In the last days of the contentious Berkeley City Council District 7 race, challenger George Beier has won praise and attracted criticism for his innovative attempts to tap into the student vote.
He has held a rally in aTelegraph bar with free alcohol and has campaigned through popular students networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace. His latest cyberspace effort to unseat incumbent Kriss Worthington has likewise drawn its share of praise and scorn.
Beier’s video on YouTube.com highlights problems on Telegraph Avenue and promises residents freedom from crime, empty storefronts and an unsafe and unkempt People’s Park if he is elected in today’s (Tuesday) election.
The Beier video is primarily targeted at students, claiming that District 7 has the highest crime rate in Berkeley and that UC Berkeley has the seventh highest number of violent crimes out of more than 500 campuses surveyed nationwide.
It also emphasizes the number of failing businesses on Telegraph and the 20 vacant storefronts south of the UC Berkeley campus.
“I want to empower students, to reduce crime and to bring back the magic to Telegraph Avenue,” Beier announces in a shot that shows him sitting in an armchair in his living room.
Although Beier says the video has been effective, some have said it’s all glitz and no substance. It has drawn some strong criticism from Worthington and his supporters for its inaccuracies.
“Both the Chamber of Commerce PAC and George Beier need to do their homework. Using inaccurate information while campaigning is not helpful to them or the city,” Worthington said.
Nicholas Smith, a UC Berkeley senior and chairman of the City of Berkeley’s Commission on Labor, said that most of the proposals coming out of Beier’s “slick and glitzy campaign” have already been carried out by the incumbent.
“Beier seems not to know anything about Worthington’s real record, and this engages in a campaign of distortion,” Smith said. “Beier says that he wants to increase drug and alcohol outreach on Telegraph, as if Kriss Worthington hasn’t already done it and isn’t committed to it. Kriss fought Beier’s allies to restore funding for social services on Telegraph when others cut them. He secured millions of dollars which built the regional detox facility.”
Beier said that students were smart enough to make their own decisions and that the video was his way of reaching out to them.
“Telegraph is the face Berkeley presents to the world, and crime is the main concern in the area today,” he said. “I wanted people to look at the video carefully and think about the different problems it talks about. It wasn’t meant just for entertainment but also to inform and educate.”
Worthington gave credit to Beier for trying to package his “corporate message” through different channels.
“But the truth is, no matter how you send your message across—whether it be through e-mails or hit pieces—a closer look will tell people that it’s meant for lobbying the landlords and the realtors. It’s all about the big people,” Worthington said. “There’s no room for smaller businesses or smaller people in Beier’s campaign.”
Beier, though, says he has done a better job of reaching out to students and listening to their needs.
“Students comprise 35 percent of the voting population and their opinion counts a lot,” he said. “I get e-mails from students telling me they are tired of seeing Telegraph go to waste. They think it’s time for a change. The video reflects that.”
Rio Bauce, a Berkeley High student (and occasional Planet contributor) who is working on Worthington’s election campaign, said the video was “impressive but incredibly inaccurate.”
“For those of us who know Kriss, we know that he is a strong advocate for increasing police on Telegraph Avenue, revitalizing the business area on Telegraph, and cleaning up People’s Park,” Bauce said. “This is obviously a last minute gimmick intended to confuse students and other voters into thinking that this multimillionaire will look out for them and District 7. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Even some who support Beier said the YouTube video could have included more substance.
Nathan Danielsen, a UC Berkeley student who voted for Beier this year, said that the YouTube video was well produced, but it didn’t offer much information to entice student voters.
“It is not very funny, not ridiculous and doesn’t push the limits of anything,” he said. “It is really safe. Thinking as a typical consumer of entertainment, I was most entertained by the passionate music.”