Editorial: Cleaning House and Making Lemonade

By Becky O’Malley
Friday November 10, 2006

Let’s hear it for Grandma! Grandmothers all over the country, including this one, are delighted that one of their own has taken on the job of cleaning up the House—the House of Representatives, that is. Losing no time, Berkeley’s Grandmothers for Peace planned to rally Thursday at Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco office to let her know that they would support her in an effort to extricate the country from the mess in Iraq left behind by her Republican predecessors (with more than a little help from some misbehaving Democrats).  

Pelosi has certainly had the right kind of training for this dirty job. Terry Gross interviewed Marc Sandalow, the San Francisco daily’s Washington correspondent, about the new speaker on NPR on Wednesday, and he spoke with awe about her “mother-of-five voice,” which she uses to bring errant congresspersons in line. (I haven’t seen Marc since he was in kindergarten with my daughter, but he was a normally frisky little boy then, so he probably knows whereof he speaks.) If that doesn’t work, I’m sure she could try a “Mother Superior” voice for even more authority—Nancy, like me, was educated by nuns in a girls’ school, an environment which left us with no doubt that women were more than capable of taking charge in any situation. She even went to the same women’s college, Trinity, as my cousin Elsa, who was always held up to my kids as a role model because she marched at Selma. The good sisters specialized in building women with backbone, and Pelosi certainly has one. 

She’ll need it, along with her “San Francisco values”. That’s one slur which seems to have backfired. I suspect that the Republican commercials which were intended to knock Nancy might have backfired particularly with women, many of whom probably saw those attacks as being rooted in sexism. 

And speaking of nasty attacks, let’s hear it at home for Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who survived having a mountain of money and a pack of lies dropped on his campaign for re-election. His opponent, George Beier, who tried on the roles of Mr. Clean and Superman in a couple of his many campaign mailers, ended up being stuck with the Daddy Warbucks image. The bagmen and bagladies at the Chamber of Commerce PAC put expenditures on his behalf over the $100,000 mark, an obscene amount in a council election, particularly when a lot of it was spent with the Chamber’s non-union Carlsbad mailing house instead of with local Berkeley printers.  

An election night visit to the Worthington “victory party” was not a pretty sight—all of those sincere folks biting their nails as it came down to the wire. But it did show why Kriss ultimately won—that good old left slogan, “people power.” There were lots of appealing and energetic young people there, as well as grizzled veterans of past encounters.  

Jason Overman, one of the young folks present, made a very respectable showing against entrenched Claremont councilmember Wozniak, given the engineered demographics of District 8, intended to prevent students from being elected. Not, for that matter, that the mass of students voted. The student turnout was pathetic, particularly among residence hall dwellers, so Jason must have gotten quite a few of his votes from disaffected long-term residents. His proud parents were there, looking just like Berkeley people—Dad in a Wellstone t-shirt—which is probably why Jason knew how to appeal to the locals.  

Loni Hancock, Tom Bates and Linda Maio, all of whom had always had Worthington’s loyal support in their own campaigns, should be deeply, deeply ashamed of their cowardly refusal to endorse his re-election, probably because they’re beholden to the same out-of-town developers who funded the C. of C. PAC. Dona Spring didn’t get the endorsement of the Hancock-Bates-Maio apparatus either, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Her constituents really love her, to the tune of a 70-plus percent vote. They’re more likely to be long-term residents, and therefore harder to fool, than residents of District 7.  

Her opponent, Raudel Wilson, unlike George Beier, is new in town and not personally wealthy in any way, simply a bank employee and a renter, so Spring didn’t have to face big money. Wilson is a nice enough guy, though he’ll soon be forgotten, and he didn’t mount the kind of dishonest attacks against Dona’s record that Worthington experienced. She didn’t get a barrage of nasty Chamber hit pieces either. 

A knowledgeable election-watcher looking at the results observed that the conventional wisdom says that negative campaigning doesn’t change votes, it just causes some people not to vote at all because they’re worried. That seemed to be true in District 7, where Beier got about the same number of votes as Worthington’s previous opponent, but Kriss’s own votes dropped off significantly.  

This phenomenon would also explain the vote on Measure J, which captured a very respectable 43 percent, though not enough to put it over the top. The Chamber’s succession of lying postcard potshots at Berkeley’s old and respected ordinance scared off enough voters to make the difference. And the fact that the postcards bore the endorsement of the same prominent politicians who ditched Worthington and Spring didn’t help. 

That’s why some seasoned preservationists at the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association were distressed when a small group of individuals, none of them BAHA board members or LPC commissioners, acted on their own to rush Measure J to a vote in this election. Once J was on the ballot, the troops had no choice but to rally round, but there really wasn’t time to do a good job, particularly when (as should have been expected) the development industry funded the opposition with big bucks. 

A much better strategy, many felt, would have been to wait for the Bates/Capitelli ordinance to be passed, and then to mount a referendum if it turned out to be as bad as it looked when it passed on first reading. Until the mayor’s creation becomes reality, it can be marketed as being all things to all people.  

The referendum strategy is still available to overturn a bad ordinance, of course, and with Measure J as a dry run it might even work better. It’s a lot easier to run a campaign against a lemon on the table than one against pie in the sky.