City stakeholders weigh in on importance of endorsements

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Dan Lindheim understands how the mayoral elections can be perplexing.

The campus public policy professor said one of the sources of confusion is the discrepancy among endorsements. For some voters, endorsements make a great deal of difference. Lindheim has another take.

In races for obscure ballot measures or referendums, endorsements can be very influential, he said. In elections for high-level city positions, however, he believes they matter less.

During the 2006 Oakland mayoral elections, former Berkeley City Councilmember Ron Dellums entered the race late after thousands of Oakland residents petitioned for him to run. Most of the City Council’s endorsements and other major shows of support had already been given to his opponents, according to Lindheim.

Come election day, Dellums won in a landslide — with roughly 50 percent of the vote.

Dellums’ success, Lindheim said, resulted from an informed voter base, one not easily swayed by endorsements.

In these past few months alone, however, candidates have received competing endorsements. In early September, former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders endorsed mayoral candidate Jesse Arreguin. One week later, campus public policy professor and well-known Sanders supporter Robert Reich endorsed rival candidate Laurie Capitelli.

Similarly, the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter — a prominent environmental group in the Bay Area — endorsed Arreguin last month. Two weeks later, Capitelli was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay, another environmentally conscious group.

“Berkeley politics haven’t become left and right,” Lindheim said. “They’ve become circular.”

Endorsements are supposed to point voters toward candidates who have similar ideological outlooks and policy ideas, according to Lindheim. In Berkeley, where the political spectrum ranges from moderate Democrat to radical liberal, public figures’ stances do not vary much on topics such as education, health and public safety.

The main source of contention in Berkeley politics this election cycle revolves around development.

“Berkeley is a very small place that is very politicized, and people have a general idea of who is who and what is what,” said former Berkeley mayor Gus Newport. “There is a real divide here: developers versus progressives.”

The rift between pro-development and anti-development candidates has informed endorsement decisions in this mayoral race, according to Newport.

Former Berkeley mayor Shirley Dean, widely considered a moderate during her time in office, endorsed the progressive Jesse Arreguin. Likewise, Newport — who was mayor from 1979 to 1986 and ran against Dean for his reelection — has also endorsed Arreguin.

“Who would ever imagine that Shirley Dean and Gus Newport would years later endorse the same person?” Newport said.

Newport said he and Dean endorsed Arreguin because of his approach to the housing crisis. The former mayors oppose building more market-rate housing to alleviate the crisis, he said, because implementing more market-rate housing will jeopardize Berkeley’s diverse culture.

Dean could not be reached for comment on her endorsement of Arreguin.

Arreguin has also been endorsed by Danny Glover, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Councilmember Max Anderson and former Berkeley vice mayor Carole Kennerly.

“Regarding this mayoral race particularly, people are starting to really focus on who to vote for and what are the differences between the candidates,” Arreguin said. “Endorsements are an important distinguishing factor.”

In a complete divergence, Mayor Tom Bates endorsed Laurie Capitelli because of the candidate’s push to build more market-rate housing in Berkeley.

He referenced Capitelli’s support of the Downtown Area Plan — an initiative passed by City Council in 2012 with the goal of revitalizing the area with economic and housing development, among other improvements.

Despite his big-name endorsements from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and former state Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, Capitelli places more weight upon the endorsements of city residents, who know the community and its issues more than prominent political figures removed from the workings of Berkeley.

“I think that the best endorsement is the local endorsement,” Capitelli said. “I think the citizens of Berkeley who come out and say, ‘I support Laurie’ or ‘I support Jesse,’ those are the most important endorsements.”

Arreguin and Capitelli have received the most endorsements out of all eight candidates for Berkeley mayor. For less well-known candidates and newcomers, however, garnering endorsements is more of an obstacle.

“It’s obviously a challenge as an outsider,” said mayoral candidate and UC Berkeley graduate student Ben Gould. “Most of the people are choosing to endorse Arreguin or Capitelli. But I’ve also been endorsed by leaders of the (Graduate Assembly) and other professionals.”

Despite the myriad, often contradictory endorsements throughout this city election cycle, Lindheim believes voters will sort through the minutiae and vote their conscience.

“If they care, people will figure out who to vote for on their own, endorsements aside,” Lindheim said.

Brenna Smith is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @bsmith_1853.

A previous version of this article may have implied that Dan Lindheim was confused about the mayoral elections. In fact, he said he understands how the elections could be confusing to others.