officially the campaign coordinator, said Berkeley residents should soon expect front door visits from benefactors of the city’s multitude of nonprofits, which will be the first groups cut if voters reject the $5.1 million in new taxes.
“It’s not guilt,” she said. “People love this city for the services it provides.”
Liu wasn’t the only fresh face at the kick-off. Many in attendance, including the headquarters director Paul Spitz, were on Berkeley’s political sidelines before joining the Howard Dean campaign last year.
“When Dean said ‘support the Democrats,’ we decided we need to support the Demo crats,” said Bobbie Steinhart, representing the MMOB, Mainstream Moms Oppose Bush, a group mailing Democratic literature and voter registration cards to single mothers in swing states.
Just after 11 a.m. the action shifted to UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza for Measure H, an initiative to publicly fund Berkeley elections. Sam Ferguson, a recent UC Berkeley graduate and president of the Berkeley Fair Election Coalition, had a few words for opponents who argue campaign finance reform is ultimately just another tax.
“To the penny pinchers against it, I say it is a minimal price to pay to ensure the integrity of city elections,” Ferguson said.
Sadly for him and the roughly 40 supporters assembled at Sproul, UC turned out to be the biggest penny pincher of the d ay. Without the power source Ferguson said UC officials had promised speeches by Councilmember Worthington and Mayor Bates were barely audible.
When Worthington wasn’t condemning the influence of private developer money on city council votes, he was gri ping about his breakfast options at the event, which consisted of less-than-fresh bagels.
“Don’t politicians understand you’re supposed to feed people?” he said.
With high hopes for a decent lunch, it was off to San Pablo Park at 12:30 for a barbecue to kick-off the campaign of Darryl Moore, a Peralta trustee and the heavy favorite for the City Council seat from southwest Berkeley’s District 2.
Adding to Moore’s sense of inevitable victory, outgoing District 2 Councilmember Margaret Breland endorsed him before a crowd of about 90 people that included Mayor Bates, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, School Board President John Selawsky, Tim Perry, Breland’s controversial choice for the Planning Commission, as well as councilmembers Linda Maio, Dona Spring and Worthington
Moore said once elected he would interview all of Breland’s commission appointments, but wouldn’t guarantee any would keep their post.
In a passionate speech, Moore called for the construction of a youth center in District 2, and couldn’t resist utilizing his politically catchy surname.
“We need more safe streets and neighborhoods, more opportunity for our youth and seniors, more business to serve our communities and create jobs, more diversity, more affordable housing,” he shouted.
When the excitement of the moment subsided, Moore acknowledged he might need more rhetorical devices.
“We really wore that into the ground,” he said.
From San Pablo Park, it was time to cross the Oakland border for Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s campaign kick-o ff at Snow Park. Among those representing Berkeley in an otherwise Oakland-dominated crowd of about 50 people were Bates, Hancock, Maio, Worthington, and their colleague on the City Council, Maudelle Shirek.
The 93-year-old councilmember remained mum on her decision to run as a write-in candidate in District 3. Mel Martynn, a longtime aide to Councilmember Breland, confirmed that he would be working on the Shirek campaign, but refuted a published report that he would take over as campaign manager for Mi chael Berkowitz, a longtime Shirek aide. Berkowitz’ failure to collect the requisite number of constituent signatures cost Shirek her spot on the ballot.
“He’s the natural fit for campaign manager,” Martynn said. “Who knows the political landscape of District 3 better than Mike Berkowitz?”
Rep. Lee said after her speech she hadn’t encouraged Shirek to run, but would back her now that she was a candidate.
“She’s got a history of service and a vision for the community,” Lee said.
In an apparent slip-up, Lee’s Campaign Chair Lee Halterman outed long-time Lee aide Sandre Swanson as a candidate for State Assembly in 2006 when Assemblymember Wilma Chan is termed out.
“It is my intent to run,” Swanson told the Planet after Halterman announced his candidacy. “I haven’t said anything publicly because I’m concentrating on this year’s election period.”
The race to replace Chan is expected to draw a crowded field that will include Oakland City Attorney John Russo, whose staff said Monday he would also seek Cha n’s seat.
For Berkeley school board candidate Karen Hemphill, who won Rep. Lee’s endorsement, Lee’s event was her third campaign kick-off of the day.
“It’s incredibly exhausting, but you’ve got to do it,” Hemphill said. “How will people know what you st and for if you’re not out and about?”
Accompanying Hemphill was her 14-year-old campaign aide, William Dolphin, who by 4 p.m. had become well acquainted with the city’s political elite.
“I see a lot of the same faces here,” he said.
The Berkeley High f reshman is an aspiring politician, with a strong bloodline. His father, also William Dolphin, works on media campaigns for pro-marijuana group Americans for Safe Access. Dolphin said he didn’t know if there would be a campaign kick-off for the ballot measure that would relax Berkeley’s marijuana laws for licensed patients and distributors.
“Those guys don’t normally have their get-togethers in outdoor parks,” he said.
With the sun starting to fall, it was time to zip over to the Jazz School in downtown Berkeley where School Board President John Selawsky and about a dozen campaign kick-off survivors finished the day in subdued fashion.
Selawsky, who considered passing on a re-election bid earlier in the summer, said he was now committed to serving a second term.
He received support Saturday from Moore, councilmembers Maio and Spring and two colleagues on the school board, Nancy Riddle and Shirley Issel.
Issel, a licensed therapist, said Selawsky won her over during her stint as board president when he was the only school boardmember who heeded her call to start meetings on time.
“This is a man who likes his mother and respects women,” she said, praising the fact that he responded to her request for more punctual meetings.
County Superintendent She ila Jordan, who several weeks ago attended the campaign kickoff for two Selawsky rivals, Hemphill and Kalima Rose, said she too would back Selawsky.
For Berkeley residents who prefer more unorthodox campaign kick-offs, the best may be yet to come. Next u p, on Oct. 15, will be a kick-off for Measure Q, an initiative to decriminalize prostitution in Berkeley
“We’re going to blow it out for the measure,” said Sex Workers Outreach Project Director Robyn Few at Moore’s barbecue. “It’s going to be a lot of fu n.”U