City election endorsements have lost significance, some say

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Every election season, endorsements play a vital role in helping candidates gain exposure for the issues they support, but this year, some say Berkeley’s endorsements have lost part of their significance.

Endorsements from political groups, individuals and other organizations are said to establish a link between the values shared by groups and the candidates they support. To others, endorsements have become more predictable and increasingly politicized over the years because of incumbent advantages, such as higher visibility and established political connections.

For candidates, endorsements accomplish an additional goal of helping build momentum for campaigns by accumulating support from various groups.

“(Endorsements) give people a point of reference to a candidate’s credibility and their beliefs,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “People see those groups, or people respect the support of a certain candidate — they tend to believe that person represents views they normally identify with.”

Former mayor Shirley Dean said that while running for re-election in Berkeley, she saw many club members come to endorsement meetings with preformed opinions and drop off their ballots before listening to all the candidates speak.

“They’ve become so manipulated, I wonder if they’re losing their importance,” Dean said. “One can almost predict what will happen … it’s become more of a game rather than to walk into a room and be fairly heard.”

According to Bates, however, the selection process is a laborious one. For most organizations, the process for candidates involves evaluating candidates’ responses to questionnaires and interviews before holding meetings where the actual voting takes place.

“If you’re someone who is not experienced, you don’t know the people, you don’t know how it works … there are some realities you have to look at,” Bates said. “It’s not unfair. You just have to know how they operate and how the procedures are set up.”

The Sierra Club — an environmental advocacy organization and one of the most sought-after endorsements in Berkeley — has endorsed Bates for another term as well as incumbents Councilmember Laurie Capitelli for District 5 and Councilmember Max Anderson for District 3.

“Sierra Club’s national guidelines recommend endorsement for incumbents with a good environmental record,” said Andy Katz, a local committee executive member of the Sierra Club.

Organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Berkeley Democratic Club and the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club require a two-thirds vote to endorse a candidate in order to make the process fairer and prevent candidate-stacking.

“The Berkeley Democratic Club, over its history, has challenged incumbents, and so this year, we basically looked at the record for everybody,” said David Shiver, president of the club.

The Berkeley Democratic Club has chosen to endorse Bates, Councilmember Darryl Moore for District 2, Dmitri Belser for District 3, Capitelli for District 5 and Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who is running unopposed, for District 6.

Mayoral candidate Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi said while he recognizes the importance of endorsements, he said he hoped the clubs would take into account better communication in holding events.

“The endorsement process is important, and I hope it becomes more democratic and fair for everyone that is running,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi said. “It doesn’t feel like there’s integrity in that or a process in which all people who are running are given equal treatment.”

Daphne Chen covers city government. Contact her at [email protected].