After the City Council and mayoral candidates fielded questions on workers rights, affordable housing, a closed-door city-university lawsuit settlement, the city’s (convicted and alleged) criminal police, the use of city resources to fight terrorism and more, some 60 Berkeley residents participated in the Berkeley Progressive Coalition Endorsement Convention Saturday, choosing to endorse Zelda Bronstein for mayor and Dona Spring, Kriss Worthington and Jason Overman for City Council.
All Berkeley residents attending the convention were permitted to vote.
The convention also heard School Board candidates speak on issues that included closing the achievement gap between whites and racial minorities and the importance of empowering parents. They endorsed Karen Hemphill and Nancy Riddle.
The Berkeley Citizens Action Endorsement Meeting is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Hearst Avenue.
Fourteen-year incumbent Linda Maio faced tough questioning from the audience at the Berkeley Progressive Coalition Endorsement Convention and, while winning 54 percent of the vote, failed to capture the 60 percent needed for a coalition endorsement.
Much of the questioning was directed at a May 2005 closed-session settlement agreement between UC Berkeley and the city, ending a city lawsuit over proposed university expansion and fees the city collects from the university for services such as sewers.
Calling her vote for the settlement a “betrayal,” neighborhood activist Carl Friberg challenged Maio: “You voted for the secret settlement, which cost the city $15 million each year” in services it provides to the university.
Maio responded that the city got as good a deal as it could. “The university has a lot of power in Sacramento,” she said.
Community activist Merrilie Mitchell, running against Maio for the seat, picked up about 20 percent of the convention votes (with “no endorsement”—a separate voting category—garnering 23 percent). What is needed is “clear growth boundaries” for UC Berkeley, Mitchell said.
There was little contest between incumbent Dona Spring and challenger Raudel Wilson, a Mechanics Bank manager in downtown Berkeley, with Spring winning the endorsement with 81 percent.
Convention rules allowed candidates a chance to question one another. Noting that downtown business is not doing well, with “other areas of Berkeley having more tax revenue than the downtown,” Wilson asked Spring what she would do to improve the business climate.
Spring responded that this was an area of concern, but said property owners needed to take some of the blame. “Radston’s left, because they jacked up the rent,” she said, referring to the almost-century-old downtown stationery business that recently closed its doors.
Spring asked Wilson why he supported the city-university settlement agreement. (Spring was among three councilmembers who opposed it.) Wilson said that while he did not support the secret way it had been done, its outcome would bring business downtown, such as the new UC Hotel and Conference Center.
Spring contended that these projects had been on the books long before the settlement agreement was signed.
Incumbent Kriss Worthington was the overwhelming favorite, picking up 83 percent of the votes in District 7.
Pointing to high crime and drug use in People’s Park, challenger George Beier, president of the Willard Neighborhood Association, alleged Worthington had neglected the district. Worthington responded that he had fought and lost the battle to retain social services and bike cops on Telegraph Avenue during budget cuts a few years ago. These have now been restored.
Rent Stabilization Board Member Jason Overman, who won the convention endorsement with 86 percent of the votes, used his opening statement to define his opponent, incumbent Gordon Wozniak, as a moderate.
He attacked Wozniak for failing to support funding a new warm pool or the David Brower Center, which will house very low-income people, and failing to take a position on Measure I, the condominium initiative, which Overman opposes. Further, Overman chastised Wozniak for voting against a council attempt to put public financing of city elections on the ballot and his lack of support for Claremont Hotel workers on strike.
Rather than respond to most of the charges, Wozniak painted himself as a longtime progressive. “I met my wife registering voters for (former Berkeley City Councilmember) Ron Dellums,” he said, adding that he had been among the founders of the progressive April Coalition.
Addressing Measure I, the ordinance which will permit converting up to 500 apartment units to condominiums under certain conditions, Wozniak said that while not supporting it, he liked the fact that it gives a sitting tenant 5 percent discount on the purchase price. He said that city policies focus on helping tenants, but the city needs to do more to help them buy homes.
“We do nothing much to transition to home ownership,” he said.
Overman also attacked Wozniak’s use of a picture of himself and Rep. Barbara Lee on a campaign flyer since Lee does not support Wozniak. Wozniak explained that the pictures he uses on campaign flyers are not necessarily of people who endorse him.
In a four-way race for the mayor’s seat former Planning Commission Chair Zelda Bronstein captured the convention endorsement with 64 percent of the vote. (Candidate Christian Pecaut, who moved to Berkeley to run for mayor, was the only candidate for office who did not appear at the convention.)
Bronstein challenged Mayor Tom Bates to lead the effort to rescind the city-UC settlement agreement. She asked why the mayor had promised to push for a settlement that was more beneficial to city, accusing him of then backing away from a fight.
Bates responded by arguing that the city, though in a weak position, was benefiting from the agreement, getting about three times what it had previously received for services.
On the “secret” agreement, Bates contended that both sides pledged to keep the settlement confidential.
Challenger Zachary RunningWolf asked the mayor what he thought about the “police out of control.” He was referring to the three officers—Sgt. Cary Kent, convicted of stealing drugs from the police evidence room, another officer reportedly caught in an FBI sting that showed criminal behavior, and a third allegedly inebriated officer arrested last week after shooting his service revolver in the air.
“It’s unbelievable, what happened,” Bates responded. “I’ll do whatever I can to get together with the council (on this). This is not acceptable.”
Asked by an audience member about using city money for anti-terrorist work, RunningWolf said he was opposed to the RFID tags in library books and red-light surveillance cameras on street corners.
And Bates said: “There’s no way we’re going to turn the police and fire departments into spies.”
Bronstein said open government is important in safeguarding people’s rights. Addressing another audience question on an open-government ordinance that will soon come to the council, she asked: “Does it have teeth? Will it include the possibility of suing the city?”
While there are three open seats, the Progressive Coalition endorsed only two candidates: Karen Hemphill, parent activist and administrator for the city of Emeryville, and incumbent Nancy Riddle. It did not endorse incumbent Shirley Issel nor two other challengers, Cal State East Bay professor David Baggins and Peace and Freedom Party activist Norma Harrison.
Hemphill talked about empowering parents at school sites and how that affects the children and their work. She hammered home her commitment to closing the achievement gap between white students and African Americans and Latinos and challenged Baggins to address the issue of students from outside the district.
Baggins said the achievement gap is due to the large number of “at-risk” students coming from out-of-district.
Incumbent Shirley Issel responded saying, while there is a staff person who verifies students’ residences, “Berkeley is not in favor of going around, spying on our families, making our children feel bad,” to determine who is not here legally.
“All students are at risk,” Issel added.
Incumbent Nancy Riddle focused her comments on district solvency and passing Measure A, a continuation of the school tax.
Norma Harrison, who underscored her dislike of capitalism, said she is running to “teach for transformation, not replication.”
Convention endorsements also included support for Measure H, impeaching Bush and Cheney; Measure J, landmarks preservation; Measure G, greenhouse gas emissions; and opposition to Measure I, condominium conversion.