In San Francisco and Berkeley, progressive incumbents are under siege by heavily-funded campaigns for being “soft on crime.” In San Francisco, Supervisor Chris Daly has been barraged with hit-pieces by the Police Officers Association and challenger Rob Black. In Berkeley, City Councilman Kriss Worthington is on the receiving end of the most expensive campaign in that city’s history. Like Black, Worthington’s challenger (George Beier) has blamed the incumbent for a high crime rate in the district, filthy streets and a struggling economy. By making crime and quality-of-life issues a central theme of their campaigns, Black and Beier have both attacked the incumbents on an issue where any individual supervisor or city councilmember has little control. Beier has already spent $72,000 of his own money on mail pieces and free beer for Cal students, and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce has kicked in an extra $9,000 in independent expenditures. All of this in a race where you need just 2,000 votes to win an election.
Berkeley’s District 7 includes the UC-Berkeley campus and the southside neighborhood—including Telegraph Avenue, People’s Park and the three largest undergraduate dorms. Like Daly’s district in San Francisco, it has consistently elected and re-elected progressive candidates who strongly support rent control. But like Daly’s district, the neighborhood also has very high turnover—and the electorate is largely disengaged from local politics. More than half of District 7 is Cal students who graduate every four years, and election day on the Berkeley campus is eerily similar to election day in the Tenderloin. You literally have to remind people that there’s an election going on and you have to make voting extremely easy for them, or else they simply won’t show up.
Both Kriss Worthington and Chris Daly have a strong progressive record in their respective legislative bodies. They were also first elected because they engaged their district’s most disenfranchised population. In 1996, Worthington defeated an incumbent, who had only appointed one student out of 35 to Berkeley’s various city commissions, and ran an aggressive campaign that mobilized student voters. In 2000, Daly was elected with overwhelming support from the district’s residential hotel tenants—on a campaign platform that promised to make visitor fees illegal and put sprinklers in every room to prevent the rash of hotel fires.
Both incumbents have delivered for these core constituencies—but it’s uncertain if that will make much of a difference in 2006. With Cal students graduating and leaving town, and a huge influx of new SRO tenants from San Francisco’s master-lease program, representing these districts requires an intense and repeated outreach effort by the incumbent. “Every August, I always have to go out and introduce myself to thousands of new constituents,” said Worthington.
This dynamic allows a well-funded challenger to step in and send out hit-pieces that give the district’s new voters a highly negative impression of the incumbent. The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce has attacked Worthington for “supporting prostitution” and claims that he voted “yes” on 2004’s Measure Q—when in fact Worthington never supported the measure. Beier has blamed Worthington for the decline of small businesses on Telegraph Avenue (including Cody’s Books), although Worthington wrote the proposal to make it easier for small businesses to get permits and Pat Cody is one of his most passionate supporters.
But the similarity is most striking when you look at the challengers’ attacks on crime. Like Black, Beier has attacked Worthington for representing a high-crime district. Worthington has been attacked for not supporting more police officers—although he sponsored an effort to double the number of bike-patrol cops on Telegraph Avenue. Daly has supported efforts to get more foot-patrol cops in the Tenderloin, but Black has criticized him for “attacking” the police. Both Worthington and Daly have strong track records on crime prevention, but you wouldn’t know it based upon what their challengers are saying—Daly was the main sponsor of Prop. A that narrowly failed on the June ballot, and Worthington has supported funding for more social workers.
But while Black has largely ignored SRO tenants in District 6, Beier has aggressively courted Cal students in District 7. He has recycled the same attack that Berkeley moderates regurgitate every four years—that the City Council should have an all-student district so that students can elect one of their own, and has attacked Worthington for “blocking” this effort. Like Southern Republicans who support majority-black Congressional districts, it’s a cynical effort to deplete progressive votes away from other city Council districts. Most notoriously, Beier invited students to a local bar for “free beer”—where he put a $1000 tab on drinks for students to “come talk about politics.”
Another main difference between the challengers is the background that they have with their district. Prior to running against Daly, Black had no real connection with District 6—he had previously worked as an aide to Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who represents Pacific Heights and the Marina. Meanwhile, Beier has lived in District 7 for several years—and even ran against Worthington in 1998. Of course, Beier never mentions this fact in his campaign literature, and most of the district’s constituents weren’t around back then to know about it. Now that he has retired and sold his software business, Beier has far more money to spend than he did eight years ago to get out his message.
A few weeks ago, three Daly supporters in District 6 filed a complaint with the S.F. Ethics Commission over the number of independent expenditures waged against him. Now Berkeley progressives are waging a similar effort against the Chamber of Commerce’s hit pieces targeting Worthington. Progressives held a press conference at noon Wednedsay on the steps of Berkeley City Hall to demand a stop to the Chamber’s last-minute attacks. In Oakland, Mayor-elect Ron Dellums brokered a compromise with the local Chamber of Commerce to cut down on negative pieces.
Reprinted with permission from BeyondChron.org