Berkeley’s own political earthquake: Arreguín becomes mayor, progressives seize council majority

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Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguín with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The Sanders endorsement of Arreguín gave a powerful boost to Arreguín’s campaign. Photo: Courtesy Jesse Arreguín

Jesse Arreguín, 32, decisively won the mayorship in yesterday’s election, becoming the first Latino Berkeley mayor.

To close observers of Berkeley’s local politics, the chattering started over the last several weeks of the election. First, Jesse Arreguín won the endorsement of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as the Sierra Club and the Alameda County Democratic Party. Then there was word of thousands of new voter registrations on the UC Berkeley campus.

Missed the election night action? Read our live blog.

After 14 years of Mayor Tom Bates and his secure City Council majority, could Councilman Arreguín best Bates’ hand-picked successor, Councilman Laurie Capitelli?


It didn’t take long for the results on Tuesday night to answer that question. When the Alameda County Registrar of Voters produced the first data shortly after 8 p.m., Arreguín already led Capitelli. As long-shot mayoral candidate Ben Gould explained to Berkeleyside, those results, largely from early, mail-in ballots, usually reflect more of the “hill” vote, which Capitelli supporters had hoped to win decisively. 

As the night wore on, Arreguín’s lead only grew. The final uncertified results found Arreguín with 15,912 votes (47.4%) to Capitelli’s 11,283 (33.6%). Through six rounds of ranked-choice voting, Arreguín moved closer and closer to the necessary majority. Ironically, it was only when Gould – the candidate probably most closely aligned to Capitelli and the former council majority – was eliminated that Arreguín triumphed with 51.9% of the vote (Arreguín received more of Gould’s second choice votes than Capitelli, incidentally: 329-297).

The much-bruited alliance between Arreguín and Councilman Kriss Worthington – the two encouraged their supporters to put the other candidate as second choice – proved irrelevant in the end. Worthington’s votes were never redistributed, since Arreguín crossed the finish line with the parceling out of Gould’s votes.

As that raft of endorsements showed, Arreguín skillfully parleyed his connections within the Alameda County Democratic Party and with various activist groups. He also ran a far more aggressive, occasionally negative, campaign than his opponents. Arreguín established a website, LaurieFacts, to tar his leading opponent and spent a chunk of campaign funds – he raised nearly as much as Capitelli – to buy search terms on Google so that voters searching for Capitelli were steered to the attack site.

Capitelli’s supporters had hoped he would inherit most of Bates’ support. In the 2012 mayoral race, Bates won 54% of the vote, with Worthington a distant second with 22%. But Capitelli didn’t have Bates’ many years of high-profile political roles in Berkeley. That support, to a large extent, did not transfer.


It looks likely that Arreguín will command a majority on the new City Council. In addition to himself and Worthington, newly elected District 3 Councilman Ben Bartlett is expected to lean progressive. Progressive Sophie Hahn won decisively in Capitelli’s old District 5, with 62%.

Although the results are still uncertified, progressive-aligned Cheryl Davila at the moment looks to have unseated moderate incumbent Darryl Moore in District 2. With ranked-choice voting deployed, Davila tops Moore 1,838 to 1,796. As mail-in ballots are counted in the next several days, that 42-vote lead might evaporate. There are thousands of Berkeley ballots still to be counted because of the popularity of vote-by-mail. The Registrar of Voters’ next results update will be Friday.

Even without any determination of the replacement for Arreguín in his old District 4, the progressive bloc will command at least four and possibly five votes. Although no-one has declared themselves a candidate in the District 4 special election, close observers think mayoral candidate Gould could run, as could local activist Moni Law.

The special election will need to be held in either February or March in 2017. According to City Clerk Mark Numainville, there is no vacancy in Arreguín’s District 4 until he is sworn in as mayor. The earliest that could happen is Dec. 1. Once Arreguín is sworn in, the City Council has 10 days to call the special election for the seat. That election then needs to be held between 60 and 90 days from the council’s call.

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