Amid protests of exclusion, Berkeley Democratic Club endorses Bates

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An otherwise standard endorsement forum Thursday night hosted by the Berkeley Democratic Club took an unexpected turn when local mayoral candidate Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi protested against his exclusion.

Jacobs-Fantauzzi, a UC Berkeley alumnus running for mayor under the mantle of being a “hip-hop candidate,” took the stage briefly during the mayoral forum segment of the club’s endorsement event despite being told he was ineligible to seek an endorsement since he is a registered Green Party member, not a Democrat.

“I’m not expecting an endorsement, but I do expect that groups that are democratic would have let everybody hear at least from the candidate,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi said at the meeting.

The Berkeley Democratic Club has more than 500 members — including many of Berkeley’s elected officials — and is the oldest and largest Democratic club in Alameda County. The club holds forums each election year to hear from candidates and decide who to endorse in local elections.

Jacobs-Fantauzzi also said the club has allowed non-Democrats to speak before. Though he requested permission to speak a week prior to the event, his request was denied, Jacobs-Fantauzzi said.

“It has been done, but tonight we will not be doing it,” said BDC President David Shiver during the forum.

BDC Executive Board member Julie Holcomb said Berkeley Democratic Club’s bylaws state that only registered Democrats are allowed to participate.

Past decisions by the club to allow nonregistered Democrats to speak were decisions made by former board members, Holcomb said. The current board decided to more strictly enforce the club bylaws, she said.

Despite a short protest from Jacobs-Fantauzzi, the candidate relented and removed himself from the stage, allowing for the remaining two Democratic mayoral candidates — Jacquelyn McCormick and incumbent Mayor Tom Bates — to speak. Kriss Worthington, though invited, did not make an appearance, as he was at other endorsement events.

Though McCormick was allowed to speak, she and Jacobs-Fantauzzi said they both felt they were being deliberately excluded from many other endorsement events, as they were not members of the “establishment.”

“There’s a number of organizations going around town that are asking for candidates to come — a lot of neighborhood groups — and (other candidates) are excluded in those,” Bates said. “I’m not for that … the problem here is with Democratic clubs.”

Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman, who attended the event, said the incident with Jacobs-Fantauzzi was entertaining.

“They try and script this thing, but something like that guy getting up there was sort of marvelous,” Poschman said.

In the end, the club decided to give its mayoral endorsement to Bates.

At an Aug. 30 endorsement meeting, the club endorsed candidates for Berkeley City Council, including current Councilmember Darryl Moore for District 2, Dimitri Belser for District 3, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli for District 5 and Councilmember Susan Wengraf for District 6, who is running unopposed.

The club also issued endorsements of various local ballot measures, which can be found on their website.

Jaehak Yu is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected].