City Council hopefuls gather for women candidates breakfast

Brandon Yung/Staff

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Candidates for Berkeley City Council and local business leaders gathered for a women candidates breakfast Thursday to discuss female representation in politics and business.

The breakfast, held at the French restaurant La Note on Shattuck Avenue, combined aspects of a more traditional campaign event with a casual meet-and-greet. Candidates Margo Schueler, Rashi Kesarwani, Mary Behm-Steinberg, Kate Harrison, Aidan Hill, Ces Rosales, Mary Kay Lacey and Lori Droste all met to share their experiences as gender minority candidates running for local office in November.

While coffee, pastries and jam were passed around, candidates took turns identifying issues relevant to women that they sought to address. Harrison, the incumbent for District 4, highlighted perceived encroachments on women’s rights on a national scale.

“I’m concerned about the rights being attacked in D.C.,” Harrison said. “I think there is a specific attack on women right now.”

In addressing local issues, candidates emphasized topics relating to gender equity in Berkeley. Droste, the incumbent for District 8, brought up the lack of lactation facilities in city buildings. Schueler, a former welder at the San Francisco shipyards and candidate for District 1, lamented the lack of women representation in the skilled trades.

For Hill — who seeks to be the first legally gender nonbinary office-holder in U.S. history — addressing conceptions of gender are a part of their campaign.

“I kind of knew I would be in this election because it’s a new wave,” Hill said. “It’s an honor that I’m willing to take on.”

Kirsten MacDonald, moderator at the breakfast and CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, explained that Hill was initially not offered an invitation, as they were “not on our radar.” According to Hill, a meeting with MacDonald persuaded the chamber to include genderfluid individuals at the breakfast.

“We have a lot of amazing women candidates in Berkeley,” MacDonald said. “To bring together — not to undermine each other — but work in collaboration as much as possible.”

A main topic of discussion between both business leaders and candidates was the importance of empowering young women and girls to pursue their goals. Women Entrepreneurs of Berkeley, a program run by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, focused the discussion on policies “to help women in business in Berkeley.”

When it came to the empowering of young girls in politics, Kesarwani shared a story from the campaign trail. While knocking on doors, a young girl asked the City Council candidate if she was running for president. Kesarwani characterized the encounter as indicative of the importance of the candidates’s efforts.

“I hope that when young girls see us knocking on doors, seeing women stepping up to be leaders of the community, that they are also inspired to as well,” Kesarwani said.

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.

A previous version of this article failed to disclose that Berkeley City Council District 1 candidate Mary Behm-Steinberg attended the candidates breakfast.