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Maio Faces Mitchell In District 1 Race

By Judith Scherr
Friday August 25, 2006

Fourteen-year District 1 Councilmember Linda Maio might have thought she’d breeze through the fall election without a challenge: She’s off on vacation without having put a penny into a campaign account. 

But political gadfly Merrilie Mitchell—the same activist who slipped Shirley Dean’s name into the pre-election fray by taking out preliminary candidacy papers for the ex-mayor without informing her of it—tossed her name into the District 1 mix just a week before the nomination period was to close. 

District 1 is roughly west of Grant Street to the Bay and North of University Avenue to Albany. 

“Linda used to be my role model and friend,” Mitchell said in a phone interview, adding that was in the 1980s when Maio chaired the Council of Neighborhood Associations. 

“When trees were cut wrong in the flatlands, Linda helped,” Mitchell said, underscoring Maio’s community work before she got on the council.  

But then Mitchell said Maio joined forces with those who want to overdevelop the city. Most recently, Mitchell said, Maio voted for a measure that permits parking in side yards, something Mitchell opposes. “It would remove the greenery. It’s outrageous,” Mitchell said. 

With Maio out of town and unavailable for an interview, her aide Brad Smith stepped in to defend the councilmember’s work in the community.  

“Linda sees herself as a neighborhood person,” he said, pointing to her role mediating between dog park users and residents living next to the Hearst Avenue park. 

Maio “worked with staff, the community and dog park users to make up a set of rules that accommodated all,” he said. “It was a long process.” 

Smith offered another example of Maio’s work with the community. The neighborhood wanted to develop a walkway/bikeway on the former Santa Fe right-of-way between Delaware Street and University Avenue. But some neighbors wanted to be sure there was a gate that could be locked in the evening so that drug dealers would not hang out in the passage way. Maio worked with neighbors to get the gate approved, he said. 

Local activist and Berkeley newcomer Willi Paul had threatened several months ago to run for the District 1 seat because of what he said was Maio’s lack of action around putting an end to the noxious emissions produced by West Berkeley foundry Pacific Steel Castings (PSC). He has since decided not to run in order to devote more of his time to his business. But he continues to have strong criticisms of Maio. 

“Maio is a non-leader, causing others to step up,” said Paul, who founded the Clean Air Coalition to fight aggressively against PSC. “She was sitting on the fence.” 

Smith argued, however, that Maio has worked for a solution to the odors emitted by PSC. Some people, however, wanted to get rid of the plant altogether. “She’s rejected that position,” he said. 

Paul said Maio is a council ally of Mayor Tom Bates, whom he accused of trying to develop Berkeley into a “megalopolis.”  

But Smith argued that Maio subscribes to development along transit corridors, which is consistent with the General Plan. “Building along transit corridors is protecting the neighborhoods,” Smith said. 

In her campaign statement, Mitchell calls herself a “whistle-blower” and “do-gooder.” Speaking to her strengths, she said: “I tend to see details and put them together. If something is wrong, I’ll go to bat for the people.”