Mayor Bates hails election as harbinger of change

Berkeley’s Tom Bates campaign HQ on election night: with his re-election as mayor, and the possible failure of two key measures he supported, are we back to square one? Photo: D. H. Parks

On the surface, the local Berkeley vote appears to provide an echo of the national election story: after all the activity, accusations and counter-accusations, inside money and outside money, the city is about where it was before election day.

Many provisional and mail ballots have yet to be counted, but if the results don’t shift significantly, just about all of the incumbents were re-elected (only the Rent Board remains in doubt) and the majority on the City Council still sides with fourth term Mayor Tom Bates.

But Bates sees the results as a confirmation of change in Berkeley. Even seeming defeats, such as the currently trailing Measures S and T, spur his enthusiasm.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “It was a really excellent election, for the presidential race, Prop. 30 and Prop. 32. And I got back my council.”

As for his own victory in pulling in 55% of the votes counted so far, Bates said he thought the result was remarkable given that he had “five opponents pounding away at me and at my record.”

He said he thought the result showed that “people like the tack we are trying to take with the city,” which he described as a denser city developed around transit sites. “I’m really looking forward to the next four years and to seeing new green, well-designed developments in downtown Berkeley,” he said. “Stay tuned.”

Some contestants had been hoping this was a year for realignment of Berkeley politics. The “Anybody But Bates” plan by challengers Kriss Worthington and Jacquelyn McCormick, however, failed to force an instant run-off in the mayoral contest. Among local measures, the two designed to shake up the way city government works — Measure U, the so-called Sunshine Ordinance, and Measure V, which would have required biannual reporting of liabilities and a freeze on taxes and laws without certification — were roundly defeated. 

The sit ordinance, Measure S, looks as though it will fall short of passing. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The council voting bloc of Worthington, Jesse Arreguín and Max Anderson can, however, take some comfort on what looks like defeat of the sit ordinance, Measure S (although the 20,000 or so votes remaining to be counted might change the result). Measure S, above all other issues, inspired passion and protest from its opponents this year. The proposed revisions to West Berkeley zoning, Measure T, was also reviled by Worthington and his allies, but it remains too close to call, with 123 votes separating the sides.

“S did not pass but it was much closer than we thought it would be,” Bates said. “We did a poll that showed it would get 42% yes votes. This tells me what we knew: the issue is a divisive one and our approach did not garner enough votes. Even if it had passed it would not have had enough supporters. We need to approach the problem from a different angle. Everyone acknowledges we have a problem. I look forward to working with creative people to solve it.

“On Measure T I am shocked we did so well given how scurrilous and fraudulent the ‘No’ campaign was,” Bates said. He mentioned how the campaign included mentions of threats to Aquatic Park which was specifically excluded, and showed pictures of buildings that bore no relation to the proposals.

“We came so close. If it passes or not I am determined to try to unlock the opportunities in west Berkeley. The master plan that exists is possible and do-able. We can come up with good ideas for development.”

Mayor Bates expressed delight with the results on Measure M, the watersheds and streets ordinance which passed with 73% support. “This is fantastic,” he said. “I had to fight tooth and nail to get this put forward. Now we have the opportunity to make some improvements in the city.”

It’s understandable that campaigners involved with Measure T were also reluctant to draw any long-term conclusions this morning.

Save West Berkeley, No on Measure T, has circulated this photo to show what they contend might happen to Aquatic Park if the measure passes. However, this photo appears to show buildings covering close to 100% of the lot and rising 75 feet tall – two things that proponents say could not happen if the measure is passed. Measure T prohibits any MUP building near Aquatic Park until the council adopts safeguards. Moreover, the measure says while some sections of a site can have 75-foot heights, the average height can only be 50 feet. Buildings can only cover 75% of a lot with 10% set aside for open space

Darrell de Tienne, the secretary for the Yes on T campaign and a consultant to Doug Herst’s Peerless Greens project, the measure’s main funder, was disappointed that the no votes have the lead, he said. Measure T would have changed the zoning to permit a dynamic, pedestrian-oriented project that helped artists and manufacturers and reduced greenhouse gases by offering living spaces near jobs, he said. Without the height flexibility afforded by Measure T, it is likely that section of West Berkeley, on Fourth Street near Allston Way, will remain an undistinguished stretch of warehouses.

