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Berkeley Mayor Candidates Present Divergent Choices

By Judith Scherr
Friday October 06, 2006

While incumbent Mayor Tom Bates, with 20 years in state office and four years as mayor, has accumulated the lion’s share of endorsements and buckets of cash—about $74,000 according to his Oct. 5 filing—challenger Zelda Bronstein is running a relentless community campaign, while raising about one-third—$24,000—the amount Bates raised.  

Two other mayoral challengers, community activist Zachary RunningWolf and recent Stanford graduate Christian Pecaut, are continuing to fight for the office and to get their message out without the benefit of endorsements or campaign funds.  

Bates has the support of notable office holders, Rep. Barbara Lee, state Sen. Don Perata, Oakland Mayor-elect Ron Dellums, as well as Councilmembers Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Max Anderson, Laurie Capitelli and Gordon Wozniak. He also has organizational support from diverse democratic clubs—the new Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club and the Berkeley Democratic Club, which endorsed Bates’ opponent Shirley Dean in 2002—as well as community activist Dave Blake, a zoning commissioner who is running for the Rent Board, St. Joseph the Worker priest Fr. George Crespin, realtor John Gordon, developer Avi Nevo and dozens more. 

Bronstein says she’s proud of her neighborhood support. Endorsers includes Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman, Dean Metzger, president of the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association, Robert Lauriston with Neighbors of Ashby BART (NABART), Elaine Green of South Berkeley’s United We Stand and Deliver, and Janice Thomas, past president of the Panoramic Hill Association. Bronstein is also endorsed by the Progressive Convention, Progressive Democrats of the East Bay and the NABART steering committee. 

Bates and Bronstein—as well as Bates and Runningwolf and Pecaut—differ on a number of critical city issues. 


The settlement agreement 

One of the issues that pushed Bronstein to run for the office—she was a Bates’ supporter four years ago—is what Bates’ detractors call the “secret” agreement with the university. The city sued the university over its development plan and the fees it pays for sewers and other city services. The two parties settled in July 2005, and as a condition of the negotiations first proposed by the city’s attorney, the details of the settlement could not be disclosed before it was final.  

“Could I have gotten more?” asked Bates in an interview in his University Avenue campaign office. “It’s easy for critics to say I could have gotten more. Reality is we got three times more than we got in the past.” 

Bates added that the university has agreed to purchase supplies locally and to hire people from First Source, the local hiring program. 

Because the university does not have to follow local laws, the city has limited leverage, Bates said. “Any sophisticated person knows they are exempt from zoning,” he said. “They can do whatever they feel like doing.” 

In a separate interview in her Martin Luther King Jr. Way campaign office, Bronstein said that if she were mayor, she’d rescind and re-negotiate the settlement. And she’d negotiate it in public. 

“I’d try to persuade the university to pay its fair share for city services,” said Bronstein, noting she is at a disadvantage not knowing exactly what was negotiated. 

Pointing to the city of Santa Cruz, where citizens have placed a measure on the November ballot to restrain university growth, Bronstein said it is possible to pressure the university. “In response (to the ballot measure) the university has scaled back its plans,” she said. 

What is needed, she added, is “strong civic leadership.” 

Asked about the Santa Cruz ballot measure, Bates said, “We could have symbolically done something like that.” He added, “Some people would like the university to pack up and leave.” 

He said he underscored the need to try to get the university to pay its fair share, but also said people should recognize the important place the university has in the life of the city. “The university is what makes this town great,” he said, noting that he’s worked for the betterment of the city with deans from the Schools of Public Health, Public Policy and Education.  

Pecaut argued, “The mayor lets (the Board of Regents) do whatever they want to” and Runningwolf contended that by settling the lawsuit behind closed doors, “Tom Bates locked out the power of the residents in an open forum.” 


Measure J 

Measure J, the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance ballot measure, also points up differences between Bronstein and Bates.  

Bronstein is one of the endorsers of the measure listed in the voters pamphlet. Bronstein said the measure would provide legal protection to properties that may be worthy of landmark status.  

Bates had a revision of the Landmark Preservation Ordinance before the City Council which he withdrew until after the election.  

Calling the draft ordinance an “outrageous proposal,” Bronstein said it weakens landmark protections. The Bates proposal “makes demolition easier,” she said. Bates’ “process doesn’t allow enough time for citizens to weigh in— they are citizen volunteers.”  

Bronstein added: “I’m a preservationist, but not a purist. We need a strong preservation law.”  

Bates called himself “a strong preservationist,” but said: “I’m opposed to (Measure J) adamantly.”  

He pointed out that Berkeley has 300 landmarks, “more than San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland combined.” Bates said he is against people using the landmark process to stop development. He said the ordinance he proposed “gives everybody logical rules they can play by.” 


Public financing of elections 

Despite the efforts of a number of community stalwarts, public financing of elections never made it to the November 2006 ballot. While they both support the concept of public financing of elections, both Bates and Bronstein had concerns about the initiative as it was proposed. 

Bronstein called the “clean money” campaign “a great concept.” However, she said, “Some of the details need to be worked out still.”  

One question that wasn’t answered to her satisfaction was, “Where’s the money going to come from?” Even considering financing the mayor’s race alone, the budget would have been at least $280,000: $140,000 for each candidate demonstrating community support. 

“That seemed like a lot of public money,” Bronstein said. Less money needs to be allocated to the race, she added. “We need to campaign differently.” 

Bates said his hesitation around the local “clean money” initiative was that if it didn’t succeed this time—a similar measure having lost soundly two years ago-- it could not be brought back in the foreseeable future for political reasons.  

Bates said he’s watching the statewide public financing measure. 

“If it passes in Berkeley, I’ll bring it back” in the next election, he said, noting, however, “I’m watching closely what’s happening statewide and I’m worried. People are upset that money distorts politics but they haven’t made the connection with clean money as a solution to solving the problem.” 

Runningwolf said he believes in clean elections, “leveling of the playing field.” 

And Pecaut said he would have voted to put the measure on the ballot, had he been mayor. He criticized Bates for voting against putting it on the ballot: “The mayor’s vote decided it,” he said. 

Both Bates and Bronstein have records to run on—Bates as mayor and state assemblymember for 20 years and Bronstein as a planning commissioner for seven years, two years of which she spent as chair. 

“I helped guide the process that led to the first new general plan in 25 years,” Bronstein said. Noting that she received a Downtown Berkeley Association award for leadership and consensus building, she said she worked on the general plan with a wide range of constituencies and staff.  

Bates points to the new Berkeley City College (formerly Vista College), “something I worked on for 20 plus years.”  

And he claims leadership in the development of workforce and low income housing built along traffic corridors so that it doesn’t impact neighborhoods.  

Bates didn’t flinch about the idea of raising taxes in the near future. With city income flat and health benefit costs increasing 23 percent next year, he says the future will be harder. “The infrastructure is in lousy shape. We’ll have to go back to the voters” for funding. 

Asked about his support for moderate incumbent Councilmember Gordon Wozniak over progressive Jason Overman, Bates said Wozniak “provides an excellent voice for his (Wozniak’s) point of view. I think it’s good to have a divergence of views on the City Council. I have a good relationship with him, although we don’t always agree.” 

Runningwolf says some of his major issues are support for open government, instant runoff voting, drug-testing police officers who work in the drug vault, and support for low-income and Section 8 housing,  

Christian Pecaut said he supports a ballot initiative for a new warm pool for the disabled and elderly and adding city resources to more depressed areas in South Berkeley.