Student votes could play a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the District 7 and 8 Berkeley City Council races, according to UC Berkeley students who attended a local elections forum at Dwinelle Hall Wednesday.
The forum, organized to allow students to mingle with the City Council and mayoral candidates, was organized by Activists’ Commission for the Creation and Engagement of Services to Students (ACCESS) and the Cal Votes Coalition.
“We decided to hold this one-time catch-all event to give students a chance to know the candidates and the different issues that are important this year before they go out and vote on Nov. 7,” said Igor Tregub, a UC Berkeley undergrad and ACCESS member. “Our main aim is to increase voter education and turnout.”
Freshman Sarah Stoller, one of the about two dozen students who came to the event, said she cast her vote on Wednesday.
“I voted for Jason Overman in District 8,” she said. “I live in that district and I think it’s important to have a student in the City Council who will actually pay attention to students’ woes. I think a vast majority of students would like to see a fellow student on the board. Students votes are definitely going to make or break election decisions this year.”
Although Stoller said she finds mayoral candidate Zelda Bronstein’s ideas and opinions interesting, she voted for incumbent Tom Bates. “His environmental track record is incredible,” she said. “I have attended quite a few of Bronstein’s talks and she seems like an angry person.”
Stoller also voted against Measure I—the Condo Conversion Initiative—because she is against rising housing costs.
Alex Ghenis, another freshman, said he found the discussion on the ballot measures helpful. “I have decided to vote yes on H (Impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney) and no on I.”
Ghenis said that he was leaning towards Mayor Tom Bates because he seemed more composed. “He is able to cite figures for different issues which is not the case with his opponents,” Ghenis said.
The District 7 race between George Beier and incumbent Kriss Worthington sparked the most interest.
“It’s difficult to decide,” said student Amanda Purcell. “Both Beier and Worthington are well informed on all the issues affecting students such as safety and affordable housing.”
While Beier repeatedly stressed the immediate need to address crime on Telegraph Avenue, Worthington said that being obsessed with Telegraph alone was not the solution to the problem.
“What are your actual views on affordable housing?” Purcell asked the candidates.
“One thing I have not done is take away affordable housing such as the Chateau Coop, which has been attacked by my opponent in the past,” Worthington said. “Affordable housing for students lies in rent control. I want to keep landlords from doing dreadful things.”
Beier said he supported affordable housing development in the city. “There are so many one-story buildings on Telegraph that can be turned into four- and five-story buildings,” Beier said. “Take the one story-buildings that housed the GAP and Berkeley Market for example. Commuter traffic will improve drastically if people in Berkeley can live and work in the same place.”
When asked about what the candidates would do to increase student involvement in local politics, Beier said that he was reaching out to students through mediums they understood best.
“I am trying to get students involved in politics in the campus, at the UCB Dining Commons, on Facebook, My Space and most recently through election videos on YouTube. Interacting with students makes me realize how fresh and interesting their ideas can be,” he said.
Worthington emphasized that he had appointed more students to elected and appointed posts in the city than any other City Council member and would continue to do so if reelected.
“Both of them have such good ideas that I will have a tough time deciding,” said Anne Chmilewski, a 2006 UC Berkeley graduate.
Nicholos Smith, a senior and Chair of the Commission on Labor, said that he would be voting for Worthington.
“Kriss has elected the most student council members,” he said. “I was elected as a student commissioner by him. He has tackled crime on Telegraph and has helped raise millions of dollars for affordable student housing. His track record is impeccable.”