“He [Herst] tried to do something good for the community,” said De Tienne. “He doesn’t need to do this. He wants to do this. It’s discouraging.”

Herst, who has spent about $1.7 million on the Peerless Greens project, has already instructed de Tienne to stop all work on the Environmental Impact Report.

De Tienne said he thinks voters found Measure T complicated and decided it was just easiest to vote no. Private polling done before the election showed that 43% of Berkeley voters were undecided about Measure T. Those kinds of voters generally just say no, said De Tienne.

“The whole thing was an educational thing, “ he said. “We came close, but we’re not there.”

Patrick Sheahan, a planning commissioner and one of the prime organizers of the fight to defeat Measure T, said he thought voters were turned off for three reasons. First, they felt the 75-foot height limit was too high, second, they felt the measure was crafted just to benefit a small group of developers and third, they were concerned Measure T would drastically alter the unique character of the neighborhood.

Sheahan said he thought Measure T would return in some form, and that the City Council would ask the Planning Commission to take another look at possible changes for West Berkeley. That would only work, he cautioned, if the process was much more inclusive than last time and all the stakeholders felt their concerns were being considered.

Barbara Gilbert, who fought hard for the passage of Measure V was disappointed the measure failed. However she thought the campaign had gotten the word out and forced city officials to pay closer attention to the problems posed by looming unfunded liabilities. Gilbert, a Hahn supporter, said she was pleased by a mailer sent out by Councilmember Laurie Capitelli a few weeks ago addressing the police and firefighters’ contracts.

“It’s a issue that is not going to go away,” said Gilbert. “We have educated the council and the public. We have forced people to come around.”

In the vigorously contested race for the District 5 council seat, incumbent Capitelli has 54% of the vote at the moment. Sophie Hahn, his challenger, has not yet conceded.

“In 2008, there were over 8,000 ballots cast in the council race in District 5,” said a staffer with Hahn’s campaign. Just over 4,800 votes have been counted so far in the district. “They’re definitely still counting votes. We’re waiting just like everybody else for updates.”

“I think there are about 20,000 votes citywide still to count,” said Capitelli. “I talked to the city clerk today because I wanted to know what the procedure was. He said he thought the only one still in play was Measure T and possibly the Rent Board seats. He [the clerk] thought it unlikely that there could be that big a swing to change the outcome.”

Capitelli estimated that there were between 2,000 and 2,500 votes left to count in his district. “My experience over my 40 years of watching elections in Berkeley is that Berkeley’s always the last to report final tallies and we’ve had a lot of close elections.”

“I’m relieved, obviously,” he said. “We ran a good solid clean campaign. I really don’t think we ever left that commitment behind. I think it paid off.”

In the School Board race, in which four candidates were fighting for two seats, it is worth noting that Judy Appel at the moment has more votes citywide than even Tom Bates: 18,776 versus 18,057. Incumbent Beatriz Leyva Cutler came in a comfortable second with 13,821 votes (30.95%).

Clarification: The picture caption on the photo showing Aquatic Park was amended on Nov. 8 to include more information.

Related:
Remaining Berkeley votes could change close contests [11.07.12]
Live blogging the Berkeley elections: all the final results [11.06.12]

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  • Bryan Garcia

    I see the local results as mostly an reaffirmation of the status quo. None of the incumbents lost, and measures S and T failed. Hardly a “harbinger of change” in my opinion.

  • The Sharkey

    Agreed in general, though the results were closer than I think a lot of Berkeley’s old guard would like.

    S and T coming so close to passing shows that attitudes in Berkeley are shifting.

