Incumbent at odds with challengers at first mayoral forum of election season

Benny Grush/Staff
Mayoral Candidates spoke at a forum/debate at the North Berkeley Senior Center this afternoon

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Mayor Tom Bates found himself on the defensive Wednesday as he weathered criticism from opposing candidates at the first mayoral forum of the election season.

The forum, held by the Berkeley/East Bay Gray Panthers, received a turnout of more than 100 senior citizens, with five of six mayoral candidates — excluding Bernt Wahl — answering questions and debating about affordable housing, transportation, economic development and the controversial ballot measures S and T.

Throughout the discussion of key issues concerning senior citizens, Bates found himself at odds with Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Jacquelyn McCormick, Zachary RunningWolf and Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi — who all heavily criticized the mayor’s 10-year performance.

Worthington attacked the mayor for making public comment at council meetings too difficult for the elderly. Furthermore, he said the mayor is too “prodevelopment” and failed to appoint enough minorities to city commissions — something he hopes to rectify, he said.

“It’s time for a mayor who thinks senior citizens should be allowed to come to City Council meetings and not be disrespected,” Worthington said. “It’s time for a new mayor.”

Bates, who was first elected in 2002, touted his accomplishments as mayor in defense — citing Berkeley’s efforts at tackling climate change and providing more jobs in the city — while also acknowledging there is still much left to be done.

“When I came in, the economy went in the tank, and we had to scramble to keep it going,” Bates said. “It hasn’t been all downhill.”

Teacher and UC Berkeley alumnus Jacobs-Fantauzzi, however, criticized Bates for being in office for too long.

“One of the things I would institute is term limits,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi said. “Why do we not have something that says, ‘Hey, you don’t need to be mayor for 15 years’?”

As the conversation turned more to the controversial measures S and T, slated for the November ballot, Bates once again found himself on the defensive against the other candidates.

Jacobs-Fantauzzi, McCormick, RunningWolf and Worthington opposed both Measure S, which would prohibit sitting in commercial sidewalks, and Measure T, which aims to increase “development flexibility” in the West Berkeley region.

“This is selective enforcement,” Runningwolf said regarding Measure S. “We do live in a racist culture.”

McCormick said it was unfair to allow a group of people to sit outside the Cheese Board Collective, whereas a different group of people would not be allowed to sit outside businesses in Downtown Berkeley.

Bates remained the lone voice of support for both ballot measures, taking a probusiness stance on the issues. He emphasized the need to support the small businesses in Berkeley that suffer from people loitering around the area as well as the economic benefits that could result from Measure T.

At about 3 p.m., Bates left the forum early to attend other meetings and gave his closing statement about improving school attendance, tackling climate change and providing jobs.

Berkeley resident Gordon Wright praised the forum for its openness and said he felt many of the newer candidates’ statements resonated with him.

“A whole bunch of people seemed to have pretty good energy — almost everybody except for Mayor Bates,” Wright said. “I think he’s been here too long.”