by Cy Musiker
With the election less than two weeks away, we’re diving into local races. On Tuesday we highlighted San Francisco, and now we’re focusing on Berkeley, where the politics are always passionate.
Incumbent Mayor Tom Bates is running against five challengers. There’s also a no-sitting measure on the ballot and a plan to allow more commercial development in West Berkeley.
Frances Dinkelspiel is a co-founder of the website Berkeleyside, one of our KQED News associates. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview Thursday:
CY MUSIKER: Tom Bates is one of the most familiar faces in Bay Area politics. He’s been mayor since 2002, and before that he was in the state legislature. Tell us about his opposition.
BERKELEYSIDE’S FRANCES DINKELSPIEL: Bates is facing five challengers, only one of whom has any significant political experience.
His strongest challenger, probably, is Kriss Worthington, who’s sat on the city council for 16 years and is in many ways Bates’ nemesis. He’s much more progressive than Bates and often leads the pack that is in opposition to Bates’ slate on the council.
The second strongest contender is a woman named Jacquelyn McCormick. She doesn’t have a lot of experience, but she’s pounding Mayor Bates over the city’s fiscal situation.
MUSIKER: And why does Tom Bates say he needs another term in office?
DINKELSPIEL: He’s been Berkeley’s mayor for a long time, but he says he wants to build on the progress he’s made in creating an East Bay green corridor. He’s also very interested in closing the achievement gap in Berkeley schools.
MUSIKER: This is the first time Mayor Bates is running in a ranked-choice race. In the 2010 Oakland mayoral race, ranked-choice voting tripped up the overly confident frontrunner, Don Perata, when the second-place finisher after the first round, Jean Quan, was elected after all the votes were redistributed. What’s the ranked-choice strategy in the Berkeley mayoral race?
DINKELSPIEL: Bates has a group of three people who are trying to run together to prevent him from winning 50% plus one vote on the first pass [which would make him the winner without further counting]. The three are Worthington, McCormick, and Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi. But Bates says he’s done private polling that shows his numbers are good.
MUSIKER: Berkeley voters are also deciding whether to pass a no-sitting law — Measure S. This would ban any person from sitting on a sidewalk in a commercial area, like busy Telegraph Avenue near the Cal campus, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Who’s pushing this measure?
DINKELSPIEL Tom Bates is really pushing this and people feel like he’s doing it on behalf of the business community in downtown Berkeley. They have long complained about people sitting on the sidewalks and aggressively asking for money and driving away customers. And they’ve been pushing Bates for years to put this measure on the ballot. It’s been a very contentious issue; people are torn about it. People don’t like travelers who come and live in Berkeley and sit with their dogs on Telegraph Avenue, but they also feel nervous about restricting what they say is a constitutional right to sit on the sidewalk. It’s really divided the community.
MUSIKER: There’s also a plan to put new housing — and create new jobs — in the West Berkeley neighborhoods along I-80… north and south of the Fourth Street shopping district. What would change if the measure passes?
DINKELSPIEL: People who are pushing for support of Measure T say if Berkeley is allowed to construct these six large projects it will transform the West Berkeley area. It will bring in much -needed laboratory R&D office and housing stock, and it will add a new vibrancy to West Berkeley. One of Berkeley’s issues is it has old zoning. It’s been working on changing that, but those laws have made it very difficult for spinoffs from Lawrence Berkeley Natonal Lab or UC Berkeley to expand in West Berkeley. So proponents are pushing this, saying this is the future and we need to get on this track, this’ll bring jobs and high-tech companies…
Opponents say if these big developments are allowed to go up, then that will raise property values and that will raise rents on small artisans and manufacturers that are now the heart of this district.
MUSIKER: You wrote a story about how people are vandalizing political signs…
DINKELSPIEL: In every campaign, signs are vandalized, but in Berkeley it seems to have gotten completely out of hand. There’s not a single candidate or measure that is not reporting that signs are being uprooted, that people are coming to their houses and ripping up the signs and depositing them on their front steps, or throwing rocks at signs and cracking windows. It’s become a little bit disturbing that it’s gotten so personal.