I was greatly taken aback when I saw Robert Reich’s endorsement of Laurie Capitelli. Being a resident of Capitelli’s district and a regular attendee of the Berkeley City Council meetings, I can honestly say there is a substantial difference between Mr. Capitelli’s voting record at City Council and Mr. Reich’s characterization of him as a “serious progressive council member fighting hard to help working families face their daily challenges.”
In his most recent movie, Reich focused on the enormous income inequality in America that has eroded our democracy. Meanwhile, Laurie Capitelli and his neoliberal cohorts on Berkeley’s City Council dragged their feet for more than two years flooring and pushing back the $15-hour minimum wage increase which Mr. Reich credits Capitelli for brokering. In fact, Capitelli was opposed to the original initiative brought by Jessie Arreguin and his colleagues Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington that would have brought this wage increase for working families in Berkeley as early as 2017. Although, to his credit, he brought small business owners into the fold and negotiated a compromise that would start the $15 minimum in 2019, that is still more than two years off and would not have helped the Berkeley residents suffering today. Furthermore, in 2019, $15 an hour is not likely to be a livable wage in the Bay Area.
Had he initially sponsored this legislation with his colleagues Mr. Worthington and Mr. Arreguin, he would be deserving of the venerable title “progressive.”At the Oakland rally, I watched Mr. Reich introduce Bernie Sanders. He outlined how Bernie was at the forefront of the progressive movement and how for the last 30 years he had represented the interests of everyday Americans. So it came as a surprise to me that he applied the same title to Capitelli, whose politics differ radically with Sanders’. It’s also an insult to Jessie Arreguin, whom Bernie Sanders had endorsed a week earlier. Let us not forget only months ago Bernie Sanders earned 50 million votes from progressive America. Something doesn’t add up and this is why I am writing this op-ed.
Looking back at the council meetings I attended, I regularly witnessed developers and building owners who sought exemptions and variances from existing laws which maintained low-and-mid-income housing units in existing buildings. These developers sought to demolish inhabited buildings to replace them with larger luxury apartments catering to the high-income sector. In my opinion, Mr. Capitelli never voted on the side of the tenants who lined the halls of the council and gave their testimony with harrowing experiences of displacement. And he spent years thwarting efforts to establish a meaningful fee to provide low-income units through the city’s housing trust fund. Meanwhile, I saw Jesse, Kriss, and Max argue time and again in favor of the powerless tenants.
Laurie Capitelli is a partner at Red Oak Realty, which aligns his motives with the interests of realtors and developers operating in this city. According to Bay Area News Group, in Oct. 2009 Red Oak Realty received a commission of $30,000 as a result of a loan Capitelli himself voted for to provide incoming Police Chief Meehan with a residence in Berkeley. As it turned out $500,000 of public money was loaned to the Chief to purchase his new home. Although Capitelli denied that he got a direct commission from the sale (he said he got a referral fee from another realtor) and later returned this money after the newspaper article came out, this incident demonstrates why it is dangerous for someone so closely aligned with the development community to be running this city.
Consider for a moment the substantially larger opportunities to profit on the present development bubble. There seems to be a growing practice of double speak overtaking our political landscape: the people we look to as theorists and intellectuals quite blatantly side with the landed elite and powerful while they try to frame them as progressives for the working class interests. They pay lip service to progressive values while undermining them. I believe our politicians and educators who blur the lines and confuse the public are doing a disservice to our community.
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