2 vie for student district’s Berkeley City Council seat

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Editor’s note: This is first of three installments of the contested City Council races of this year’s election. 

Next week, District 7 residents — 86 percent of whom are student-aged — will cast a ballot to decide who will represent them on City Council for the next four years.

With no student running for the seat, the choice falls between incumbent Kriss Worthington, a veteran council member of 18 years, and challenger Sean Barry, a recent UC Berkeley alumnus.

The midterm election in the city will follow district lines drawn by the Berkeley Student District Campaign map, a set of highly contentious boundaries that prompted a referendum, lawsuit and court ruling. The map redrew District 7 to comprise about 86 percent student-aged voters from 70 percent but was met with opposition because it excluded some Northside cooperative houses and several residence halls.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that the BSDC lines would be used in this election, although Measure S will seal whether they are used in the future. Certain student leaders and ASUC officials lobbied for years to attain the newly drawn district lines, partly with the hope that a student-concentrated district could eventually elect one of its own to the District 7 seat.

But in the absence of a student candidate, both Barry and Worthington have been campaigning to win the support of young voters — crucial during midterm elections, when, according to city data, voters historically show up to the polls in fewer numbers.

According to their most recent campaign finance disclosure forms, Barry has received slightly more than $35,000 in campaign contributions during this calendar year. Worthington has received about $20,000.

Lines drawn

Commonly referred to as the “council majority,” Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak have publicly endorsed Barry. Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson, meanwhile, have endorsed Worthington.

Barry said that he hopes to serve as a link between District 7 and the rest of the council and that when conflicts arise, he can be a part of a majority agreement. He recalled Worthington saying at a recent neighborhood association forum that the city needs a minority on City Council.

“It was basically an acknowledgement that he thinks he’s always going to be in the minority,” Barry said. “As an elected official, shouldn’t he want to get to a majority — be part of a block that has the votes to get things done? I’m someone who wants to be part of a majority.”

But Worthington said he felt his independence was one of his best qualities, despite the lack of support from other council members.

“We should be independent and think for ourselves and not just say, ‘This is what the mayor wants, so we should do it,’ ” Worthington said.

Worthington, who was endorsed by the campus group Cal Berkeley Democrats, is a full-time council member. He said that he has appointed more student commissioners and hired more interns than any other council member and that his City Council items have seen a 98 percent success rate. If re-elected, he said he plans to help implement policy changes on Telegraph Avenue to encourage business. He has also been gathering student resumes to fill vacancies on city commissions.

The bulk of Worthington’s time is spent either working on council items or handling constituent services — tasks such as arranging to get sidewalks and potholes fixed or what he called “Berkeley problems with Berkeley solutions.” He said his office occasionally offers to help individual residents, too.

He recalled hearing from a Berkeley cable customer who had been overcharged $2,000 on his bill. After the man proved his claims, Worthington wrote an email to the cable company and asked it to look into the matter. The man eventually got his money back.

“A lot of council members — if (the customer) had contacted them — they would just say, ‘That’s not my job,’ ” Worthington said. “But I see it as using the bully pulpit of being council member to try to have accountability and get better customer service for the public.”

Barry, who currently serves on the Planning Commission and Community Health Commission, works in communications for Blue Shield of California, a not-for-profit health plan provider. Barry grew up in the city and attended Berkeley schools before enrolling at UC Berkeley. He graduated in 2009 after working as an assistant news editor at The Daily Californian.

Raised in what he called an “activist, political household,” Barry heard a song written by a family friend that criticized big-box retailer WalMart. Though he liked the song, he took it upon himself to read the founder of WalMart’s autobiography so that he might also see the other side.

“Maybe that means I have harder time saying to a group or an individual, ‘I’m with you 100 percent,’” he said. “Nobody in politics likes ‘I’m with you 85 percent,’ but sometimes, that’s where I am.”

As both a tenant and former campus student, Barry said that he brings a sense of urgency to Berkeley’s housing problems and that City Council needs to be “more creative” with its use of existing housing stock and the construction of new units. His campaign’s other prominent issues include development on Telegraph Avenue and maintaining Berkeley’s reputation as a leader in climate change.

Student say and sway

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn has endorsed Worthington, while her predecessor, Safeena Mecklai, endorsed Barry.

“Although Kriss is not what we might think of when we think of a student advocate, he has been right there advocating for what students want and constantly checking-in with students,” Quinn said in an email. “He may think he has a great idea, but if a few of us tell him that’s not what students want, he listens and changes course.”

Mecklai, who had considered running for City Council, said students often focus on state and national issues and may not realize their vote can still impact changes in their immediate area. Barry’s candidacy, she said, sets a good precedent for students who may wish to run for a council seat in the future.

“Since the redistricting is new and was a complicated process, students may not have known how to establish that they wanted to run,” she said in an email about the absence of a student candidate.

Worthington said he would have deferred to a progressive student had one chosen to run, and Barry said he would have supported Mecklai had she filed candidacy.

Former ASUC executive vice president Nolan Pack, who will graduate this December and who had been approached by “progressive leaders” about running, said he now strongly supports Worthington and would consider running in the future. He added that electing Barry would serve to homogenize City Council.

Pierre Bourbonnais, a UC Berkeley senior who previously ran for ASUC president on platforms such as creating a winter formal, attempted to file candidacy after reading a story in the Daily Cal reporting that no students were running. Bourbonnais did not complete the required paperwork before the filing deadline. He said he would have run as a serious candidate for City Council had he filed in time.

Polls open Nov. 4 at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

G. Haley Massara covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BylineGraph.