Robert Reich endorses Berkeley mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli

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09/15/16: This article has been updated to reflect new information from Councilmember Jesse Arreguin and the Progressive Student Association. 

UC Berkeley public policy professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich endorsed Berkeley mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli on Thursday, one week after former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders endorsed opposing mayoral candidate Jesse Arreguin.

“From the soda tax to his effective support of affordable housing; from his leadership on Berkeley’s landmark minimum wage … Laurie deeply understands the challenges facing working families and works to address them,” Reich said in a statement announcing his endorsement.

The endorsement comes on the heels of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s endorsement of Capitelli, alongside support from former California State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, California State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, and current Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

Capitelli and Reich worked together in 2014 on Measure D — a one-cent-per-ounce tax on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages — and have stayed in contact since. Regarding the endorsement, Capitelli said he is flattered that such a well-respected community member would endorse his campaign and considers it a testament to his candidacy.

“I think he respects my ability to bring people together and form consensus,” Capitelli said of Reich. “He certainly felt that way about the minimum wage.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said he has enormous respect for Reich and the work he has done nationally and in the Clinton administration. Arreguin, however, anticipates that Berkeley voters may be confused by the opposing endorsement from Reich — one of Sanders’ most public supporters during the primaries.

The influence of endorsements depends on the amount of public involvement in a race, according to campus professor of public policy and former city administrator of Oakland Dan Lindheim. If constituents have been consistently invested in the race, endorsements matter less, Lindheim said. He added that these big shows of support can likewise incite public support for less well-known races.

Laurie Capitelli expressed a similar sentiment and said while endorsements are beneficial, “races are won and lost based on policy.”

Arreguin, however, said Capitelli’s own policy and actions as a City Council member do not align with Berkeley’s progressive ideals. Arreguin alleged that during his political career, Capitelli has struck “sweetheart deals” with developers as well as obstructed efforts to build affordable housing and raise the minimum wage.

“Being progressive is standing up to what’s right even when it’s difficult,” Arreguin said. “I’m progressive day in and day out.”

The Progressive Student Association — a campus club formerly called UC Berkeley Students for Bernie — released a statement in opposition to Laurie Capitelli soon after the endorsement’s announcement.

The press release cites the group’s concern over Reich’s support for Capitelli, stating that it helps the council member appear more progressive though he has “repeatedly voted to reduce funding for affordable housing and opposed campaign finance reform.”

Capitelli said the word “progressive” is overused in Berkeley politics, calling it a “red herring.”

“For us to just constantly scream, ‘I’m progressive, I’m progressive,’ does nothing,” Capitelli said. “We need to talk about policy, not labels.”

Brenna Smith is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @bsmith_1853.

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  • kogcyc

    Berkeley is shamefully lacking in the kinds of facilities and services that the people who live here, that the people who finance the city need. And no one on the city council seems to care.

    The closest Berkeley has come recently to a new public space is the one in the front of the new Safeway on College.

    And it’s in Oakland.

    No one begrudges the council for giving in to the desires of developers. What we object to is their embarrassing lack of negotiation prowess.

    Please city council. Show some backbone. Stand up to the developers. Force them to build parks and pools and affordable housing and anything else that your constituents might want or need.

    You have what they want.

    Stop giving it away.

    If you can do that then no one will have any reason to question the meaning of progress.

  • Tak

    About the only thing I can agree with Capitelli on is that the word “progressive” is overused. It is particularly grossly overused by neo-liberals like Capitelli, Skinner, Hancock and Bates who like to call themselves “progressive,” so much so that it has lost much of its meaning.

  • ShadrachSmith

    That is so reassuring :-)

  • chrisdarling

    Capitelli consistently does what the Berkeley real estate interests ask him to do. ‘Nuff said.

    As has Mayor Bates. Hancock is the wife of Bates and Skinner got her start in politics with the help of Bates and Hancock. So that is really one large endorsement when it looks like three.

  • still trying

    Mr. Reich, you lost my respect today.

  • Eric Panzer

    I congratulate Councilmember Arreguin on receiving Senator Sanders’s endorsement, but it also speaks volumes that Councilmember Capitelli is the candidate who has received the endorsement of progressive leaders who actually live in and represent Berkeley. People like Professor Reich, Senator Hancock, Assembly member Skinner, and Mayor Bates have first-hand experience with Berkeley issues, and know what it takes to successfully craft and implement policy at the local level. When it comes to national issues, I think we’re all pretty much on the same page. But when it comes to local issues, I want Councilmember Capitelli at the helm because he is someone who supports practical solutions to Berkeley’s most pressing issues, including housing, economic development, and the City budget.