Public relations firm donates $30K to campaign of Berkeley rent board slate

Photo of Homeowners for Berkeley Rent Board slate
Top, from left to right: Dan McDunn, Soulmaz Panahi. Bottom, from left to right: Wendy Saenz Hood Neufeld, Bahman Ahmadi, Pawel Moldenhawer.

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On Oct. 16, public relations firm High View Strategies donated $30,000 to the Homeowners for Berkeley Rent Board slate.

High View Strategies expended a total of $30,000 on the behalf of the members of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board slate — Dan McDunn, Soulmaz Panahi, Pawel Moldenhawer, Wendy Saenz Hood Neufeld and Bahman Ahmadi — according to High View Strategies managing partner Russell Lowery. The money was donated to fund mail and digital advertising for the candidates.

Lowery alleged that the current rent board has acted in discrimination and has left complaints about the discrimination unaddressed.

“My purpose behind it was to try and support a rent board in Berkeley that was not hostile to African Americans and create a nonhostile environment for African Americans, and to fight for viable, affordable housing options — housing options that are free from discrimination,” Lowery said.

Lowery added in an email that he is “bothered” by how the rent board handles staff racial discrimination complaints and alleged this “speaks to a lack of urgency in dealing with the housing issues of underprivileged communities.”

Regarding his campaign expenditure on the behalf of the five candidates, however, Lowery said he did not make the donation for any “particular slate and their full agenda.”

“I was looking for connections to the discrimination that had occurred in the past and had been associated with the board,” Lowery said. “I supported candidates who didn’t have those connections and were committed to affordable housing.”

Moldenhawer, one of the Homeowners slate candidates, said in an email that he regards High View Strategies’ campaign funding not as a donation but as a “political campaign” to let Berkeley voters know that the rent board is “due for a correction.”

In an email, fellow slate candidate McDunn indicated his approval of the donation but said it is “tough to say” whether or not the donation would help the campaign.

Right to Housing slate candidate Xavier Johnson, who is running for the rent board against the Homeowners slate candidates, said it was “really ironic” for High View Strategies to expend on the behalf of the Homeowners candidates.

Johnson said the Right to Housing slate has two Black candidates and the Homeowners slate has none, adding that he had been working on the issue of racial discrimination in the community for “quite some time.”

“What often happens in California is we have voices with a lot of money. … What they try to do is they try to take the voice of the Black community and use it to support capitalism, and I find it to be one of the most appalling things, one of the most tragic things that happens,” Johnson claimed. “I think it’s important to look at what people are actually standing for, what they’re actually fighting for and vote with what their heart feels is right.”

Contact Jasmine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JasmineLee_02.