[Editor’s Note: A reader saw my plea for a report of what happened at the endorsement meeting of the Berkeley Democratic Club (formerly known as The Moderates) and she volunteered this report of what she saw. We asked her if she is supporting any candidate or issue. “Sure,” she said, “I'm endorsing Jesse Arreguin (because of his presentation on Measure R, which I previously knew nothing about); Measures H&I; and for School Board I'm endorsing Julie Holcomb and Leah Wilson.” She seems to have done her best to be fair to all however.]
City Council Highlights
As a whole, the city council candidates were a colorful crew, reflecting a healthy diversity of opinions and styles (though disappointingly not race) that make Berkeley what it is.
Standout moments included incumbent Kriss Worthington opening up by saying he would demand a recount if he somehow won BDC's endorsement since he fully expected a George Beier coronation. Despite criticism from some saying Worthington doesn't support Bus Rapid Transit, he gave examples of different versions of BRT that he encouraged people to consider. George Beier, who stated his opposition to BRT, gave a commanding performance worthy of Citizen Kane. His passion was impressive, but overshot the mark for the venue. Ces Rosales' responses were disappointingly anemic in comparison to both of her opponents. Kriss Worthington did not need to request a recount; George Beier won the endorsement handily.
Incumbent Gordon Wozniak gave highlights of his record and longevity, spent a long time listing all his endorsements, protested any accusations that he's been less than responsive to district residents, and was defensive of city negotiations with UC Berkeley. Jacquelyn McCormick, an interior designer turned neighborhood activist, gave a sincere appeal about her run for office in order to give District 8 residents a more responsive representative on City Council. Stewart Emmington Jones, relatively young but quite articulate, represented the Green Party principles admirably. Wozniak was endorsed.
Incumbent Jesse Arreguin was a no-show. He later said it was because BDC's endorsement of Jim Novosel was a shoo-in, so he opted to attend another endorsement party where his chances of being endorsed were greater. (He did, however, appear at the following BDC meeting where he debated admirably against Measure R.) Architect Jim Novosel talked about the debate over the downtown plan being primarily one of height. He supports Measure R, and criticized Jesse Arreguin as being a voice who creates needless divisions, whereas he would work better with UC, the mayor, and other council members. He also portrayed himself as a preservationist. Eric Panzer, young, articulate, and in support of Measure R, talked about his advocacy of more housing and jobs. He also supports Measure R. Finally, Bernt Wahl, who actually has his own Wikipedia page, highlighted his expertise in Chaos Theory, something he said would be useful as a council member in Berkeley, and presented a number of innovative high tech solutions that could, among other things, increase safety and help law enforcement. Novosel was endorsed.
Incumbent Linda Maio presented as the status quo, with predictable confidence and knowledge about the city budget and other issues. She talked about her progress in reducing the odors emanating from Pacific Steel, but that there are still health concerns to be addressed. A very young Jasper Kingeter, impassioned about serving his community, had an impressive grasp of the residential and quality of life needs of District 1. He seemed undeterred by his lack of experience and understanding of city workings. Finally, Merillie Mitchell, who arrived quite late, asked for just two of her allotted three minutes before the Club, though had to be prodded off the stage after at least five. Her main message was about the lack of transparency on City Council, citing her numerous hours at City Council meetings, including the period that precedes the public's usual arrival. Her commitment in serving as a liaison between her community and the Council and her fearlessness in asking pointed questions was admirable though her style is confrontational and quirky. Maio was endorsed.
Incumbent Karen Hemphill, a BUSD parent, gave a fairly balanced speech about the school board's positive track record during her term in office to sustain efforts and support initiatives to close the achievement gap, while helping students at the top to thrive, and pointed to the recent test score results that show marked improvement in all groups districtwide. She portrayed herself as a person who is able to listen intellectually to different factions in highly charged debates without unnecessarily fueling passions. Some observers felt she gave an overly confident and lackluster performance. Others responded well to her.
Josh Daniels, a BUSD alumnus and lawyer, young and articulate, gave thoughtful responses that demonstrated a working knowledge of BUSD issues. He pointed to his expertise in local bond measures, finance, and his having co-founded Berkeley High's student court in 2005, the year he worked on that project. He claimed to be the only candidate who had experience working with students, teachers, administrators, the school board, and the city.
Julie Holcomb, a BUSD parent, past co-chair of the Berkeley School's Excellence Project citizen's oversight committee, past member of the superintendent's Budget Advisory Committee, and past co-president of Berkeley High's Development Group, eloquently displayed the knowledge of an incumbent, with sound responses to difficult questions that reflected a deep knowledge of BUSD and commitment to all students. As the owner of a successful printing press, she talked about her commitment to bringing the trades to Berkeley High to provide a wider range of career options for students of all backgrounds.
Leah Wilson, a BUSD parent, who came across as the most dynamic and eloquent speaker of the evening, astutely presented the different sides of each concern, including the needs of those at the bottom of the achievement gap as well as at the top, cautioned against oversimplifying issues or candidates, and emphasized the importance and challenges of implementing evidence-based practices in our schools. She discussed her qualifications as a lawyer who works with the foster care and juvenile justice systems on the local, state and national levels, attentive to the unique issues of those students, and managing funding the size of BUSD's budget.
