After more than two decades on Berkeley City Council, this November will mark Councilmember Linda Maio’s last month as the elected official for District 1, as she leaves her seat for City Council newcomer Rashi Kesarwani.
When Maio began her first campaign in 1991, she had not anticipated a jump into political life. At the time, Maio had been working at a housing nonprofit and as a member of the city zoning board and had contributed to community projects such as the establishment of Ohlone Park.
Maio decided to run at the encouragement of former District 1 council member and current state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who mobilized Maio’s campaign for City Council.
“I was not really interested in having a political life,” Maio said. “I felt the call to (do) this from the interest that people had in my representing them. I didn’t self-select; I was asked to run by the community.”
Maio described this initial run as an exciting and intense time, driven by grassroots efforts around the Berkeley community and campaigning directly from her home.
Her first campaign ended in a runoff election, leading to an eventual victory, at which point Maio “jumped in” to work. Though her efforts on City Council spanned across policy topics, she considers her first “big splash” in the council to have been her work utilizing land use policy to to regulate kitchen table gun dealers in Berkeley.
“I was working at that time, and I would come home from work and change my shoes, and my husband and I would take a voter list and go door to door in one precinct or another,” Maio said.
From this starting point, Maio was heavily involved in major city projects such as the sugar-sweetened beverage tax, the ban on oil tanker transports through Berkeley and general policy to increase affordable housing. In addition to these city policies, she also noted the reconfiguration of the Gilman Street and I-80 interchange as a signature piece of work.
The project won’t break ground until 2020 or 2021, according to Maio, but it remains one of her proudest pieces of work.
“I had to convince the mayor and all of the players how critical this was,” Maio said.
Councilmember Cheryl Davila said the departures of fellow Councilmembers Maio and Kriss Worthington would leave a “loss of institutional memory” but simultaneously provide an opening for change on the council.
In the 2018 election for her seat, Maio endorsed Margo Schueler, with winner Kesarwani as her second-ranked choice, and she expressed optimism for her successor.
“Everyone who ran in District 1, I felt, would have done a good job that I could step down and hand over the responsibility,” she said.
Kesarwani said she would look to Maio as a source of advice for her own time on the council.
“I appreciate Councilmember Maio’s ability to find common ground and bring people together, and I hope to continue her legacy in that regard,” Kesarwani said in an email.
As Maio prepares to step out of leadership for her district, she identified the future of the North Berkeley BART station parking lot and homelessness as the greatest challenges of District 1 — two issues that are urgent for the people of Berkeley.
Going forward, Maio said she is looking forward to more personal time and plans on spending more time with her grandchildren. Though her time on City Council may be coming to a close, Maio’s legacy will remain across Berkeley.
“I’m certainly not going to disappear,” Maio said.