Getting a Good Look at the Next Mayor

By Becky O’Malley
Thursday October 30, 2008 - 09:49:00 AM

Well, a good time was had by all. Did the first ever Daily Planet mayoral debate change the course of history? Probably not, but then it wasn’t supposed to. 

Our operating premise from day 1 has been that if people knew what was going on, they’d make the right decisions. We still believe that, but there’s a big “if” in that sentence. The problem is that a lot of people don’t seem to want to know what’s going on. They’d prefer to believe that this is the best of all possible worlds and that Berkeley in particular is nirvana, the navel of the universe, utopia in action. 

Most of the audience who showed up to hear what was billed as a debate between the two candidates for mayor were people who had already made up their minds about whom to support. Anyone who recognized the familiar faces in the audience might have guessed that about two-thirds of them belonged to critics of the way things are going, with another 20 percent acolytes, friends, clients and the (well-wired) spouse of the incumbent mayor. That left about 10 or 15 percent of audience as possibly undecided. 

If we’d been as flush as the national news organizations, we’d have linked these unchurched folks up to electronic monitors and checked frequently for how they thought things were going onstage. But (1) that’s way too expensive, and (2) “Undecided” usually means “Uninformed” and “Unlikely to Vote,” at least on the national level. 

On the local level, it’s a bit more complicated, since there’s very little coverage of local news. The San Francisco Chronicle frequently makes stunning errors in what passes for its East Bay coverage. The Daily Cal only prints 10,000 copies, and these are mostly distributed on or near the UC campus. The East Bay Express sometimes has a hard-hitting local article—don’t miss it this week—but a lot of its space is usually devoted to entertainment.  

Yes, there’s the Planet, but to pick one up you actually have to walk down to the corner, or take a bus downtown if a bus comes to your house, or even, godforbid, drive downtown if you live on Berkeley’s Olympian heights (where there’s actually a Parnassus Drive). Some privileged hill-dwellers also have a faux-local manifestation of the vast Media News empire delivered to their doors, but that publication specializes in No Bad News.  

But enough with the class warfare already! Our local candidates know better than to call each other socialists, since they realize that labelling your opponent a socialist might increase his or her vote count, especially among Berkeley’s nouveaux riches who don’t want to forget their red roots. 

(It’s confusing that what was formerly red or at least parlor pink is now blue in the media. The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club should hold a forum on the implications of that shift some day.) 

The appearance of two uninvited candidates who insisted on taking their place on the podium with the two official ones enlivened the show considerably. We didn’t even know they wanted to participate. 

It seems that there’s a special category for registered write-ins. Who knew? If you don’t get around to qualifying to be on the ballot in the usual way, you can register as a write-in and then your votes will be counted—thus the appearance of Zachary Running Wolf and Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi demanding equal time. 

Naive that I am, I thought all those names I’ve been writing in all these years were already being counted. Why shouldn’t they be? After the election, we’ll have to investigate why that might be, and if it’s constitutional. If you live in a district where your incumbent is unopposed, you might want to write in a name of your choice, even your own, to create a test case. 

So we missed inviting Kahlil and Running Wolf to the party, but we’re glad they showed up anyhow. They clearly relished pointing accusing fingers at some of the elephants in the room which the dueling mayors tended to tip-toe around, notably UC’s plans to cover Strawberry Canyon and West Berkeley with concrete in the name of greenishness, aided and abetted by shills on the Berkeley City Council. Almost everyone in the audience appeared to enjoy their contribution to what could have been a polite but boring dialogue between the mayors. 

The Planet’s other contribution to what should be the civic forum is today’s insanely expanded opinion section. We’ve splurged on extra printing in order to give everyone one last chance to tell us what we need to know, or at least what writers think we need to know. If voters really want to be informed, they’ll read every last word of it, along with all of our news articles.  

The jury’s not yet in on whether print papers are still relevant in the age of the Internet, but, to cover all base,s all this information is also on the Web at berkeleydailyplanet.com, with more to come before Tuesday. Forward the links to all your friends. 

The Executive Editor has made a few endorsements of candidates and causes, which can be found on the front page. A couple of Richmond readers have implored me to add Yes on Measure T and progressive Richmond council candidates Butt, Ritterman and Beckles to our endorsements, and that seems like a good idea, given Richmond’s crucial role in the future of the East Bay. Albany residents have written enough about their candidates that we don’t need to take sides. 

We came away from the mayoral debate thinking that we need to do this more often. A frequent criticism of the incumbent mayor is that he’s hard to find—that he’s all too accessible to a select circle of cronies but to no one else. After the election, regardless of who’s elected, it might be a good idea for the Planet to sponsor a series of town hall meetings with elected officials, to give them the opportunity to respond to constituents without the constraints imposed by council meetings where decisions must be made. We’ll work on it.