Naomi D. Pete puts senior concerns, mental health at heart of campaign

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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.

Naomi D. Pete, age 75 and a retired senior citizen, is hoping to restore the city to how she remembered it when she moved to the Bay Area at the age of 3 if she is elected as Berkeley’s next mayor.

She said at a mayoral forum last month that Berkeley is “falling apart.” “I want all the seniors to be safe and respected,” Pete told the gathered community members.

That forum, hosted by the East Bay Gray Panthers, was one of only a few public campaign appearances Pete has made thus far. She has run a far less extensive campaign than the majority of this election cycle’s crowded field, lacking a campaign website or comparable coverage in the local press. To date, her campaign has raised just $85 in funds.

Despite lacking experience in public office, however, Pete hopes her experiences living in Berkeley give her an unique understanding of the ongoing issues the city faces. Pete, the only African American and female candidate for mayor, has spent many of the past 70 years living locally.

Born in Pittsburg, Texas, Pete and her family moved to Oakland in 1944 and eight years later relocated to Berkeley, where she has lived ever since.

“I’ve attended all of Berkeley’s public schools,” Pete said, adding that her family moved to Berkeley for the public education system.

Nor is this her first local election. She previously ran for the Berkeley District 3 City Council seat in 1979 and 1984, losing both times. Additionally, she ran for the position of Berkeley mayor in 1982 and 1986 as well as the position of Oakland District 3 City Council member in 1992.

Pete graduated from Berkeley High School in 1958 and left the city briefly to attend college at San Jose City College and San Jose State University, majoring in business management.

She returned to Berkeley in 1961 where she worked at a telegraph company — Western Union — as a teletype operator for the next decade. Eventually, Pete joined her parents working as an assistant administrator from 1972 to 2000 at The Milton and Della Pete Residential Board and Care Facility a family owned business that looked after developmentally disabled adults and the elderly located in Oakland.

“She is a very caring person,” said Kathryn Chester, 74, a Berkeley resident who still attends North Oakland Missionary Baptist Church with Pete and has known her since childhood. Chester recalled that Pete would often bring disabled residents from the boarding care home to Sunday church and make sure they felt comfortable with other church members and services.

Although Pete has never worked with the city in an official capacity, she said her past campaigns for local office have been personally beneficial.

“I learned how to get more involved with what the issues are,” Pete said, adding that despite her lack of success, she developed a sense of compassion for local concerns.

She said she has previously campaigned on issues including senior safety, unjust evictions, minority property owners and unemployment, and she hopes if elected to address many of those issues today. While the city’s housing crisis has been an issue all candidates are focused on solving, Pete said the candidates have ignored other concerns of city needs in various areas of Berkeley.

“Berkeley used to be one of the best cities in the U.S.,” Pete said. “I’d just like to get back to that.”

Over the years, she said, Berkeley’s conditions have worsened because of the city’s responses to issues such as mental illness in homeless populations. Pete said she wants to restore Berkeley’s reputation by addressing what she believes are the most important issues — seniors’ concerns and mental health, especially in the Downtown area.

As mayor, Pete said she wants to cooperate with different sectors of the city, such as the city manager, to foster the good image of Berkeley as cooperative and united.

“I think it’s really great that she’s the only female candidate for mayor,” said Ben Gould, another mayoral candidate, who also noted that Pete is also the only African American candidate.

Gould said her running is important because it brings a set of diverse perspectives and ideas to the mayoral race. He added, however, that her campaign didn’t appear very serious, lacking visibility in mayoral forum appearances and fundraising efforts.

Nevertheless, her decision to run — which she said may be her last attempt in Berkeley — was primarily to make a statement that candidates do not necessarily need to hold credentials in public offices to be considered.

Contact Roann Pao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roann_pao.