Berkeley City Council Race:
Let the Endorsements Begin

Becky O'Malley
Friday July 11, 2014 - 01:15:00 PM

They’re off and running! Endorsements are coming thick and fast for Berkeley’s City Council races.

The official candidate’s filing period opens on Monday, July 14, and extends until August 8. A number of councilmember wannabes have already taken out the necessary papers and are collecting signatures which can be substituted for the $150 filing fee, and incidentally prove to the doubtful that the candidate actually has a few friends.  

The public relations apparati are gearing up. In the re-jiggered District 7, the much-touted student district, the council majority that engineered the gerrymander now seems to have endorsed a non-student to run against incumbent Councilmember Kriss Worthington. True, Blue Shield spokesman and candidate Sean Barry is a post-student, i.e. a UC Berkeley alumnus, but aren’t we all?  

One of the clueless commenters that the long-suffering Berkeleyside website patiently hosts suggests that Worthington is “the council member overseeing the Telegraph area”. This just in: a civics lesson. In Berkeley, councilmembers don’t run their districts. They have one vote, period. There are seven other councilmembers from other districts, and the mayor, who runs citywide, also has a vote, as well as powers of persuasion.  

Barry has been endorsed by the majority of councilmembers who are effectively controlled by Mayor Tom Bates. His supporters have five of the nine city council votes, so if they had wanted to improve conditions in District Seven, they could have done so by now, and they haven’t.  

The situation is further complicated by Bates’ overweening personal dislike of Worthington. Hatred is a strong word, but not unjustified. See, for example, Frances Dinkelspiel’s 2012 Berkeleyside story: Tom Bates to Kriss Worthington: Move away from me, which reports that “when asked why he wants Worthington to move, Bates half-joked, ‘So I don’t strangle him.’ “ 

Granted, there’s a lot for someone like Bates not to like about Worthington. He’s just too smart by half, isn’t he?  

Kriss is the original policy wonk. He reads every last word of his council packet and has an encyclopedic historic memory. Even worse, he’s not too good at keeping what he knows to himself like a good soldier should. He’s tenacious in his support of his southside constituents, even when their needs clash with UC Berkeley’s insatiable desire for Lebensraum. 

That’s one reason the new district map, which will be challenged on the November ballot by a referendum, lopped off key sections of the old District 7. This change was supposed to produce a student district, but since it exiled the most energetic student activists, the ones who live in the Northside co-ops, to a district dominated by affluent Hills homeowners, no student candidate has yet surfaced. And with Barry endorsed by the council majority, a student candidate would need to split off a sizeable percentage of the anti-Worthington vote to stand a chance.  

Other endorsements are starting to come in. Last week, the East Bay LGBTQ Stonewall Democratic club endorsed Worthington, as well as District 8 candidate Lori Droste. She’s one of two gay candidates in that district, the other one new (if unwilling) District 8 resident George Beier, whose home was gerrymandered out of District 7. He made a couple of creditable runs for council in previous elections, but lost to Worthington, who is also gay.  

It’s not clear what role if any identity politics will or should play in Berkeley’s fall council race. Stories about Lori Droste have mentioned that she would be the first openly lesbian city councilmember, but in a city with an openly lesbian city manager and two of nine councilmembers gay men, that might not make much difference. 

She’s supported, again, by the Bates majority, which could do more harm than good in a district which has many complaints about the way the city is run, notably the deplorable state of Willard Pool. She’s also got pro-growth developer-advocates like Livable Berkeley lobbyist Eric Panzer on her list of supporters, another potential minus in District 8, especially in the parts of Beier’s impacted Willard neighborhood added by the majority’s new district map.  

Young vs. not-so-young is another identity issue in District 7. Sean Barry is pitched as potentially, at 27, being the youngest city council member, but Councilmember Jesse Arreguin was only 24 when he was elected, and he’s only 29 now. Of course both Barry and Worthington are mere babes when compared to the other councilmembers and the Mayor, who is in his mid-seventies.  

Alejandro Soto-Vigil, another young candidate, has announced his intent to run in District One against Linda Maio, who was first elected 22 years ago when Barry was only in kindergarten. How much should any of this matter to the voters? 

And Soto-Vigil might reasonably claim other identity points: he’s a person of color, and a Latino to boot. He’d be the third councilmember in the former category, the second in the latter, and while a bit older than Barry he’s a whole lot younger than Maio. Should any of this count more than the fact that he’s been a councilmember’s aide for many years and so has learned a lot about how the city works? I wouldn’t think so. 

In my evaluation of whom to support, I prefer to take into account boring categories like experience, policy positions and alliances with others on the local political scene. I’ll wait for my own final endorsements until the window for candidates to file closes on August 8. (If any incumbent doesn’t file by then, the period in that district would be extended to August 13). 

In the meantime, if you think you already know who’s right for your district, go for it! Register voters, join campaigns, go door-to-door and talk to people. And you could even send money, because you can be pretty sure that the major commercial property interests have already set up their “impartial” campaign committees to slyly push their candidates of choice with endless glossy brochures, coming to a mailbox near you in the very near future.