Op-ed: Berkeley needs a mayor who shows true leadership

Berkeley voters face a choice in the upcoming Mayoral race, but not the choice we’ve been led to believe. Contrary to much of the campaign rhetoric so far, this election is not a question of who is the most or least “progressive.” People elsewhere in the country or even the Bay Area would struggle to discern the policy differences that bring Berkeleyans to the barricades. All of the major candidates in the Mayoral race are progressive—indeed, they are very progressive. What this election is truly about is choosing the candidate who has the temperament, the relationships, and the leadership to successfully govern—and that candidate is Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.

The starkest differences between the mayoral frontrunners lie not in their agendas, but in their fundamental approaches to governance and policymaking. Laurie Capitelli has built his record of public service on collaboration, pragmatism, and an abiding determination to do what’s best for Berkeley. Arreguin and Worthington, on the other hand, have governed in manner that is ideological, obstructionist, and prioritizes their own political careers over the good of the city.

Together, Arreguin and Worthington represent a dismaying brand of performance politics. On truly important issues, ranging from housing to the City budget, both Arreguin and Worthington have a history of floating unworkable, pandering proposals. Whether it’s purely symbolic shifting of funds (something City staff stressed was unnecessary), or regulations that would actually kill new housing, Arreguin and Worthington ostentatiously take credit for the outlandish legislation they knew would never pass—let alone actually work. When other Councilmembers judiciously reject these schemes, Worthington and Arreguin attack them as insufficiently “progressive.” This is not leadership, it’s political theater.

Even worse, this political theater all too often descends into outright circus, with Arreguin and Worthington condoning or even acting as ringleaders to egregious breaches of civility. Worthington has on multiple occasions displayed outright contempt for the productive and democratic conduct of City Council meetings. Worthington weaponizes parliamentary procedure to derail Council meetings and, on at least one occasion, he has even sung over other City Councilmembers as they tried to speak. Arreguin has welcomed not only Worthington’s endorsement, but an outright electoral alliance. This demonstrates that Jesse’s top priority is not the good of the city, but the advancement of his own political career.

Councilmember Arreguin has on multiple occasions pushed obstructive and, at times, nonsensical policies. Perhaps most notably, Arreguin attempted to block new housing in the Downtown with 2014 Measure R, which he co-authored with District 5 candidate, Sophie Hahn. Thankfully, environmental, housing, and labor groups aligned against Measure R, and Berkeley voters subsequently rejected Arreguin and Hahn’s proposal by a margin of nearly 3 to 1. More recently, Arreguin proposed absurd regulations that sought to prohibit future buildings from installing new concrete sidewalks. And just this week, Arreguin proposed forcing all city-funded community-based organizations to make their bathrooms public—a burdensome and potentially dangerous requirement for organizations that work with children or other vulnerable groups. These proposals are part of Councilmember Arreguin’s pattern of ill-conceived, or even adversarial policy-making that wastes City resources and voters’ time.

Laurie Capitelli, on the other hand, represents principled, effective leadership for Berkeley. Unlike his opponents, who frequently manipulate legislation to embarrass opponents and ornament their resumes, Laurie views public policy as a vehicle for positive change in the lives of all Berkeleyans. Arreguin and Worthington’s supporters are laughably attempting to tar Councilmember Capitelli as “right-wing” for daring to scrutinize their candidates’ misguided policies. But Capitelli’s results- and evidence-driven approach to policy-making is one of his greatest strengths. Laurie Capitelli looks beyond petty politics to consider the unintended and long-term impacts of the proposals that come before the City Council. Laurie’s far-sighted approach—even when it opens him to deceitful attacks—is a testament to his dedication to Berkeley’s future.

Laurie’s competence, work ethic, and spirit of cooperation are why he has the support of community groups that know what it takes to get things done here in Berkeley. These groups include Berkeley Firefighters, the Berkeley Democratic Club, Berkeley Police, Public Employees Union Local 1, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Building Trades. Progressive leaders here on the ground in Berkeley and the East Bay know that Laurie has what it takes to be Mayor. That’s why Laurie has been endorsed by Professor Robert Reich; State Senator Loni Hancock; Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner; Mayor Tom Bates; Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf; a majority of Berkeley City Councilmembers; and all endorsing members of the Berkeley School Board.

I’m glad to have had the pleasure of getting to know Laurie personally, seeing for myself the affability, determination, and commitment to Berkeley’s future that have propelled him on to the Council and into the race for Mayor. Having sat through hours of City Council meetings, I’ve had the eye-opening, if at times tedious experience of seeing Berkeley’s most prominent mayoral candidates in action. More than any other candidate in this race, Laurie has proven that he is the one who will do his homework, build bridges, and always put Berkeley first. I hope you will join me in voting Laurie Capitelli for Berkeley Mayor.

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Eric Panzer has lived in Berkeley since coming to study Environmental Science and City Planning at Cal in 2003. Eric is an advocate for abundant housing, improved transit, greater sustainability, and good governance. All opinions stated here are his own.