The Berkeley Daily Planet Endorses...Not Quite

Becky O'Malley
Saturday May 12, 2018 - 10:24:00 AM

So, the mail-in ballots are out, and many early birds are wondering who to vote for. I’m definitely old-school myself, preferring the sacramental act of walking into the neighborhood polling place to cast my ballot. I’ve seen enough last-minute hit pieces to want to wait until all the electioneering is really truly over—who knows what might change before election day.

But my friends and acquaintances, or at least the nervous nellies among them, have been badgering me to tell them whom the Planet will endorse.

In the first place, that’s a “categorical error as it pertains to the historical record.” When it’s at home, what that pretentious phrase means is that “we’ve never done that”. Never? Well, hardly ever.

I have enough trouble making up my mind who will be the lucky recipient of my one vote, let alone telling tens or hundreds or thousands of readers what to do with theirs. Opinions expressed in this space are strictly mine, though my partner and I have never to my knowledge disagreed on a political decision.

This electoral season is especially vexing, because I seem to be able to find something to question about every candidate for every office. On the other hand, many seem good enough for government work.

Let’s start with the top job in the state, Governor. I’ve found both of the top two Democrats, Newsom and Villaraigosa, equally creepy in different ways. I don’t have a television, so I’m not influenced by their ads, which the print press informs me are numerous and awful. 

The completely obnoxious “top two” primary system, also known as the Gorilla (or perhaps Guerilla) Primary makes it much harder. It’s the result of a 2010 amendment to the California constitution, promoted by a stupid Republican lieutenant governor and passed by the befuddled voters. 

Here I’m just going to talk about the candidates for governor, not an outstanding lot by any stretch of the imagination. Republicans, of course, are out of the question. 

Newsom and Villaraigosa aren’t Repugs, but they play them on TV. What do I mean by that? 

Well, I didn’t watch the televised debate, relying instead on the opinions of other whom I respect. 

Here’s Tim Redmond in 48hills.com: The big debate for governor was an embarrassing bust: 

”we watched an entire 90-minute debate without most of the candidates talking seriously about rent control, state control over local government, Prop. 13, single-payer health care, or so many other key issues facing the state.” 

And Adam Brinklow, on Curbed.Com: “the candidates promised everything from building millions of new homes to torching the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).” That would be both Newsom and Villaraigosa. If you care, Aaron Peskin, San Francisco Supervisor and the pride of the Berkeley High Alumni Association, has endorsed the latter, as has former SF Mayor Art Agnos. 

Only Delaine Eastin among all this lot has said anything respectable: ” “You don’t have to get rid of environmental quality, [...] we’re not giving up on having a clean environment, not on my watch. We do need to streamline construction and we need to build housing near transit hubs. [...] A realistic number is something like 300,000 homes a year, that’s the most we’ve ever built.” 

Aha, a member of the reality-based community and a woman to boot! I guess I’ll vote for her, though she’ll be massively outspent by the boys on the list. That would not be a strategic vote, but a vote on principle. 

Two more races are worth attention. There's no reason not to vote on principle for doughty former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin if you're looking for a protest vote--she's an authentic progressive in a sea of wishy-washy quasi-liberals on the state ballot,. For Alameda County District Attorney, a vote for Pamela Price to replace Nancy O'Malley (no relation) would register your principled disapproval of a lot of things in the criminal justice system that need reform. 

The 15th Assembly district, Berkeley and parts of Oakland and Richmond, on the other hand, seems to call for a strategic vote. That’s because the fabled and in some quarters reviled Democratic Party establishment has seen fit to parachute one of their own professionals into our lap. That would be Buffy (“that’s my real name”) Wicks, endorsed by just about everyone in Bay Area politics that I’ve ever despised, with Scott Wiener (that’s his real name) leading the pack, complete with his “down with local government” ideology. 

She’s heavily funded, as he is, by the development industry, with a side of baksheesh from militant millionaire charter school backers. 

Don’t get me wrong—some public charter schools are good, and many regular public schools are bad, but supporting charters shouldn’t be viewed as a religious crusade. 

With all that cash at her back, Buffy may well be able to buy one slot on the November ballot. But what is the strategic vote for the “anyone but Buffy” believer’s attempt to influence who will oppose her? 

Where I hang out, the most talked about candidates are Richmond City Councilmember Jovanka Beckles and Oakland Council member Dan Kalb. As of now, they are my top two choices, though I realize I'll only get one in June. 

Beckles is dynamic, personable, quick off the dime—endorsed by the Bernieistas, former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, congressman Ron Dellums and many other celebrities of the left. My take on her is that her gut reactions are great, her grasp of detail not so much. She knows the tune, but isn’t too strong on the words all the time. 

Dan Kalb is the reverse. He knows all the words, but sometimes forgets the tune. He’s a self-admitted policy nerd, usually my fave, but his reflex judgment of issues seems slow. As of my last meeting with him, for example, he still seemed to think SB827, the bete noire among the progressive housing activists in attendance, could be amended enough to be acceptable. That’s the one, drafted by the YIMBYs and fronted by Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner, which would have dramatically upzoned almost all of Berkeley without local consent. 

Kalb should know by now that what should be his base doesn’t take kindly to that approach. He seems to be aiming for the middle of the road, and in Molly Ivins’ immortal words, there’s not much in the middle of the road except yellow lines and dead armadillos. 

Another candidate for the middle, who’s gotten a lot of endorsements from all the wrong people, is Judy Appel, now on the Berkeley School Board. I haven’t seen her in action, but chances are she’d do fine on education issues—though I’m not too sure about her on the environment and land use, based on who her endorsers are. She’s the teachers’ union’s candidate, presumably because of her position on charter schools . 

The nurses’ union supports El Cerrito Councilmember Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, who, not surprisingly, is strong on health care issues but not at all specific on other topics when I’ve seen her. 

Andy Katz, now on the East Bay Municipal Utility District, has been an honest and stalwart member of the East Bay community for almost 20 years. His environmental credentials, including having been statewide chair of the Sierra Club, are outstanding, which means a lot to me. He’s the only candidate who immediately without hesitation came out against SB827, clearly grasping what a bad bill it was. He might be my choice if I decide to vote strictly on principle, but strategically he might not be the strongest candidate against the inevitable Buffy in November. 

With all these choices, what might be a thumb on the scale is that Jovanka Beckles is both African-American and a woman, two categories significantly underrepresented in the California Assembly. Ben Bartlett is also African-Americian, but he’s not yet ready for prime time, since he’s just started his first term in elective office on the Berkeley City Council. Correction: he's endorsed by former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, his uncle, a person he cites as his mentor. 

Of course Buffy Wicks has never held elective office anywhere, any time, has she? 

All in all, I think any of the first five would be a whole lot better than Buffy. This is one place where ranked-choice voting would be a big help. I could happily cast my vote for all five in any order if it would mean stopping Buffy the Carpet Bagger. 

Thank goodness I still have three (or is two?) weeks to decide what to do with my one little vote. When I decide, I’ll let you know, if it’s soon enough to make any difference.