Priscilla Myrick, who has been a BUSD parent and longtime literacy volunteer and math tutor at various BUSD schools, past member of BUSD's Citizens' Budget Oversight Committee, Berkeley High's School Site Council, and the Superintendent's Advisory Committee for Small Schools, talked about her background as a CFO with skills she could provide as BUSD faces increasing budget cuts, and strongly criticized the school board for their alleged lack of transparency, especially around bond measures, which incited Joaquin Rivera (past school board member and newly elected Alameda County School Board Director) from the audience to fiercely challenge her claims.
Finally, Norma Harrison, community volunteer, began by stating she doesn't think we need schools as they currently exist. After imitating a baby crying at birth (wah wah), she explained that learning starts right away. Despite her distinctive quirkiness, she raised provocative points questioning age segregation in our schools, and the current practice of confining teaching to teachers, and learning to schools.
The BDC Board recommended endorsing Karen Hemphill, Julie Holcomb, Leah Wilson. Only Julie Holcomb and Leah Wilson received enough votes to secure a BDC endorsement. To everyone's dismay, Karen Hemphill just missed the minimum number of votes required. Norma Harrison received no votes.
A revote was taken with the three runners-up. 21 votes were needed for an endorsement (60% of the 35 votes cast). The results: 'No Endorsement' 4, Josh Daniels 4, Priscilla Myrick 12, Karen Hemphill 15. Debate ensued about the fairness of the second vote as many people had left at this late hour not expecting that there would be another vote. The Board considered, and apparently approved, a request from BDC member Laurie Capitelli to hold another vote at the next meeting when more people could be present and informed of the revote.
Two weeks later, the same three candidates returned, were each given the floor once again (to the momentary protest of a couple members), and then votes were cast for the third and last time. The ratio of votes cast for each candidate was the about same as prior. This time Karen Hemphill was just one vote shy of the required 21 votes. BDC could make no endorsement for a third school board candidate.
Measures H&I Debate (school bond measures):
Con: A citizen argued against increased taxes; hence, against measures H&I.
Pro: School Board Members stated this was a continuance, not an increase, and essential to maintaining and improving school facilities, a benefit for the entire community.
Measure H (facilities maintenance) - 36 votes cast; 22 votes needed to endorse. Yes: 31, Endorsed.
Measure I (facilities improvements) - 35 votes cast; 21 votes needed. Yes: 23, Endorsed.
Measure R Debate (downtown plan):
Con: Jesse Arreguin spoke passionately about the 3 or 4 existing downtown Berkeley plans, developed collaboratively, that would be ready to implement instantly with approval by City Council. Measure R would start the process all over again, and contains many loopholes for big development. Jesse strongly opposed accusations that he wants to block progress in downtown Berkeley, and reiterated his commitment to foster a thriving downtown business community, and a revitalization of the downtown.
Pro: Laurie Capitelli stated the existing plans are too prescriptive. R would allow elected council members to call the shots on a new downtown Berkeley plan. John Caner, Executive Director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, claimed that, according to business owners in other areas who would like to set up shop in Berkeley, Berkeley needs a new plan in order to be inviting to new businesses.
Measure R: 33 votes cast, 20 votes needed. Yes:21 No: 8 No endorsement:4 Endorsed.
Measure S Debate (tax marijuana dispensaries): No debate.
Measure S: 33 votes cast; 20 votes needed. Yes:23 No: 7 No endorsement: 3 Endorsed.
Measure T Debate (replaces measure JJ with new regulations around marijuana dispensaries):
Con: Former Mayor Shirley Dean argued she didn't oppose medical marijuana, but had studied the measure and the subject, a topic she previously knew little about, stating "I didn't inhale," and dislikes the existing Measure JJ. However, she strongly opposes this measure because it doesn't adequately remedy the problems of JJ. She convincingly pointed to many serious flaws with Measure T.
Pro: Laurie Capitelli supports this measure because it's a much-needed improvement over JJ.
Measure T: 34 votes cast; 21 votes needed. Yes: 11 No:16 No endorsement: 7 No endorsement.
Measure F (additional $10 car registration fee to help fund road and transportation costs) 31 votes cast; 19 votes needed. Yes :20 No: 9 No endorsement:2 Endorsed.
Superior Court Judge
John Creighton spoke at length about how judicial elections work, his background and philosophy. Clearly someone who likes what he does. He won the endorsement by acclamation. His opponent, Victoria Kolakowski, was not present.
Other Candidates - running unopposed
Anne Marie Hogan - Berkeley City Auditor. As always, Anne Marie is friendly, accessible, fair and balanced.
Andy Katz - re-election to EBMUD Board of Directors. A charismatic speaker who makes the subject of water interesting, and says he is committed to fair policies, and educating the public about water conservation and water politics.
Addendum: Amongst the School Board candidates, 88% of club members voted to endorse Julie Holcomb, and 64% of club members voted to endorse Leah Wilson. Any candidates registered as other than Democrat could not garner votes at the Berkeley Democratic Club. Thus School Board candidate Norma Harrison (among other candidates) was unable to be endorsed or receive any votes at the event.
Citizen reporter Abigail Surasky is a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Berkeley, and an involved parent in the Berkeley public schools.