Councilmember Worthington announces campaign for Berkeley mayor

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Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington announced his candidacy for mayor Tuesday in a noon press conference at City Hall.

At the press conference, Worthington outlined the platform on which he will be running, including emphasis on such issues as increased transparency within City Hall and the council, greater fiscal responsibility and a more equitable stance when dealing with development in the city.

“The number one reason I’m running is because most people in Berkeley don’t know what goes on at city council meetings,” Worthington said at the press conference.

Worthington, who has served on the council representing District 7 since 1996, will face 10-year incumbent Mayor Tom Bates and at least five other candidates in this November’s race, for which the official filing deadline ends Aug. 10.

In the last mayoral election in 2008, Bates won by a significant margin, receiving 60.90 percent of the vote compared to his closest opponent and former Mayor Shirley Dean’s 35.94 percent.

“Some say this is a David and Goliath battle where the incumbent will have overwhelming money from corporate developers,” Worthington said in a statement released Tuesday morning. “My middle name is David, and I have tackled many difficult and seemingly insurmountable challenges in my life.”

Bates, who spent two decades in the California State Assembly before retiring in 1996 and then lectured in the political science department at UC Berkeley from 1997 to 1998, first ran for mayor in 2002 against eight-year incumbent Dean.

At that time, Worthington planned to run for mayor against Dean only if Bates himself did not choose to run. Once Bates made his decision to run, however, Worthington campaigned ardently for the man he believed could be a “peacemaker” on the council. In the end, Dean was defeated by a nearly 13 percent margin, with Bates earning 55.6 percent and Dean 42.7 percent.

But now Worthington said Bates has forgotten his progressive values, accusing him of supporting the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce’s attack on small businesses in the city and forsaking the concerns of West and South Berkeley residents and environmental groups over pollution in the Berkeley Aquatic Park with the passage of a $30 million streets and watershed bond at last week’s city council meeting.

“Why would I run against the person I fought so hard to get elected?” he said Tuesday. “If we have a voice offering a choice (to voters), perhaps he will return to his progressive values.”

Bates and Worthington have been increasingly at odds on city issues, most recently with the sidewalks ballot measure approved by the council at a raucous July 10 meeting, where more than 60 members of the public spoke against the controversial measure that would restrict sitting on city sidewalks in commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

When the meeting was interrupted by singing and shouting protesters, Bates called for a vote without allowing time for council discussion. The measure passed 6 to 3 despite two abstaining votes from Councilmember Jesse Arreguin and Worthington, who both refused to vote and later accused Bates of violating the Brown Act by not allowing public comment to finish before voting.

Bates said Worthington and the protesters created a disruption which forced his hand in calling the vote.

“The bullying behavior by Councilmember Worthington and others denied everyone at the council — both those in favor of the measure and those in opposition — the chance for a rational debate,” Bates said in an op-ed he wrote for The Daily Californian after the meeting.

Worthington said at the press conference that he has yet to seek endorsements, but has been asked by hundreds of people to run, especially after the July 10 meeting.

“After that meeting, I still said no,” he said Tuesday, adding that it was the vote on the streets and watershed bond at last week’s meeting that was the final straw in determining whether he would run.

Worthington outlined several issues related to the management of council meetings that he would like to improve, such as moving them to a larger venue and better organizing agendas.

“Berkeley attracts a talented team of city staff, department heads and city management, then we subject them, and the public, to poorly organized council meetings that waste their time and leave them tired for the next day’s work,” Worthington said in the statement.

Bates could not be reached for comment, as he is out of the country until Aug. 5.

“Mayor Bates has a tremendous record of accomplishment both in Berkeley and beyond,” said Councilmember Linda Maio in an email. “It would be hard for anyone on the council, no matter how long they have been serving, to come close to Mayor Bates’ record.”

Adelyn Baxter is the news editor.