Despite incumbent victories, challengers still upbeat

Mayoral hopeful and District 7 City Councilmember Kriss Worthington speaks in his campaign office on election night.
Tony Zhou/Staff
Mayoral hopeful and District 7 City Councilmember Kriss Worthington speaks in his campaign office on election night.

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In the aftermath of the Berkeley City Council election, candidate Denisha DeLane did not wake up feeling angry or upset over her loss.

DeLane lost the race by a significant percentage, receiving a little less than half the number of votes received by her opponent, incumbent Councilmember Darryl Moore. But like many losing candidates, she felt encouraged that voters chose to support her stance on many policy measures.

“I have this feeling that we still won,” DeLane said Wednesday.

Similarly, mayoral candidate and current Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he was pleased to see that many voters opposed some of the same measures he had spent much of his campaign advocating against.

“Voters said they agreed with me on the policy but rejected me on the ballot,” Worthington said.

Mayoral candidate Jacquelyn McCormick, who finished third, said that even when voters support newcomers with policy ideas, it is still a challenge to overcome the incumbency advantage.

“I think that it’s really hard to beat an incumbent that’s well-funded and part of a machine,” McCormick said. “You have to create a machine that’s behind yourself.”

Former mayor Shirley Dean, who served two terms prior to current incumbent Mayor Tom Bates, said she was “surprised and puzzled” at the overwhelming support for incumbents. Fresh ideas are hard to come by in a City Council with a history of long tenure, she said.

“The election results don’t connect with what I was hearing from people, which was a readiness to change — that there needed to be fresh ideas in the council,” she said.

Because the council currently has no set term limits for seat positions, incumbents are allowed to run for as many terms as they wish. Tuesday marked the fourth re-election of Bates, who is now serving in his 10th year as mayor.

Bates stood as the lone mayoral candidate who supported controversial ballot Measure S — also known as the sit-lie measure — and Measure T, which would have allowed rezoning in West Berkeley. For this, Bates constantly weathered criticism from his opponents.

Despite the mayor’s dividing stance on those issues, Worthington cited the strength of Bates’ political image as what propelled his campaign.

“People remember what he used to be, and they have fond memories of Tom Bates of 10 years ago, and they don’t want to ditch him,” Worthington said.

Bates, however, said he is happy to be working on a good team and sees the results as an indication of public support for the progress the council has been making under his leadership.

“We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to bring people along whether they win or lose,” he said.

But for the losing candidates, political change continues even after the election.

“My hope — especially for the incumbents — is there’s still a group of people that still need constituents, whether they voted for them or not,” DeLane said.

Contact Shirin Ghaffary at [email protected].