As this long and grueling election season draws to a close, I can’t help but feel deeply disappointed by the state of our political discourse. I worry about whether the country can come back together after the vitriol candidates have hurled at one another. I am even more disturbed by the campaign messaging choices made by certain candidates to promote themselves in our own community.
I was looking forward to the Berkeley elections because this is the first mayoral campaign without an incumbent since 2002. Much has changed in the city since I arrived here about a decade ago and many of our citizens and our mayoral candidates have strong opinions about development, housing, homelessness, and other major issues impacting our lives. There is plenty of room for vigorous debate about the substantial disagreements among the candidates on how they would go about addressing these problems. Unfortunately, honest debate has been overshadowed by nasty, underhanded attacks. The candidate races in District 5 and 6 are suffering from a similar problem of too much focus on personal attacks rather than the issues.
Many of us have seen the ominous ads by prominent candidates insinuating that their opponents are unethical or have other character deficiencies. These attacks have appeared online, on social media, and on mailers delivered to our homes. Like the mayoral campaign, some District 5 and 6 campaigners have elected to use strident, even nasty, mischaracterizations about their opponents and records of service, as if attacking opponents is their qualification to be your representative.
I am sorely disappointed by the tone of this campaign and, from what I have heard, many other Berkeley residents are as well. We are a small community. We need each other. We have to work together for the common good. When we mimic the tenor of the national campaign as if that campaign is the model for civil discourse, we have done a terrible disservice to ourselves.
Candidates have legitimate disagreements on policy. Residents choose who to vote for based on candidates’ vision for Berkeley, and their ability to advance their vision in their role as our elected representatives. Debate is a healthy forum for expressing these different viewpoints on how our community will move forward. Attacking each other’s character or making unsubstantiated claims about who cares and who doesn’t care about our city merely distracts us from the important issues we, as a community, must grapple with.
I am deeply hopeful that this campaign does not reflect Berkeley’s true values and that we all wholeheartedly reject this style of campaigning, no matter which candidate we support.
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