  • Rob Wrenn

    It doesn’t surprise me that Bates won, though with a smaller percentage of the vote than in 2008. Bates ran a focused campaign in which his literature emphasized certain issues: environment and support for the climate action plan; education and efforts to close the achievement gap; and the economy (jobs and development). He made smart use of Barbara Lee’s endorsement which carries weight. He had plenty of money to spend for mailing, polls etc.; raising more  this year than during his last race against Shirley Dean which he won easily. His major opponents failed to communicate effectively with voters. Neither Worthington nor McCormick made use of mailers to voters, except for a joint piece Worthington did with rent board candidates to a limited group of voters. McCormick, who has not previously held any elective office in Berkeley, never really introduced herself effectively to voters or presented a compelling reason for why she would make a good mayor. She relied mostly on a multi-campaign tabloid, with small print, that wouldn’t win any awards for being an effective piece of literature. She also supported Measure U which had no support of the Council. Kriss Worthington’s literature lacked focus and it didn’t make clear why he should be elected mayor. Touting one’s achievements on the Council is not the same as explaining why you would make a better mayor than the incumbent or how you differ on important issues. Both McCormick and Worthington raised far too little money to conduct an effective campaign for a citywide office. Kriss raised less than he did for his last two Council races. The outcome for S and T remains uncertain, but it’s clear that quite a few voters voted for Tom Bates for their first choice for mayor while voting against the two measures, both of which Bates supported. The main effect of ranked choice seems to have been to win a few more votes for the three minor candidates, who together garnered over 10% of the vote.

  • Doc

    But its really that downtown has finally become sort of nice that made his victory. Closing Shattack a few weeks before the election so that so many people would come out and see an accomplishment right here was the best campaign stunt.

  • Anonymous

    “Harbinger of change?”  The guy’s been Mayor for about 20 years.

  • guest

    Not the change we need – a real mayor.

  • Toni M.

     Measure T does not exclude zoning of the parcels adjacent to Aquatic Park, but defers it by remanding the zoning to the planning commission. The graphic above superimposes a photo of a 75 foot high Wareham lab building on Hollis and Powell onto a photo of the edge of such private property along Bolivar Drive. It’s a worst possible scenario but not entirely out of the question.
     The current MULI (mixed use light industrial) zoning requires no  set back from Bolivar Drive, so if Measure T is defeated, the potential location of such a building is entirely possible, but at the current 45 foot height, which would be 3 lab stories instead of 5. Or the City could use the development agreement and negotiate new standards for a large development, which would be my preference.
     If Measure T passes, new standards for Aquatic Park are on the table, and this discussion will be useful. What’s not useful is name calling, finger pointing, and bending the facts. For example, the caption of the photo montage is wrong. It does not show 100%  lot coverage but only no setback, which is one standard in the current MULI zoning. The lot in question is over 8 acres. Whatever happens, the vote is going to be very close, and for the good of the park and all its users and for the good of West Berkeley and all its inhabitants: respect and good will on all sides are needed. And by the way, let’s count our blessings.

  • Howie Mencken

    The fire next time. Or the time after that…

    Having to VOTE on wether or not you can sleep all day in the middle of the sidewalk tells me never left “Bezerkley”. 

    Yet I’ve always felt “Bezerkley” was our coal mine canary. As long as we could afford this expensive self indulgence, it proved we are rich. So the fact that S and T are so close to winning is both good and bad news. 

    Good news, because at least  some portion of the city’s sleeping giant of non voters awoke to cast their ballots. Bad news, because we’re no longer so flush we can afford to ignore local politics. The amusement value simply doesn’t justify the cost.

    Long from now, when the Old Progs and gutterpunks have ended their ‘Harold and Maude’ romance, and the rust belt romantics finally get their price, this election will be remembered as Bezerkly’s last hurrah. 

  • Howie Mencken

    correction: …tells me WE never left… 

  • The Sharkey

    Too bad there weren’t any real progressive candidates. We need a Mayor who can lead Berkeley into new growth and prosperity, and none of Bates’ opponents fit that bill. McCormick came close, but was too focused on shrinking government instead of growing our local economy.

  • Greg

    ‘“S did not pass but it was much closer than we thought it would be,” Bates said. “We did a poll that showed it would get 42% yes votes. This tells me what we knew: the issue is a divisive one and our approach did not garner enough votes. Even if it had passed it would not have had enough supporters. We need to approach the problem from a different angle. Everyone acknowledges we have a problem. I look forward to working with creative people to solve it.’

    This sounds suspiciously like a mayor who views at least this particular ballot measure not as some kind of binding referendum, but as a poll used to inform the process of governing.

    That doesn’t sound like a “real” mayor to you?

  • guest

     Hi Greg:

    No.  Bates decidedly is not a real mayor.  Take a look at his ‘leadership’ in handling Police Chief Meehan’s nuanced recommendation on how BPD should respond to U.S. immigration officials who want to detain and potentially deport non-citizens who are arrested.  (Meehan recommended the use of discretion when the arrestee had prior convictions and/or previously had served a prison sentence after being convicted of a crime.)

