Four opponents of Berkeley’s current mayor learned Wednesday, at a face-off with his honor, that there's strength in numbers, as they vied to stop his fourth term.
With ranked-choice voting, Tom Bates’ opponents benefit from each other’s votes, which has led, possibly, to the first mayor's race ever in which the opposition can gang up on the mayor, and they’ve lost no time doing so, in Berkeley's first mayoral candidates' forum.
The mayor came early and left thirty minutes before the forum ended—for another meeting, he said. This can't be documented, but a mood of glee came over the candidates, after the mayor's departure, as if a stern parent had left.
Voters can choose up to three candidates, and if their first choice doesn’t get a majority, their vote will be transferred to their second choice and then to their third choice until some candidate gets a majority. On the ballot will be District Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Jacquelyn McCormick, who last ran for the District 8 seat, and previous mayor candidates Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi and Zachary RunningWolf.
The forum was a Gray Panthers-sponsored event at North Berkeley Senior Center, and the candidates directed their attentions to issues important to senior citizens. The organizers asked four questions which covered the main issues in this election (Measure T, Measure S, affordable housing and transportation), and used a randomizing method so that the 5 candidates all answered every question, but the first commenter rotated from question to question. Each also had an opening and a closing statement.
After several candidates complained repeatedly about Bates’ allegedly high-handed management of council meetings, which they said force discussions into the wee hours and out of the reach of seniors, parents of young children and the disabled, the mayor seemed to be crafting a concession by the seat of his pants.
Bates responded with the explanation that speakers were collecting the yielded minutes of other speakers, speaking four minutes each, and extending council meetings into the morning hours.
He offered to address the complaints by adopting a pre-council "roundtable-like forum, similar to one I used in the legislature in Sacramento." Thus, people would have all their say, he suggested.
Even if the challengers’ hopes to unseat the heavily entrenched incumbent were only a glimmer in their eyes and hearts, the 250 audience members who filled the center auditorium at 1:30 on a weekday afternoon may have seen early signs that the Bates machine is vulnerable, if not the man.
Bates has taken many trips around the block, and it has started to show. He's no longer the fair-haired young progressive fighting for peace and justice and the Berkeley way, say his opponents.
Speaking third in the opening statements after both Worthington and McCormick had said "it's time for a new mayor," Bates countered, "it's not that time yet."
All candidates pitched the seniors. But only RunningWolf offered to "stage a sit-in in your foreclosed home..or in your tree," he added drawing a big laugh, referring to his tree-sitting fame as the organizer of the longest urban tree-sit in North America."
"I'm a strong leader," the self-described Blackfeet tribe elder repeated often.
Other candidates said they would improve senior housing and transportation. RunningWolf offered seniors free housing if he is mayor. Worthington would adjust present subsidy levels to lower rents.
McCormick said she’d devote energy to improving middle class housing, requiring builders to provide two bedroom units for families as well as one bedrooms and studios.
Even as the Big Four challenged Bates' present progressive standing, Bates said, "I was a progressive then [when he passed key progressive programs in Sacramento as a young assemblyman], and I'm a progressive now."
Bates ticked off a list of accomplishments, bragging that Berkeley's AA+ credit rating was "the highest for a city our size." The Mayor claimed that Berkeley businesses had "done better in a down economy than most. In addressing climate change, we're in the forefront…best in North America. Electricity use is down. You see Priuses all over town."
"I've been on the cutting edge of change," the Mayor said, citing the endorsements of his wife, state Senator Loni Hancock, a former Berkeley mayor who replaced him in the Assembly, and her replacement there, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner.
As he has said, often, Bates claims he's brought "$100 million in contracts” to the city, and that Berkeley is generous to its needy citizens, laying out three million in outreach to the poor and disabled.
McCormick noted that Berkeley’s senior services funding has suffered a 57% decrease. In the question period, it was noted that one Berkeley senior center has closed and that North Berkeley Senior Center, where we sat, had lost its social worker.
Worthington characterized Bates' accomplishments as "trickle down development," that hasn't worked.
Bates touted his five years on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). "If I'm not re-elected," the mayor threatened, "we'll lose our seat on the nineteen member board. None of these other candidates will ever get on this committee. They don't have my contacts," he said.
Worthington responded that "I'm on a transportation committee," too, referring to the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency.
RunningWolf: "I'm not on any committee, but I've done more than anyone else to control traffic. "We'll be asking young people to get out of their cars this year. I have a plan to help, not hurt." He called for closing Telegraph to cars, an idea long opposed by Teley property owners.
Candidate Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi, a Berkeley middle school teacher who’s a graduate of Berkeley public schools and U.C. Berkeley, offered a personal view, noting that his mother had raised him in Berkeley in subsidized housing while she earned a Ph.D. at Cal.
Calling for new blood (younger? he's 36) in city government, Jacobs-Fantauzzi, a hip-hop performer and producer told me he has scheduled several concerts at Cal to get out the student vote.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi announced his candidacy on August 10 on the steps of City Hall. with Worthington and McCormick at his side. "Three Amigos," we dubbed them then. RunningWolf, although a lone wolf, makes four amigos trying to knock off a powerful mayor.
Bates' opponents are younger, bolder, and knocking at the door of city government, in a campaign, which District 3 councilman Max Anderson has called, "a battle for Berkeley's soul."