“Politics can be fun” was the message Berkeley City Council candidate George Beier sent out to UC Berkeley students and young Southside residents during his campaign party at Blakes on Telegragh Wednesday.
Organized and sponsored by Students for George Beier—an UC Berkeley campus organization—this free party for youth voters, which advertised a $1,000 bar tab, managed to raise some eyebrows and ruffle a few feathers.
“It’s preposterous,” said Igor Tregub, who was rallying for Beier’s opposition, councilmember Kriss Worthington, in front of Blake’s that night. “George Beier’s excessive tactics to intoxicate young voters into supporting him isn’t going to work.”
By 8 p.m., counter demonstrators, predominantly supporters of Worthington, had gathered outside the bar and were handing out campaign literature endorsing Worthington to those attending the party.
“We are here to see if people can be bought for beer,” said Dave Blake, ZAB commissioner and Worthington supporter who was also rallying outside Blakes. “Evidently they can. At least one young man told me today that he was going to vote for Beier because he was buying him free drinks.”
But Beier, who was busy all evening chatting with students inside Blakes, said he was trying innovative ways to reach out to people.
“Everybody knows that you can’t buy votes,” he said. “I am here to meet the young people who fall under my constituency and answer any questions they have.”
Some who showed up to protest the event said that Beier, who is a board director of Options for Recovery, should know better than to invite students for free beer on a school night.
“Doesn’t he know that alcohol related deaths are on the rise in American campuses?” asked Patti Pink, a mother of two college children in Berkeley. “I am sure parents of UC Berkeley students will be alarmed to hear about this.”
Beier however said there was a world of difference between substance abuse and simply having a beer while talking politics.
“The $1,000 bar tab was a bit too excessive to have been advertised, I agree,” Beier said. “But that happened because of a few overzealous campaign staffers who put it out there before I could see it. But we are being very strict about IDs, no underage drinking allowed.
“Berkeley needs to be reminded how to have fun. Students need to forget their worries sometimes and have some fun,” Beier said. “The heart of my campaign is Telegraph Avenue and I want to make it a place people frequent a lot more than they do now.”
Cambria Scalapino, a UC Berkeley student, admitted that the free food and drinks had been the main attraction and added that she found nothing wrong with the concept itself.
“There’s free candy for kids during student council elections in high school,” she said. “Free beer is just an extension of that.”
Lee Cortez, a senior in Berkeley, said that although it was a way to draw a crowd, it wasn’t necessarily a good idea.
“It’s definitely getting the name out,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s getting the important election issues out. But then I guess it’s the name that matters these days.”
Chris Devoe, a District 7 resident who was going to vote for Kriss Worthington this year, said he attended the party because he was curious about Beier.
“It’s a weird way to attract people to vote but it’s a nice gesture nevertheless,” he said. “I just hope that American college kids are smart enough to make their own decisions instead of getting carried away.”
Robby Kauffman, one of the event organizers, said that 20 students had registered to vote at Blake’s that evening.
Worthington, who had also turned up that evening outside Blakes, said that he didn’t need to throw an event to attract young people.
“I work with them all the time,” he said. “Why would I need to buy them free beer to talk to them?”
Ralitza Dieneva, a UC Berkeley student, spoke to Beier at Blakes about the changes she wanted to see on Telegraph Avenue.
“I live close to People’s Park and it would be great to actually be able to walk to the park without having someone jump out of the bushes at you” she said. “I think George will help bring out some positive changes. I am 20 years old, and can’t drink. I didn’t come here for the beer, I came here to talk politics and I think this is a great way of doing it.”