Jay Vega would be the first
lesbian or Latina on board
The electoral field for District 8 may soon get even deeper as Berkeley Housing Commissioner Jay Vega explores the idea of running.
Vega, an openly gay Latina, says she wants to focus on issues such as housing, traffic and crime.
“My focus will be on our housing needs and concerns, public safety, streets, storm drains and potholes as well as traffic issues and earthquake/fire preparedness,” Vega said. “The people of this district deserve to have strong representation on the council, and I’m determined they have it.”
If Vega wins she would be the first lesbian or Latina to ever be elected to Berkeley City Council.
She says she does not want her gender, sexual preference or ethnicity to play a part in the race but believes all of the above issues are likely to come up.
“I’m an accumulation, like any human being, of my life experiences,” Vega said. “Hopefully people are going to focus on the issues. But it’s been my experience that they don’t. It’s been my experience that they are going to want to ask me about things that aren’t vital to the city of Berkeley — like my ethnic background, my gender, my sexuality — these things, they come up,” she added.
Appointed onto the Berkeley Housing Commission by Councilmember Polly Armstrong, Vega will enter into the race with Planning Commissioner Gordon Wozniak, UC Berkeley student Andy Katz and Chair of the Peace and Justice Commission Anne Wagley.
All of the candidates so far are avoiding wearing labels of progressive or moderate, but Wozniak is believed to have the strongest support from moderate voters in a district that has never had a progressive represent them.
He is also believed by many to be an early front-runner in the race, with more than 150 endorsements, including that of outgoing District 8 Councilmember Armstrong.
In fact, Wozniak said he is running at the request of Armstrong.
“I wouldn’t run without her encouragement,” Wozniak said. “I hadn’t ever thought of that myself — running for political office.”
Wozniak, a recently retried research scientist from UC Berkeley, refers to himself as a professional problem-solver and says those are the skills he will bring to council.
“My feeling was that I could help the city,” Wozniak said. “The city has a lot of complex problems, and I like to the think that I have the ability to come up with solutions to complex problems. To help find creative solutions to solve problems and make our money go a little further than we thought it would.”
Though Wozniak is being called the most conservative candidate to yet enter the race, he says his goal on council would be to bridge the gap between moderates and progressives, and that he considers himself somewhere in the middle of the two.
“I think those labels (moderates and progressives) are a little out of date,” Wozniak said. “The majority of my support will be coming from moderate voters but I wouldn’t want to pigeon hole myself as a moderate candidate.”
Vega too wanted to avoid the political labeling.
“I’m entering the race as a Democrat, and I’ve been a liberal Democrat all my life,” Vega said. “Berkeley sometimes needs to look a little bit beyond what happens here within the confines of Berkeley and not worry so much about whether we are moderates or progressive.
“I’m not going to define myself as a moderate or progressive, I’m not going to put myself in that box. I’m running as an independent and as a liberal.”
But Rent Stabilization Board member Paul Hogarth, who is leaning toward supporting Katz, says the labels are important historically.
“District 8 was created to be a moderate homeowner district,” Hogarth said. “And the only time a progressive ever got close to winning it was in ’96.”
Hogarth, a progressive, said in his opinion Katz is more electable in the race than Wagley and that he knows very little about Vega.
“In order for a progressive to win in that district you need the students,” Hogarth said. “Students are 40 percent of District 8. People who live south of Derby (largely homeowners) vote in much higher numbers then people who vote north of Derby (largely student housing).
“But what’s important to remember is that students and renters make up majority of the district, the difference is voter turnout,” he added.