Newly elected Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison was sworn into office Wednesday at Old City Hall, fulfilling the District 4 vacancy left by Mayor Jesse Arreguín.
A crowd of about 50 people filed into the conference room at 2:30 p.m. in anticipation of the ceremony, which began at 3 p.m. Attendees included Harrison’s close friends and family, as well as Arreguín, City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, members of Harrison’s campaign staff and former and current members of the Rent Stabilization Board.
“I solemnly affirm,” Harrison improvised in place of the traditional “I solemnly swear,” prompting the crowd’s laughter.
Harrison said that as a council member, she plans to prioritize affordable housing in order to address what Rent Stabilization Board member Igor Tregub called “the worst affordability crisis in Berkeley’s history.” In addition, Harrison said she will advocate for “greener” infrastructure as a way of combatting environmental issues. She also said she promises to push police reform to prompt necessary change.
“Kate’s word is gold,” Tregub said. “When she says she’s going to do something, it happens.”
Leah Simon-Weisberg, another member of the Rent Stabilization Board who worked on Harrison’s campaign, said she believes that Harrison’s experience with negotiating large-scale projects will help the council’s approach toward development.
Despite feeling thrilled about Harrison’s success in the election, Simon-Weisberg said there were substantial challenges that the team encountered throughout the campaign. The main obstacle was inciting the citizens of District 4 to vote, which proved difficult as many felt “exhausted” after the recent national and mayoral elections, she said. According to Tregub, the voter turnout could have been higher.
In his congratulatory speech to Harrison, Arreguín praised the council member for carrying the progressive momentum to the council. Arreguín, a resident of District 4, said he believes Harrison will provide the bold leadership necessary to tackle the city’s issues, such as homelessness and environmental policies.
“(Harrison’s campaign) was a real grassroots movement, and we’re really looking forward to working with (her) in the months ahead,” Arreguin said to the crowd.
Jason Overman, a former member of the rent board, said Harrison will be an exciting addition to the council as she will help it look at problems more holistically. According to Overman, Harrison is focused, bright and — “in true Berkeley fashion” — highly progressive.
Hahn praised Harrison for her transparency and fairness, which she said she considers to be aspects of good government. She added, however, that she thinks that the focus should be on Harrison as individual rather than completely on the council’s party lines.
“I think what you have here (in the council) is people who share progressive values and who are discerning and come from different backgrounds,” Hahn said. “It’s not about a group or a bloc.”