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.”