Now that Labor Day is behind us, the campaigns have begun in earnest. The next election is less than a month away.
What, you say? I thought the election was in November. Well, not any more. Not just in November.
Here’s the calendar, as posted by the Alameda County Clerk’s office:
- First day to mail sample ballots - Thursday, September 23, 2010
- Early Voting will begin on Monday, October 4, 2010
- Close of Voter Registration Period - Monday, October 18, 2010
- Last day to request a Vote By Mail Ballot - Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Unwary voters will be tempted to think they’ve got the whole story in their hands in that one document, but it’s not so simple.
If you watch television, you’ll be deluged with cleverly produced commercials guaranteed to turn you against the whole idea of voting.
If you open your mail, you’ll see a stack of slick multicolored paper calculated to make you think that the best funded candidate is The Real Deal. Don’t believe it for a minute.
It has formerly been customary for the media to endorse candidates and propositions sometime in late October, just prior to the traditional in-person election day. But with the new emphasis on Vote-by-Mail, that’s way too late to make a difference. These days the news media’s endorsements are coming thick and fast.
At the Planet, the tradition has been for The Paper in all its majesty not to endorse anyone in particular, though I’ve sometimes told readers of this space how I’m personally voting in the final days of a campaign. Not that this open-handed non-endorsement policy has done any good, of course.
In the last fall election, one particularly pompous and self-righteous staff reporter concluded erroneously that I’d hidden information from her about a candidate she thought I personally favored. In fact, I’d barely met the individual in question at the time, and the information the reporter missed had been emailed to half of Berkeley, but she resigned in an enormous huff, where she presumably dwells to this day.
So this year we’re doing it differently. I’ve been desperately scrambling to make up my mind what I think about candidates and propositions as fast as I can. I will discuss what I learn with my partner in crime, and then announce the results immediately. This will give anyone who cares what we think the opportunity to contribute time or money to campaigns early enough to make a difference.
First, of course, we never vote for Republicans around here—no use pretending on that one. Yes, I know that the local Dems running for state office are by and large chosen by a suspiciously machine-like process which offers scant opportunity for citizen participation, but they’re still a cut above the other party. Once in a while we’ll vote for the odd Green or Peace and Freedom candidate just to register a protest, but we’re under no illusions that it makes a difference.
Local elections are a different matter. They’re still somewhat non-partisan, though the Greens usually make themselves known and it’s assumed that the rest are not Republicans, though occasionally one wonders.
The machine, such as it is, increasingly works to extend its reach into the Berkeley city council. Independent progressives continue to run despite this, but they have trouble matching the big money poured into Berkeley elections by the construction industry, which has painted a big red bullseye on Berkeley’s downtown center.
This election the machine is trying hard to knock off independent progressive District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has the temerity to occasionally challenge the cozy relationship between the council majority and the University of California administration, which operates to the detriment of both the citizens and the students. Sometimes he even votes against developers.
For a number of years Kriss has been the smartest, best-prepared person at City Council meetings. Mayor Tom Bates can’t forgive him for that and has endorsed not just one but both of Worthington’s opponents in desperation, as have his allies in state offices. Nor, for that matter, can ex-Mayor Shirley Dean, who’s endorsed at least one of them. My partner and I, like most of Berkeley’s independent progressives, have often in the past endorsed Kriss and contributed to his campaigns, as we have again this year.
Then there’s District 4. Councilmember Jesse Arreguin won the election to finish the term of beloved Councilmember Dona Spring two years ago, trouncing the machine candidate. Arreguin has given Worthington valuable backup in the brains department, and at 26 he’s decades younger than the other councilmembers to boot, not to mention being Berkeley’s only Latino councilmember. He’s trying for his own four-year term this time against a small passel of opponents, including architect James Novosel, whose clients are the big developers who want to remake downtown Berkeley as Highrise Heaven for fun and profit. Novosel claims to be a preservationist, but those of us with long memories remember that he was part of the ill-advised group that proposed knocking down most of the UC theater to build condos behind its façade, a dumb scheme that (thank goodness) bombed.
Our home district, District 8, is an unwieldy gerrymander of student housing, beleaguered campus neighbors and posh private residences. Its many-term representative, Gordon Wozniak, is a comfortably-retired UC Labs administrator who has little time for citizens with problems.
A fellow who’s got some legitimate questions about the city of Berkeley’s contract to subsidize YMCA memberships for city employees forwarded to the Planet Wozniak’s response to an email sent to all councilmembers at their official email address: “Please stop copying on your emails. I do not feel that your dispute with the YMCA serves any useful purpose.” Wozniak seems not to know that it’s the job of councilmembers to listen to citizens who “petition the government for redress of grievances” just like it says in the U.S. Constitution.
I’ve known one of the new District 8 candidates, Stewart Emmington Jones, since he was shorter than I am, which is a long time ago now. He grew up in District 8 and graduated from Berkeley High and UC. He’s always been avidly interested in civic matters, even as a child, probably because his mother and his grandmother have long been strong advocates for what’s best for Berkeley.
He’s been going to city council meetings and speaking up when appropriate in the public comment period—I’ve been watching him online and have seen how articulate and intelligent he is. Jesse Arreguin needs another youthful colleague on the council, and the numerous students in District 8 deserve someone else under 30 to speak up for their interests.
Stewart Jones is my first choice for District 8, but I’m also impressed with Jacqueline McCormick. She’ll be my #2 in the brave new world of ranked choice voting, and I’d be delighted if she won. It’s time for Wozniak to retire, in any event, so I won’t even put him down as #3, in order to give Jones and McCormick a fighting chance, though it’s hard to beat an incumbent’s name recognition advantage.
I haven’t met all the candidates in District 1 yet, but I have a lot of respect for Merrilie Mitchell’s determined watchdogging of city government. No endorsements yet, however, until I learn more about the rest of the field.
Berkeley Measure R, a bold-faced scam if ever there was one, deserves its own column, which it will get before the election starts in earnest on October 4. Then there are the statewide races and propositions, not to mention the school board and school funding measures, also to come in future issues—watch this space before filling out your ballot.