Public Comment

Why has Robert Reich endorsed a conservative for Mayor of Berkeley?

Harry Brill
Friday September 23, 2016 - 12:28:00 PM

In Berkeley nine candidates are running for mayor to replace Tom Bates, who is retiring. The two top contenders, who are on the Berkeley City Council, are politically worlds apart. Laurie Capitelli tilts in a conservative direction, and Jesse Arreguin is among the most progressive council members. Because Capitelli is an ardent supporter of development projects, he receives substantial contributions from real estate interests. In fact, his habit of favoring developers and landlords as well explains why he raises more money than any other member of the Council. Also, despite Capitelli's recent support for a minimum wage law,-- elections are around the corner -- he has for a long while obstructed efforts to increase the minimum wage.

Although Jesse Arreguin is not opposed to development, he is infinitely more sensitive to the impact of development on small business and residents. Particularly important, Arreguin strongly supports labor legislation that benefits working people. Unlike Capitelli, he has never wavered on minimum wage and any other labor issues. It is no surprise, then, that among his significant endorsers are Bernie Sanders and the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

Very surprising to progressive activists, however, is that among Capitelli's endorsers is Robert Reich. Reich is among the nation's most progressive intellectuals. He has no problem criticizing big business, and exposing how they have stacked the deck. Clearly, Reich is many light years away from the politics of Capitelli and also from his close ally, Tom Bates, who Reich had said is "the best mayor in the country".

Just as startling is Reich's comment about Capitelli: "Laurie is a serious progressive, one that doesn't just talk about progressive values but who demonstrates them." The Progressive Student Association, which is based on the UC Berkeley campus, disagrees with Reich's endorsement, because Capitelli has "repeatedly voted to reduce funding for affordable housing and has opposed campaign finance reform". 

Although Reich's endorsement of Capitelli is disappointing, it is really, if we think about it, not surprising. Reich pays little attention, as he admits, to local politics. And he certainly doesn't follow on a week to week basis what is transpiring at the Berkeley City Council. Reich was impressed with his campaign to increase taxes on sodas to discourage overdosing on sugar sweetened drinks. Capitelli certainly deserves to be commended for his effort. But that does not offset the damage he has committed by his support for legislation, particularly on development proposals, that has adversely affected many Berkeley residents and workers.
Reich is obviously unaware of the tremendous gap between Capitelli's rhetoric and his actual performance. That gap is not the result of any personal quirk. It is politically driven. Berkeley is the home of a substantial number of progressive residents. So generally speaking, conservatives who are interested in running for office and being reelected feel compelled to camouflage their conservatism with progressive language.

Take for example, Capitelli's recent letter printed in the Daily Cal newspaper (Sept.9th). Believe it or not, he takes credit for the recent enactment of a minimum wage law that he had for a long while opposed. Incredibly, his words read "I was proud to lead these efforts so our low-wage workers can earn more money for their families." The organization I am affiliated with -- the East Bay Tax the Rich Group - has worked along with other activists and progressive organizations to obtain a minimum wage law that is superior to the minimum wage law passed in 2014. The greatest difficulty we had in winning a better minimum wage law was overcoming the resistance of both Capitelli and Mayor Bates.

In fact, we had two demoralizing experiences that Capitelli was responsible for. The labor and community committee worked very hard with Capitelli to craft a compromise minimum wage ordinance, which would be voted on at the Berkeley City Council meeting. At this unforgettable meeting Capitelli's first words were "I Renege". We were stunned. We had reached what we were led to believe was a firm agreement. As a result of his changing his mind, we had to begin all over again.

Many months later a Council committee led by Capitelli met with labor and community groups to craft another ordinance. Again an agreement was reached. Yet at the next meeting he along with some other members of the City Council didn't show up without even notifying members of the committee. Since there was no quorum, the council meeting was canceled.

At the City Council, councilmen Max Anderson, Kriss Worthington, and Jesse Arreguin played a major role keeping the minimum wage issue alive. Since Capitelli is running for mayor, he apparently decided to move things forward. But those who haven't followed this issue closely are unaware of the history. That probably includes Robert Reich.

Earlier in the campaign, I had asked Reich to testify on the minimum wage at a Berkeley City Council meeting. Since he resides in Capitelli's district, I thought that his public testimony would be particularly important. He refused. For whatever reason, he seems to have kept his distance from local politics. As a result, he was not as well informed as he should have been in deciding who to endorse for mayor. Clearly, he made a decision to favor a candidate who not only has very different political perspective. Capitelli's political agenda clashes with his own values.

Reich's problem mirrors the larger issue of how do we keep the public informed. Individual activists, no matter how grass roots oriented they are, can only reach a small sector of the community. What Berkeley is lacking is a large, formidable organization that is committed to educating the public on political issues and problems that they have only scant information about. A relatively new organization, the Berkeley Progressive Alliance (BPA) has been formed that is committed to playing this important role. BPA is a very promising development, which includes very experienced and dedicated organizers. The organization deserves the support of those who live or work in Berkeley. Right now they are working on electing a progressive majority to the City Council in November, including Jesse Arreguin.

Please send an email to Robert Reich to let him know why he should make a dual endorsement by supporting Jesse Arreguin for mayor. His email address is:

If you would like to learn more about the Berkeley Progressive Alliance, here is the web address: