Many Berkeley residents consider national and international politics of high importance. Many of those same individuals are less engaged when it comes to local Berkeley politics and contests. There are several reasons why local politics fail to engage the same spirited, informed debate and interest. Regardless of the reasons for apathy, I believe that local issues are important to all Berkeley residents, and deserve thoughtful consideration.
Berkeley has a very fluid population, new residents moving in and out with each passing year. The composition of city residents can be very different from the time one Berkeley mayor is elected to the next. The student population changes annually, and affects the industries and individuals who serve the university as well. It is understandable that many UC Berkeley students and newly graduated professionals are disengaged from local issues. Academic and career demands leave little time for reflection about issues not readily connected with their lives.
Still others fail to involve themselves in city-related issues out of frustration. The perception that their input will not be honored, and that they will not be able to make a difference, leads to this attitude. I understand the reasoning, if not the excuse, for inactivity. Instead of concluding that their personal involvement cannot make a difference, I propose that they consider why they feel disenfranchised by the politics of Berkeley.
It is the responsibility of each of us, regardless of how long we’ve been here, to let our city leaders know what is important to us. We need to make initial contact with those we identify as being in charge of our important issues. If you fail to connect with the correct agency or individual, was the person you spoke with at least helpful? Did they make a reference to the proper person, or any other attempt to help you? Do you know where to go to research what the city has done in the past on your issue(s)? Do you know where, when and with whom to register your opinions? If not, why not? If someone seeking help gets an unhelpful response, or a bureaucratic pass-off, or a string of answering machines with no clear response, it is no wonder that frustration chokes off citizen involvement. We deserve a response; we deserve a respectful hearing. They are supposed to be working for us.
I believe that integrity and transparency in government are the two most important qualities we should look for in electing Berkeley’s next mayor. For that reason I am voting for Shirley Dean. In the 10 years I have known her, there has never been a time when she conducted herself with less than complete integrity. She walks the talk; she does what she says she will do. Shirley Dean always listens, and never cuts anyone out of consideration. Shirley Dean never engages in backroom deals or closed-door meetings. There is absolute transparency in her leadership.
Regardless of which mayoral candidate you support, please register and vote. It matters…to you.
Sam Herbert is a Berkeley resident.