Ben Gould sets sights to be Berkeley’s 1st student mayor

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Editor’s note: This is one installment in a eight-part series on this year’s candidates for Berkeley mayor. Read about the other candidates here.

Ben Gould acknowledges he’s new to the political game.

Growing up in Berkeley, neither he nor his parents were involved in local politics.

During his undergraduate years at UC San Diego, he participated in some of the Occupy rallies, he said, but that’s it.

Now, Gould, a UC Berkeley graduate student in public policy and environmental engineering, is running for mayor of Berkeley.

Facing off against three sitting Berkeley City Council members, Gould describes himself as holding progressive values with a pragmatic attitude.

“I share a lot of (Jesse) Arreguin’s values, but (Laurie) Capitelli’s approach,” Gould said.

If elected, Gould would be the first student to win a major city position since then-UC Berkeley graduate student Nancy Skinner was elected to the council in 1984. In 2002, campus graduate student Andy Katz ran for City Council but lost to Gordon Wozniak.

Gould’s top priorities are housing, parks and infrastructure, and environmental sustainability. He supports the controversial 2211 Harold Way project, as well as increasing the number of bike lanes and bus lanes in Berkeley.

To reduce the environmental impact of new construction, he advocates a ban on such developments using natural gas. Gould is the current chair of the city Community Environmental Advisory Commission.

“I am the most pro-housing candidate,” Gould said. According to Gould, neither major candidate — Arreguin and Capitelli — has done enough to encourage new housing development.

While the campaign is Gould’s first foray into local politics, it’s not his first election. In March, Gould ran for vice president of finance in the Graduate Assembly. To free up time to run for the assembly position, Gould left his role as a campus graduate student researcher, but he lost. Last month in a special election to fill the seat, Gould ran and lost again. He currently serves as local affairs director for the assembly.

“They decided they didn’t want me,” Gould said. “I’m fine with that.”

Because Gould was running for mayor at the time of the assembly election, there was concern that Gould won’t be able to devote himself to the position, said Jonathan Morris, a fourth-year doctoral student in applied science and technology who serves as the Graduate Assembly’s external affairs vice president.

“(But) he did a great job at advocating that our spending reflects our priorities and recognizing the fiscal realities on campus,” Morris said.

Both campaign volunteers and students spoke to Gould’s energy when it comes to policy.

“Ben can answer any question that people can ask of him,” said James Reagan, a volunteer for Gould’s mayoral campaign and former City Council candidate. “He knows what he’s doing, and he knows what he’s saying.”

Gould said he has found support throughout Berkeley. While door-knocking, he once spoke with a constituent who said their partner would be interested in his campaign and that he would pass Gould’s name along. When Gould left, he saw the partner running down the street to talk to him before returning home.

As Gould continued through the neighborhood, he said, the man ran back down the street, saying he wanted to donate. Surprised, Gould then pulled out a Square card reader from his pocket and took the man’s $200 donation on his phone.

In many ways, Gould said, he is a product of Berkeley. He doesn’t own a driver’s license. He’s a vegetarian. His solution to the city’s parking crisis? He believes the advent of self-driving cars will reduce parking problems.

Gould’s campaign runs a more modest budget compared to those of his major mayoral opponents. For the first six months of the year, the campaign’s largest single expense was $229.50 for tacos. His to-date contribution total of $9,135 is nowhere near the sums of the well-funded Arreguin and Capitelli campaigns but is in line with Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has raised $9,321 since he entered the race in July.

His donors range from graduate student colleagues to Berkeley City Councilmember Lori Droste, who, along with Susan Wengraf, endorsed Gould for second place in the ranked-choice election. Both Droste and Wengraf have endorsed challenger Capitelli for first place.

Gould understands that, running against established Berkeley political figures, winning is a longshot.

“If I’m not going to get elected right now, I’d like to inspire students to run,” Gould said.

Win or lose, Gould will come away from this election with something. Gould said the campaign fulfilled his internship requirement for his master’s program at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. If he wins, his service as mayor would be his final project.

Contact Austin Weinstein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @austwein.