    The quote below is contained in this site’s report on the council meeting.  This is Bates posturing for reasons of his own while declining to give BPD the discretion to deploy a tool to promote public safety.

    “Members of the council listened to public comment and grappled with the
    ramifications of the ICE program for the better part of an hour before Mayor Tom Bates asked: ‘Why can’t we just have a policy where we say we’re not going to cooperate with ICE?’”

    As to the quote that you included, why didn’t His Honor try to work with “creative people” to “solve the problem” instead of putting this measure on the ballot?  Is he closer to ‘solving’ the issue now that he had made this mis-step?

    “We need to approach the problem from a different angle. Everyone
    acknowledges we have a problem. I look forward to working with creative
    people to solve it.”

  • Patrick_Sheahan

    Dear Mr. Bates, Hey, you won; you can afford to be gracious in victory. No need to trash talk the No on T campaign, using libelous words like “scurrilous and fraudulent”, when referring to opinions that differ from yours. Sure, you are not happy that measure T hangs in the balance, but maybe now is the time to think about how to work with people that do not always agree with you. Had you done so earlier, it might not have come to this. You have four more years; come visit West Berkeley, talk and listen to the people who live and work here, and perhaps things might turn out for the better after all.

  • Toni M.

    Howie:
    The turnout in Berkeley is far less than it was in 2008 and may parallel the low turnout in Alameda County, when all is said and done. Today Alameda County turn out stands at 55% compared to 78% of registered voters in 2008.  Election analysis must take the over all turnout into account. Politicians and special interest groups put so much on the ballot these days as local measures and state propositions that it may actually suppress turnout rather than inspire voters. Or maybe Obama’s first run was so historical, that many people were drawn to participate. When the  count is completed, we should examine the turnout in the various precincts and districts and draw conclusions from the facts.

  • Howie Mencken

    Toni M. The few that woke up barely found the polling places. Obama just barely won the popular vote. Not that’s a fact worth drawing conclusions from.

  • guest

     Hi Howie:

    “Obama just barely won the popular vote. Not that’s a fact worth drawing conclusions from.”

    This might change your view of what happened earlier this week.

    When all is said and done President Barack Obama is expected to win 67,924,682 to 63,726,025 for former Governor Mitt Romney. There should be about 133,724,450
    total votes cast when the tallies from the smaller candidates are
    included. This will surpass the record setting total of 131,463,122 from
    2008.

    I found the article here:

    http://www.examiner.com/article/obama-likely-to-win-popular-vote-by-more-than-3

  • bgal4

    44% voters in all of Alameda County indicates some pretty serious cynicism and complacency, gee could that be the result of machine politics???

  • guest

    More generally, it is clear that Bates controls the Council but he sure doesn’t deal with big stuff.  In addition, we have a new City Manager who probably still is finding her bearings even though she runs the show.  On top of that, Bates has been mayor for ten years.  Bates has control and should be taking credit or blame for the state of the City.

    Yet, Bates speaks of current issues with an undertone of bafflement that problems exist and wonderment about how they might have come to be.  For example, Bates addressed the (some claim) potentially calamitous issue of unfunded liabilities only after citizens – including Ms. McCormick – did the heavy lifting on the issue.

    On May 30, 2012, the Daily Cal ran an article that began, “Berkeley City Council passed a resolution at their Tuesday meeting to
    publish a biennial report on the city’s unfunded liabilities, an issue
    that has been a concern for residents and city officials in recent
    months.”

    What was Bates doing for the ten years that he was mayor and issues like this and crumbling infrastructure were festering?  Every time I went to a Council meeting there was a guy sitting in his seat there that I sure thought was him.

  • bgal4

     great example of poor leadership and pandering for votes.

  • guest

     “I’m feeling great,” he said. “It was a really excellent election, for
    the presidential race, Prop. 30 and Prop. 32. And I got back my
    council.”

  • Howie Mencken

    Old Progs are becoming unsustainable. It’s increasing difficult to bridging the gap between their rhetoric and our reality of living in Berkeley.

