UC Berkeley professor runs for mayor, champions increased technology and development

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The goal of mayoral candidate Bernt Wahl’s campaign is not to beat out his opponents but rather to seize an opportunity to articulate his ideas for city development and innovation to a wider audience.

A UC Berkeley adjunct professor in the engineering department, Wahl hopes to use his background in mathematics and business to facilitate new commercial growth and utilize technological resources for city reform. After more than a month abroad in Europe, Wahl has now returned to the campaign trail and looks forward to disseminating his ideas to the community.

“Winning would be great, but my main thing is to implement ideas, and it doesn’t matter if I do or someone else (does),” Wahl said. “It’d be great if they stole my ideas.”

In the upcoming November election, five challengers — Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Jacquelyn McCormick, Zachary RunningWolf, Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi and Wahl — are running to unseat 10-year incumbent Mayor Tom Bates.

Though having been absent for more than a month, Wahl, who is not endorsed by any parties, said he plans to attend the candidate forums and debates to publicize his ideas about business improvements.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who beat out Wahl in the 2010 election for the city council position in District 4, said Wahl’s support for development was the main difference in their platforms two years ago. While Arreguin received almost 54 percent of the votes, Wahl fell short with a little more than 10 percent.

“He is a very intelligent man and I respect him, but I don’t know why he’s running or what his visions are for the city, which makes it difficult to weigh in on his candidacy,” Arreguin said.

Wahl was not present at the mayoral forum hosted by the Berkeley/East Bay Gray Panthers Wednesday, which was attended by community members and the other mayoral candidates to discuss the issues such as the November ballot measures.

Wahl said he supports Measure T — approving construction of new buildings up to 75 feet tall in West Berkeley, among other developments — because it would allow the city to maintain a certain level of population density brought by business.

“With industrial buildings, there is something we can learn from Emeryville, which was a wasteland 20 years ago — a super toxic waste site,” Wahl said. “But (the city of Emeryville) transformed the society through positive policies.”

In his concern for the community, Wahl said he feels torn over Measure S, a ballot measure that will prohibit sitting on sidewalks in Berkeley if passed by voters this November. Though the presence of people on sidewalks may detract from business, more legislation is not the answer, he said.

Instead, Wahl said the city should communicate with those people and try to create a way to make them an integrative part of society.

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said instead of running for mayor, Wahl should join a task force or committee with the city so they can streamline his innovative ideas.

“I respect Bernt,” Capitelli said. “I think he has a lot of interesting ideas in technology. While I think he is very intelligent, I really don’t think he has the public experience to be mayor.”

Still, Wahl said the purpose of his running is for the community, whereas other mayoral candidates are running for votes.

“The best contribution you can make is having a good solution to a community problem,” Wahl said.

Contact Virgie Hoban at [email protected].