Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders endorsed Berkeley mayoral candidate Jesse Arreguin on Thursday, marking the first major endorsement from a national political figure in this year’s local election.
“Jesse Arreguin will be Berkeley’s kind of Mayor,” Sanders said in a statement from the Thursday announcement. “He is a tireless and effective champion for workers’ rights, for civil rights, and for social justice. He will not rest until Berkeley works for everyone, not just the few.”
Roughly 55 percent of Berkeley voted for Sanders during the primaries, according to Arreguin, who added that Sanders continues to carry a huge amount of support in the area.
“He is an incredible leader for this country and having his endorsement means the world for me,” Arreguin said. “This is a game-changer in the race.”
Arreguin was put into contact with Sanders through longtime friend and former Berkeley mayor Gus Newport. Newport, who has also endorsed Arreguin, worked closely with the senator in the 1980s while Sanders served as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
Newport said that he personally vouched for Arreguin’s campaign to Sanders and that he noticed several similarities between the council member and the senator, such as coming from blue-collar backgrounds, being well-educated and having a passion for social change through public policy.
“Jesse is progressive and also practical — he doesn’t just wear his feelings on his chest,” Newport said. “It will make Berkeley aware that the revolution continues and that Jesse has proven capable of being a part of that change.”
Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board member Alejandro Soto-Vigil emphasized the support Sanders has among Berkeley residents, adding that he thinks this endorsement could bring many votes to Arreguin, as citizens will now know how closely his campaign aligns with Sanders’ values.
“Jesse is a Berniecrat,” Soto-Vigil said.
Mayoral candidate Kriss Worthington, while technically running against Arreguin, has formed a coalition with him through ranked-choice voting: If a resident votes for either Worthington or Arreguin, the candidate with the lowest number of votes will have them go the voter’s second preference.
Worthington said that Sanders endorsing Arreguin, out of all the candidates, is not surprising and likened the local election to the larger presidential race.
“I think, given the roles each of the three of us play, it makes perfect sense,” Worthington said. “I think Jesse is the Bernie Sanders of the race, and I’m the Hillary Clinton of the race … and I think Laurie Capitelli is the John Kasich, sort of the more conservative.”
Capitelli could not be reached for comment on Sanders’ endorsement of Arreguin.
While Worthington considers endorsements useful for any candidate, he said that loyal volunteers and a strong grassroots following are even more vital to a campaign.
“I think endorsements are useful, but they rarely win an election,” Worthington said.
A previous version of this article stated that Bernie Sanders is a former Democratic presidential nominee. In fact, he is a former Democratic presidential candidate.