By Judith Scherr
The iconic Caffe Med on Telegraph Avenue was the perfect venue for an interview with Mark Schwartz, a 21st-century beat poet and candidate for mayor of Berkeley.
The multidimensional Schwartz has 13 books of poetry under his belt and holds an engineering degree from Cornell University. (The new edition of “On Third Street Kerouac Revisited” is graced with a blurb by Noam Chomsky who says the book is, “For one of those rare moments of a little tranquility.”)
Schwartz grew up in a Jewish household in the Bronx and followed a boyfriend to the West Coast in 1978. Since then, he’s lived mostly in San Francisco, but came to Berkeley three years ago. He now lives in a cottage in north west Berkeley.
Schwarz suffers from mental illness, for which he’s been hospitalized and, comparing himself to Thomas Eagleton — a former senator from Missouri who suffered from mental illness — he says his disability won’t be an impediment in taking on the office of mayor. Asked if he’d care to elaborate on the nature of his illness, the candidate answered with a sense of humor that was evident during much of the interview: “I’m classified as a schizophrenic affective – that’s because I’m effective with people.”
Schwartz hasn’t held elected public office, but touts his history in activism, beginning with a stint on the Youth Commission in the Bronx. In college, he served as president of Cornell’s Engineering Student Council and, after coming to the Bay Area, he helped co-found the East Bay caucus of the Harvey Milk Lesbian Gay Bisexual Club.
Active in landlord-tenant issues, Schwartz held various offices – including that of president of the tenant board for nine terms – at South Park, a low income housing complex in San Francisco where he lived for 20 years. He also served on the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, where he helped found two low-income residences, the San Cristina and Senator hotels.
One of Schwartz’ key issues is that of housing and homelessness: “We have 832 homeless people in this town,” he said, explaining that as mayor he would go to Washington to lobby for a cut in military spending and an increase in housing funds. He argued rather than spend billions of dollars in nuclear weapons research, the funds should be spent on housing, healthcare and education. “That’s money that could be housing homeless people,” he said. “We’re criticizing Iran for nuclear weapons development. We’re being hypocritical and I think that should stop.”
He criticized Mayor Tom Bates for bringing forward an anti-sit ordinance, which will be on the November ballot and critiqued a similar ordinance that is in effect in San Francisco. “I can’t believe these mayors – Ed Lee in San Francisco and Tom Bates in Berkeley — believe that someone who is either tired or protesting or sitting should be cited. It’s a civil liberty question, it’s freedom of speech. I’m a very strong civil libertarian. I’m a strong constitutionalist. I think these mayors should be charged with high crimes and misdemeanors. “
Schwartz said the issue of zoning changes in West Berkeley is another concern. The question of whether a building should go to 45 feet or 75 feet is premature, he said. “What I think is that we should assess what are the needs for housing and work before making those kinds of decisions. For example, in San Francisco, more office space has been built than can be used,” he said, adding, “That’s uncalled-for.”
In 2008, the Bates campaign raised around $85,000. Berkeleyside asked if Schwartz thought he could compete with that.
Schwartz said he didn’t expect he’d beat Bates. “I’m running to raise issues,” he said, explaining that his campaign will be based on volunteer power. Nonetheless, he’s planning several fundraisers and has produced a button that says “Occupy Schwartz.”
Schwartz doesn’t plan to open a campaign office. He said the best way to contact him is dropping by the Med in the mornings.
In addition to Bates and Schwartz, candidates who have taken out papers to run for mayor include Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi, Mary Rose Kaczorowski, Jacquelyn McCormick and Zachary RunningWolf.
Candidates can file until August 10. Find daily updates on who’s running, and for what positions, on the City of Berkeley website.
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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