By Judith Scherr
Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi, a middle school teacher in Oakland, is running for mayor of Berkeley. This is the second time he’s challenged incumbent Mayor Tom Bates.
It took a double homicide in his Derby Street neighborhood four years ago to push Jacobs-Fantauzzi, then a teacher at Berkeley’s continuation high school, to his first run for mayor. The murder victims were the father of one of his students and another man in his 20s.
“It shook me in a way to question my role,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi told Berkeleyside. “What could I do?”
Teaching, he said, offered only limited ways of making change, especially for the disenfranchised youth who were his primary concern. “I could change the ethos of that school… be an amazing advocate for young people,” he said. “But if the city did not provide programs for young people, did not address issues of crime and safety, issues of young people that were marginalized, that were taking out their anger and frustrations on each other, then my role and my job is not really being fulfilled as a citizen of this city.”
Although the 2008 mayoral race was well under way, Jacobs-Fantauzzi signed up as a write-in candidate and, with a word-of-mouth campaign, pulled in just under 800 votes.
This time, he said, he’s prepared with a strategy that includes registering new voters, using social media, and cooperating with like-minded candidates.
Rank choice voting opens the doors to cooperation among competitors for the same office, a strategy used successfully by Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan in Oakland to defeat former Assemblymember Don Perata for mayor.
In Berkeley, voters can (but do not have to) rank their first three preferences for office.
Under the banner “Berkeley Progressive Alliance,” mayoral candidates Jacobs-Fantauzzi, Jacquelyn McCormick and Kriss Worthington are “trying to create a group to try to get rid of the current mayor,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi said. “We want to see a more democratic process in terms of people feeling like they can vote where their heart is, where their politics are, and not just feel like they have to choose one.”
Two other candidates are running against Bates: Bernt Wahl and Zachary RunningWolf.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi said, naturally, he wants people to rank him No. 1. “At the same time, I’m advocating for people to vote for Kriss and Jacquelyn,” he said. “I think Kriss offers a great trajectory as a city councilmember who has been true to his progressive politics throughout his career — I see him kind of as a mentor. And I have been very happy to work with Jacquelyn as someone who has … brought up some really important issues in terms of accountability.”
Jacobs-Fantauzzi grew up mostly in Santa Barbara and entered UC Berkeley in 1994, where his political consciousness grew with mentors such as Pedro Noguera, a progressive president of the Berkeley school board, now professor in education at New York University, and ethnic studies professor Carlos Muñoz. As consciousness of his ethnic roots grew, he helped found a Puerto Rican student club at UC Berkeley.
KPFA radio also shaped Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s political outlook. He was a member of the station’s Local Advisory Board in 1999 when the Berkeley station was taken over by its national board, which subsequently locked out local staff and supporters. Arrested for civil disobedience during that struggle, Jacobs-Fantauzzi said it taught him about “the struggle for free speech [and] democracy.”
Jacobs-Fantauzzi worked to get Jesse Arreguín elected to Berkeley’s city council. “It really shook me that in a city as radical and progressive as Berkeley there had not been a Latino city councilmember until 2008,” he said.
The issue in the current election that, perhaps, most distinguishes Jacobs-Fantauzzi from Mayor Tom Bates is his opposition to Measure S, an ordinance that would prohibit sitting on the sidewalk in commercial districts.
“Addressing the needs of homeless people or marginalized communities by arresting them is not a solution to the problem,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi said. “If we don’t have a place for people to go in our city, then definitely, we should be looking at how we can help them instead of looking at ways of arresting them.”
If elected, Jacobs-Fantauzzi said his goal will be “to reach all segments of society, to allow them to feel connected, to feel like their needs are being heard, their needs are being met, and that the differences that do exist in Berkeley are not divisive and do not tear our community apart.”
For more information about Jacobs-Fantauzzi and his campaign, visit his Facebook page, Kahlil4Mayor.
For a finalized list of all candidates running in the Berkeley elections, visit the City of Berkeley website.
Berkeleyside’s approach to local politics [08.22.12]
Roster of 2012 Berkeley candidates firms up [08.13.12]
Capitelli, Bates, lead in campaign fundraising [08.06.12]
Beat poet joins crowded field for mayoral race [07.19.12]
Max Anderson kicks off council re-election campaign [07.02.12]
Jacquelyn McCormick vows to be a more inclusive mayor [06.18.12]
Sophie Hahn announces candidacy for City Council [05.09.12]
Berkeley’s Mayor Tom Bates announces his re-election bid [04.26.12]
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