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Back to the Future for the Berkeley City Council

By Judith Scherr
Friday November 10, 2006

More than half a million dollars and piles of glossy mailers later, campaign weary incumbent mayoral and council candidates—Mayor Tom Bates and Council-members Gordon Wozniak, Kriss Worthington, Dona Spring and Linda Maio—will retake their old seats on the familiar council dais. 

With the exception of a tight District 7 race where the business community’s candidate George Beier outspent Worthington by more than three-to-one—closer to four-to-one if you add the Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee’s contributions to the effort—the incumbents cruised to landslide victories.  


Mayor’s Race 

Mayor Tom Bates outdid former Planning Commission Chair Zelda Bronstein with 17,960-to-8,869 votes, or 63-to-31 percent. Zachary Running Wolf picked up 1,341 votes, or about 5 percent, and Christian Pecaut got 368 votes, slightly more than 1 percent.  

Absentee ballots the county received by mail Tuesday and those hand-delivered to polling places remain outstanding. Regi-strar of voter spokesperson Guy Ashley said he didn’t know how many of these there are. 

Mayoral challenger and former Planning Commission Chair Zelda Bronstein’s vigorous but underfunded campaign focused much attention on a closed-door lawsuit settlement agreement between UC Berkeley and the city. 

At the mayor’s victory party, Bates’ aide Julie Sinai criticized the Bronstein campaign, accusing the candidate of pursuing a narrow agenda. 

“The opposition forgot that land use and UC are not the only two things vital to Berkeley,” Sinai told the Daily Planet. “People move to Berkeley from all over because it’s a compassionate place. That’s more important than what gets and what doesn’t get landmarked. They move here for its vitality and its recreational, healthcare and educational facilities. It’s important to have a broad vision.” 

Also at his Tuesday night victory party, Bates talked about “healing” on the council. In a phone interview Thursday, he elaborated: “I believe we’ve turned a page,” he said. “We’ll pull people together on new challenges.” 

That includes passing the second reading of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (the ordinance approved by the council on its first reading was pulled from further council consideration when Measure J qualified for the ballot), the Creeks Ordinance, funding the Gilman Street ball fields and more, Bates said. 

Differences, however, won’t disappear, he said, “Some people will fight to the death for their point of view.” 


District 1 

Councilmember Linda Maio, who won her race against Merrilie Mitchell with 2,636 votes to Mitchell’s 817 (76-to-23 percent), said in a phone interview Thursday that she wasn’t so sure that congeniality could return to the council. 

“I’m hoping we can make repairs,” she said, noting, however, there is another race for mayor in just two years and the enmity could smolder. “The atmosphere is still charged,” she said. 


District 7 and 8 

At the joint after-election party for Worthington, District 8 challenger student Jason Overman and the No on I campaign, volunteers, many returning from last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts, munched campaign cuisine—chips, pretzels, somebody brought in a pie—and gazed at a giant TV screen linked to a laptop computer.  

The final tallies that night showed a close race with Worthington winning 1,464 votes, or 52 percent, and Beier pulling in 1,333 votes, or 47 percent.  

While waiting for results, the group of several dozen people—some of them also stopping in at either Bronstein’s or Bates’ parties—had plenty of time to rehash the campaign, especially condemning negative mailers from the Chamber of Commerce PAC and District 7 challenger Willard Neighborhood Association President Beier. 

“It’s very disheartening to see how money has precedent over values,” said Worthington’s student coordinator, Candace Nisby, UC Berkeley political science major. 

Nisby said in the end it was Worthington’s track record, especially his drive to get students involved in city government and his work for affordable housing, that brought many of the more-than-100 volunteers into the campaign office. 

Worthington’s support for the strikers was the impetus for Honda strike organizer Harry Brill to volunteer for the campaign. While campaigning, Brill said people told him: “If they had a problem, they’d just call Kriss and he’d be over on his bike.” 

Brill said he understood that while Worthington got backing for his voting record, support went well beyond that. “He’s a different kind of politician, an advocate, an activist,” Brill said. 

