This November, Berkeley will hold elections for several local positions, including City Council and the rent and school boards. As candidates launch their campaigns, Councilmember Ben Bartlett is doing a stellar job of demonstrating precisely how they should not behave.
When Bartlett was pulled over by a Berkeley Police Department officer for running a red light in July, his behavior was unethical and unprofessional. During the traffic stop, he identified himself as a City Council member and told the officer that he was “breaking (his) balls (to) give you guys the biggest raise possible,” before asking, “This how you repay me?”
Bartlett then texted BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood, writing that he had “pulled every trick” to seek salary raises and allow the department to take part in Urban Shield, a global weapons exposition and SWAT training that has been criticized for propagating police militarization.
“We need to look out for each other better than this,” Bartlett said in his text message to Greenwood.
Bartlett attempted to use his power as a public official to get out of a traffic stop. But beyond that, Bartlett’s words suggest that he is willing to base his votes on his personal stake in the police department, rather than the needs of his constituents.
As the 2018 midterm elections draw nearer, Berkeley voters and candidates should keep Bartlett’s recent behavior in mind. This behavior undermines the integrity of public positions, and it compromises Berkeley officials’ responsibility to enact the changes this city desperately needs. And with his actions, Bartlett also turned his back on his previous efforts to reform the city.
In the year before he was elected, Bartlett took action against Urban Shield. In 2015, as a member of the Police Review Commission, he made recommendations that BPD take a year off from the program. But after being elected, Bartlett has undermined and contradicted his previous actions — and he is not the only official to have done so. Mayor Jesse Arreguín also voted against Urban Shield when he was a council member, but after he was elected mayor, he supported the program.
And other officials have similarly backtracked on their campaign promises since their election. Many who ran on the promise of affordable housing have done almost nothing to uphold their platforms or address the city’s housing crisis. It has become commonplace for city officials to make commitments during their campaigns that they fail to follow up on — and this meaningless rhetoric is unacceptable.
This election season, city candidates must stop making empty promises and follow through on their campaign platforms. Being elected to office is a pledge to prioritize your constituents’ best interests. So, candidates, know that the promises you are making now don’t exist in a vacuum — your constituents will remember what they voted for.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.