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Berkeley Citizens Action Endorses Its Own

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday September 26, 2006

There were no surprises at the Berkeley Citizens Action Endorsement convention Sunday afternoon, with the 30-year-old group that once was Berkeley’s progressive electoral powerhouse endorsing longtime members Mayor Tom Bates, and City Councilmembers Dona Spring, Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio. 

The club also chose UC Berkeley student Jason Overman for District 8 City Council, whom they supported in his successful Rent Board run in 2004, and endorsed School Board incumbent Nancy Riddle and candidate Karen Hemphill. 

Candidates needed 60 percent of the votes to snag the club endorsement, which carries with it newspaper advertising and a spot on the BCA doorhanger. 

More than 80 people came to the North Berkeley Senior Center event. Voters had to belong to BCA—this was in contrast to the previous week’s Progressive Coalition Convention, where any Berkeley resident attending could cast a ballot. Both conventions used instant runoff voting for races with more than two candidates. 



All four mayoral candidates spoke briefly. While Bates was clearly the favorite, BCA did not give him a free ride, finally recording him as getting 67 percent of the vote as determined by the instant runoff voting method, in which voters may list second and third choices for tabulation if their first choice loses.  

The IRV process itself, however, became a bone of contention. Some said that the procedure by which the IRV votes were counted—the way that “no endorsement” votes were considered—gave Bates an unfair advantage. 

“It wasn’t done properly,” Elliot Cohen, a BCA member, said, pointing out that the person who oversaw the vote, Rent Board Chair Howard Chong, is endorsing Bates. 

“I can understand there are some concerns and I am going to look into it,” said John Selawsky, a BCA member and Berkeley school board member. 

BCA Steering Committee member John Curl, who advocated no endorsement for the mayor’s race, said, however, that he accepted the way the vote was conducted. As the Daily Planet went to press, no candidate had contested the results. 

The mayor faced a barrage of criticism, both from challenger Zelda Bronstein and from BCA members. 

West Berkeley artisan Curl attacked Bates for his support of the West Berkeley Bowl project and other development. 

“Mayor Bates, how can you expect progressives to endorse you when you’ve made it a policy to promote gentrification, pushing people out of town?” he asked. “When you have stated that land use needs to be regulated on the free market, when you’ve been handing over the city to the university and private developers?” 

Bates responded that the West Berkeley Bowl would be “a great asset for our community,” slamming Curl and candidate Bronstein for their opposition, to which Bronstein, former Planning Commission chair, answered that she had not opposed the market, but supported a smaller version of it. 

Bates touted the transit village concept (housing at BART stations), and pointed out that the development he supports is on traffic corridors, “not in the neighborhoods.”  

The incumbent touted his endorsements—Rep. Barbara Lee, the Alameda County Central Democratic Committee, Ron Dellums and more—but Bronstein pointed out that 27 percent of his contributions (in the July reporting) came from developers. 

When Laurence Schechtman asked Bates about his endorsement of District 8 incumbent (and Overman’s opponent) Gordon Wozniak, given Wozniak’s refusal to endorse against Measure I, the condominium conversion measure, Bates responded that he clearly opposes Measure I but supports Wozniak, who has supported him on the council. 

Bronstein promised to build “real affordable housing,” to reopen negotiations with the university over fees it pays to the city for sewers and other services and to pass a sunshine ordinance. She said she strongly opposes the condominium conversion ordinance.  

Addressing a question about youth programs, Bronstein criticized Bates “for not knowing how the money (for youth programs) is being used.”  

Community activist Zachary Runningwolf, running for mayor, touted his support for small business and opposition to the city-university agreement. Responding to a question on mental health, Runningwolf criticized the policy that brings in the police as first responders to “5150” (mental health) calls.  

Recent Stanford graduate Christian Pecaut, also challenging Bates for mayor, addressed the need to know when people in power—locally and nationally—are lying. Pecaut, whose flyers say “Vote for the kid,” said that despite his age, he understands the answers to the city’s problems. 


City Council 

Candidates Spring, Worthington, Overman and Merrilie Mitchell spoke briefly and responded to questions. Their opponents had all called in “out of town.”  

Reminding the audience that she was a “strong voice for the anti-war movement,” and that “we still need social justice,” Spring addressed the need to save the warm water pool. She touted Measure J, the Landmarks Preservation ballot measure, contending it would prevent speculators from buying single-family houses “to develop three-plexes, lot line to lot line.” 

Worthington spoke of bringing police and social workers back to Telegraph Avenue and the need for truly affordable housing, for those who earn $20,000 or $30,000 per year. The homeless need housing and a network of services, he said.  

Overman echoed Worthington’s call for affordable housing and told the audience that he is “running to defend progressive values” with which the incumbent Wozniak is “out of step.”  

Mitchell called for prioritizing the retrofitting of “soft-story” apartment buildings and making Berkeley “a model green city.” 


School Board 

Although there are three seats open, the convention endorsed only Hemphill and Riddle for school board.  

From the audience, Councilmember Darryl Moore asked candidates about the Jefferson School name-change controversy: “Parents and teachers voted overwhelmingly to change the name, but the school board did not,” he said. 

“The board missed the point,” Hemphill responded. “The community at Jefferson banded together, reached out” and worked through the problem to come to a solution. “It was about empowering the community.” 

Incumbent Shirley Issel said the controversy was an “agonizing” two-year process. “I thought the learning environment at the school was eroded by this,” she said stressing the importance of learning form history, not “eradicating” it. 

David Baggins said he would have allowed the school to debate, then accept the vote of the school.  

The focus of Hemphill’s campaign is bridging the achievement gap between whites and minorities. “Berkeley is doing a worse job than the rest of the county,” she said.  

But Shirley Issel argued that schools can’t close the gap. Other jurisdictions should provide income assistance, child care and other services so that all children enter school at the same level, she said. 

On the achievement gap, Baggins asked “why do we look like Oakland rather than Berkeley?” and answered his question, saying it is because of illegal out-of-district students. 

Candidate Norma Harrison said both the state and schools should “wither away.”