Worthington said he thought the negative campaigning depressed voter turnout. Pointing especially to the student precinct located in the UC Berkeley Unit 3 dormitory where 70 people voted, Worthington said that only 30 among them voted in the City Council race—20 votes went to Worthington and 10 to Beier. 

“There is some significant impact of the massive amounts of money; and also the massive amounts of misinformation confuse people,” Worthington said, contending that he had to spend much of his time correcting the record Beier and the Chamber PAC attempted, in a barrage of mailers, to distort.  

“Most of us know what the solution is: public financing of elections so that we don’t have to raise such massive amounts of money,” Worthington said. 

Reached while packing up his campaign headquarters, Beier said he won’t concede the race until the votes are all in (nor has Worthington declared victory), but he said he has little hope that the votes will turn in his favor.  

He interpreted the low vote count as a large number of votes still uncounted at the county.  

Asked if he would do anything differently in a future race, Beier said he didn’t think so. “I almost won,” he said. “The hardest part was the Daily Planet coming out against me early, without even an editorial interview.”  

He said he had tried as hard as he possibly could, knocking on 2,200 doors in the district. “I raised as much money as I possible could,” said Beieir who contributed a $45,000 personal loan to the effort. “You go big or stay home,” he said, quoting a friend. 

“I still do admire Kriss Worthington,” he added. “He ran a good race. We just have different visions.” 

While Overman had the endorsements of a number of local Democratic Clubs, the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, the Alameda County AFL-CIO and many more, his campaign offered little competition to the well-known moderate incumbent Wozniak, to whom he lost with Wozniak picking up 1,935 votes to his 1,098. Wozniak won 64-to-36 percent.  

“I couldn’t let the prospect of failure stare me down,” said Overman, speaking at the election night party. 

Overman, who continues to retain his seat on the Rent Stabilization Board, was outspent three-to-one by Wozniak. “Any time you run against wealth, the cards are stacked against you,” he said. 

Wozniak shared his victory party with District 7 challenger Beier, who had spent more that $100,000 on his campaign and who had been additionally supported in his efforts by the Chamber of Commerce attack ads on Worthington. On Thursday, while celebrating his victory, Wozniak pointed out that Beier could still win the District 7 seat, as all the votes were yet to be counted. 

(Because in early returns, Beier won only two out of 13 precincts—the one in which his house is located and the precinct next to that—Worthington supporters said on election night that they felt certain of victory.) 


District 4 

Popular District 4 Councilmember Dona Spring won her district with 2,185 votes or 70 percent, knocking bank manager Raudel Wilson out of the race. Wilson got 878 votes or 28.43 percent. 

“I am overjoyed,” Spring said, underscoring that her landslide win was despite the Chamber of Commerce PAC-funded hit pieces that attempted to tie her to the closing of downtown businesses.  

“It demonstrates the intelligence of the voters in District 4,” she said. “The fliers with all the lies didn’t impact them. They saw through the lies.” 

Looking to the future, Spring, who endorsed neither Bates nor one of the challengers, told the Planet, “I am hoping Tom and I can get off on a better footing.” 

While Spring and Worthington pointed to excessive Chamber PAC expenditures that funded hit pieces against them (about $100,000 that included expenditures for the defeat of Measure J), others faulted the Daily Planet for its one-time home-delivery of newspapers throughout the city, recommending Spring, Worthington, Overman and Bronstein. 

“There were endorsements on the front page and it was filled with political rantings on the inside,” said Jill Martinucci, aide to Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, but speaking for herself. 

“I felt like it was advocacy, not journalism,” she said, underscoring that she was not claiming the home delivery of the paper was illegal, but as a political contribution that is not reported “it crossed the line,” she said. 

Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley, however, called the home delivery “an advertising stunt.” The decision was made by publisher Michael O’Malley and Deputy Publisher Richard Hylton, she said.  

“It was for advertising purposes,” O’Malley said, noting it was the largest paper the Daily Planet has produced. “It was a good paper. We wanted to show it off,” she said. 


Reporter Riya Bhattacharjee contributed to this story.