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Berkeley Mayoral Candidates Star in Neighborhood Forums

By Ted Friedman
Friday October 19, 2012 - 02:40:00 PM

The candidates have been honing their motivational speaking skills with each event.. Thursday at LeConte Elementary School was the fourth mayoral forum, and as far as anyone—including the candidates—knows this is the last. 

I've attended them all, and have high praise for the four hundred Berkeleyans who have attended, and participated in these forums. 

But will their pre-existing views have been changed by all the information from the forums? 

A veteran mayor's forum observer told me she has learned, over the decades, that most members of the audience comes to hear agreement with their own views and don't change their minds. 

This is supported by national pundits, who have resorted to historical research to establish that debates don't change people's minds; Kennedy-Nixon was the exception. 

And how dispiriting is it to see teams of fact checkers pouring over the presidential debates, and finding enough misleading, conflated, or poorly-interpreted factoids to fill the 247 page Congressional Record? 

Could such misleading information happen here, in our political forums? 

I'm not a professional debates fact checker, but in four forums, certain whoppers have either been discovered by me, or pointed out by a candidate. 

Until the third debate, Mayor Tom Bates went unchallenged over the list of his civic accomplishments he recited each time. Worthington previously traded accomplishments. But Tuesday, at Malcolm X school, Worthington said that the mayor's accomplishments were stolen from him and others who played significant roles in what the mayor hogged. 

"That's why,” Worthington explained, "that in my campaign literature I give credit [to other participants] where credit is due, unlike the mayor." 

Worthington, who told me he's been speaking at weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations, has been getting pretty good audience response, although he has read the same pundits' discounting of debate victories. 

"Perhaps I should go directly to the voters," Worthington mused aloud after the forum several weeks ago at McGhee Avenue Baptist Church. 

Worthington took his best shots Thursday at what may be the last debate/forum before the election. 

Rousingly repeating, "we need a change," Worthington scorned the Mayor's Campaign Motto: Berkeley at its Best, booming, "Can't we be better? 

Then "We need a new mayor. We need change." 

At a face-off at the North Berkeley Senior Cente several weeks ago, Bates responded to the theme of change. "Not just yet," he grinned. But he does seem like a long-distance driver, with many miles on him, who just won't give up the wheel. 

And why should he? He's working for free he says, because he can't take his city salary and state legislator's pension, too. At his campaign kick-off, he joked about compacting, recycling, and giving up his car. He almost turned green before our eyes. 

The mayor seems to be a man proud of his accomplishments, looking forward to Berkeley's appreciation at the polls. Indeed, he has outdrawn his two closest competitor's campaign funding almost three-to-one, and five-to-one. He sits atop a campaign kitty, of $55,000. Yet before a forum I joked around with the mayor about how ranked-choice voting could be his undoing, as it was for Oakland's Don Perata, President pro tempore of the California State Senate from 2004 to 2008, who lost the city’s first ranked-choice voting election for Oakland mayor, by a slim margin to council member Jean Quan , two years ago. 

"When you supported ranked-choice voting, did you consider it could cost you the mayorship?" I asked. 

"If a candidate failed to get a majority, we'd have to hold a costly run-off. Ranked-choice will save Berkeley money. That's all I thought about at the time," the mayor said, flatly. 

The mayor added, "the day after the election I could be kicking myself," laughing. 

Thursday at LeConte Elementary School the candidates put the icing on their political images. Bates, who left early, as he has at previous forums, hit his talking points, briskly. 

He claimed to have raised 1.2 million dollars for Berkeley, but this figure is as opaque as the city's budget, which candidates Jacquelyn McCormack and Kriss Worthington claim to understand only after many hours of study. Both say that the way the budget’s now presented makes it almost impossible for citizens to parse, and they call instead for program-based budgets which clearly disclose where city funds are spent. 

The candidates almost unanimously condemned the mayor's shutting off audience comment when Measure S was placed on the ballot by the council majority in July at a meeting which the ACLU has condemned as an illegal violation of the Brown Act. 

Shutting off those comments has continued to haunt Bates during the forums. Thursday he spoke of his plans in the future if re-elected to give each person a chance to speak at council meetings. Worthington has recommended instead that controversial items which are expected to draw many speakers should be given their own special meetings in halls such as Berkeley City College auditorium which are big enough to handle the crowds.