    And since voting is still largely a anonymous process, we cannot know wether the the closeness of the S&T races is the result of more first time voters who are reality biased or converts from the rhetoric side. But given the number of potential voters who don’t vote in Berkeley, we know there’s lots more where they came from. 

    The size of the turnout and shifts in political allegiances are independent variables. Unless of course it’s a very first election…like recently in Egypt.

  • Charles_Siegel

    My own theory is that the close race on S and T shows that a relatively small but very dedicated group of volunteers can run an effective grass-roots campaign in Berkeley.  The NO side had more signs, more people on the street giving out leaflets, people willing to wake up early enough on put a doorhanger on my door before I woke up on election day, and maybe also more people willing to trash the opponents signs.  This volunteer activity was enough to balance the more expensive mailings that the YES side did.   There was a similar campaign for Jesse in the last election.

    It is a big contrast from state Measure 37, where most people got their information from TV ads, so money was able to buy the election. 

    I think most people get much less information about Berkeley elections than they get about state and federal elections, which is why they tend to vote for incumbents based on name recognition and to get the bit of information that they do have from signs, doorhangers, and leaflets they get on the street.  Only a small minority follows the issues closely on Berkeleyside or the Daily Planet.

    PS to those who get angry easily: I am not endorsing NO on S or T.  I voted YES on T and abstained on S. I am just trying to understand the results.

  • Howie Mencken

    “…which is why they tend to vote for incumbents based on name recognition and to get the bit of information that they do have from signs, doorhangers, and leaflets they get on the street.  Only a small minority follows the issues closely on Berkeleyside or the Daily Planet…”

    Charles, that’s exactly right and stated perfectly.

    And, as others have said, it explains how a zip code with more brain power than many whole states elects Kriss Worthington, over and over again. 

  • Greg

    First off, I was entirely too terse in my response to you.  I am sorry for that.

    While I didn’t follow the ICE story closely I’m not terribly surprised.  My impression of Mayor Bates is likely similar to yours.

    That he seemingly punted issues that should have been handled by him and the council to ballot measures (at least in the case of ‘S’, I’m not sure how ‘T’ came to be) irked me.

    That is why the quote in the article was so striking to me:  It strongly implied that either the light bulb went on, or that *maybe* even he never intended to use the measures to shirk responsibility.

  • The Sharkey

    The NO side also lied, a lot.

    Looking at 37 and at S & T, my conclusion is more that pretty lies beat out complicated truths.

  • Haselstein

    I think, in general, residents don’t really pay much attention to local politics, and it’s very hard to unseat an incumbent under that scenario. It’s incredibly difficult–if not impossible–for a newcomer to get endorsements, and the endorsements mean a lot on campaign mailers. And incumbents attract a lot of money, which funds those expensive mailers.

    We should do a better job of researching and publicizing what actually happens at council and what councilmembers actually accomplish.

  • Haselstein

    I want to say, Howie, that I do not appreciate your name-calling (“Old Progs”) and ad hominem attacks. Yes, I am probably older than you, and I earned my progressive stripes (I was probably marching in antiwar rpotests before you were born), but that doesn’t give you the right to insult my person or that of anyone else. Stick to the issues and engage in respectful discussion, and maybe we can actually solve some problems in this community. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    I don’t think Howie Mencken is all that young.

    If I remember correctly, he has written that he slept on his brother’s floor in Berkeley in the 1970s.  He also quotes catch phrases that were common in the 1960s and that I haven’t heard for decades, such as “The fire next time” and “you do your thing and I’ll do mine.” 

    I have a feeling that he has been against the “old progs” ever since they were young progs.

    If his opponents are “old progs,” then I suspect he is an “old con.”  I mean that in two senses – “con” as short for conservative, and “con” as someone who defines himself by what he is against.

    I agree with Howie much of the time, but I think he would do better (as you say) if he defined himself in terms of the issues he supports, rather than defining himself in terms of the “old progs” he opposes.

  • Susan

    It keeps getting repeated that the “No on T” side lied a lot. What were the specific lies? It seems like there were differences of opinion on the meaning of some of the articles in Measure T, or the inevitable outcomes, but not lies. 

  • guest

    No worries, Greg.  I’ve looked more closely at ‘S’ in the last couple of days and found either gross cynicism or gross incompetence – or could it be both?