Campaign notebook: business taxes, anti-Semitism allegations, announcements

People leave a Downtown Berkeley polling station in November 2016. Photo: Pete Rosos

Campaign notebook is a regular news feature Berkeleyside is running ahead of the elections.

The mid-August deadline to file for candidacy in the November election is still more than two weeks away, but some hopefuls are deep into their campaigns already.

Endorsements and cash are trickling into Berkeley and East Bay races. Candidates — and those who’ve decided not to run — are making public announcements. In the case of the Assembly District 15 race, at least, some controversy has already surrounded each of the candidates.

Here are some tidbits from the campaign trail.


Wicks didn’t register her business in Oakland, gets endorsements from mayors

Assembly candidate Buffy Wicks and her daughter at a meeting at the South Berkeley Tarea Hall Pittman library. Photo: Lance Knobel

Oakland resident Angela Shannon filed a complaint with that city after discovering Assembly candidate Buffy Wicks had failed to register her political consulting business in Oakland in 2016 and 2017, and thus had not paid taxes on her revenue those two years.

Rise Strategies, which Wicks runs out of her Oakland home, earned more than $100,000 at least one of those years, according to Wicks’s state filings. Wicks, a former Barack Obama campaign strategist and staffer, worked as a chief strategist on Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign, and on other efforts, through Rise Strategies.

Wicks wrote on Facebook on July 19 that she had recently learned she “missed the deadline” to register the business in Oakland.

“As soon as I realized it, I took immediate action to resolve the issue. I have paid all the fees owed and am working to complete any other requirements. I am sorry for this mistake,” Wicks wrote.

She told voters: “I pride myself on being an honest person and taking responsibility for my actions. Part of that means when I make a mistake, I own up to it.”

Wicks’s campaign declined to answer further questions about whether she had been aware that Rise Strategies owed taxes in Oakland, and about the amount she owed. Under the Oakland tax rate rules, it appears Wicks’s business would owe $180 per $100,000 earned.

Wicks has earned several high-profile endorsements, including from Bay Area mayors London Breed of San Francisco, Libby Schaaf of Oakland and Chris Kelley of Hercules. The Alameda County building trades council announced its endorsement this week as well.


What makes Wicks stand out at this point in the race, according to spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh, is her dedication to “facing the Bay Area’s housing crisis head-on, and in particular, building more housing.” The candidate supports the reform, rather than full repeal, of Costa Hawkins, departing from her competitor.

“How she’s running the campaign has been important to her and [demonstrates] how she would approach leadership in office,” said Mesloh, referring in part to the more than 160 house parties Wicks has held, and continues to hold, in voters’ homes.

Beckles earns officials’ endorsements, faces allegations of anti-Semitism over PAC video

Oakland Councilman Dan Kalb (left) and Berkeley School Board member Judy Appel (right), who both ran for Assembly as well, have endorsed Jovanka Beckles (center). Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Jovanka Beckles, a Richmond city councilwoman who garnered 15.8% of votes to Wicks’s 31.4% in the June primary, has faced criticism this week as well, over a video created independently in support of her campaign.

The video, by the Blue America PAC, is titled “Big Shekels Can’t Hide Our Beckles’ Pride” [sic]. It criticizes Wicks, who has far out-raised Beckles, using the word “shekels,” the term for modern-day Israeli currency and the coins used by ancient Semitic populations.

Though Beckles did not make the video, she promoted an article by the Blue America leader, Howie Klein, which included the video, on Facebook, and her campaign retweeted links to the video.

This week, nine people wrote a letter calling on Beckles to denounce the video. Among those who signed it were Joyce Newstat, a Breed staffer prominent in Bay Area politics, and wife Susan Lowenberg, active in politics and real estate, as well as Berkeley City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf.


“As active members of the Jewish community, we are disgusted at the use of derogatory words and anti-Semitic language in this video. We all know too well that using the term ‘big shekels’ as it relates to money and political power is a vile and not-so-subtle reference to the old trope and view that Jewish people control power through money,” the authors wrote in the letter, sent to Beckles Monday.

They noted that the video included other “allusions to religious rhetoric,” referring to Beckles as “a pure crusader.”

Wicks herself commented on an individual’s Facebook post about the video, calling the ad “disturbing.”

“The use of the phrase ‘big shekels’ is a dog whistle that promotes anti-Semitism. Especially in our current political climate, we all have a responsibility to be conscious of our words,” she wrote.

On Tuesday, Beckles wrote a response to Newstat, denying any involvement in the video, and calling the use of “shekels” simply an attempt to rhyme with her name. “I doubt that there was anti-Semitic intent in the use of the word and I do not believe there is anything anti-Semitic in the content of the videos,” she wrote.

However, Beckles said she removed a link to the video on her website once she heard the concerns. (Wicks’s campaign noted she had not removed the retweet by the time she sent the letter.)

“I have spent my whole adult life fighting against and will continue to fight against racism, and all forms of oppression of minorities including anti-Semitism,” she wrote.

Election law allows independent groups to spend money on advertising for a candidate as long as there is no direct communication with that candidate. It does not appear Blue America has reported any expenditures in support of Beckles.

The candidate has also scooped up several endorsements as well, including from the top runners-up in the primary. Oakland Councilman Dan Kalb, who was neck-and-neck with Beckles for days after the election, and Berkeley School Board member Judy Appel. They met with Beckles in Berkeley earlier this month for an endorsement photoshoot. EBMUD board member Andy Katz, another Assembly candidate, endorsed Beckles as well.

“She’s consistent and not afraid to stand up for all of us,” Kalb said. “This is probably the most progressive Assembly district in the state. These are times where we need something beyond the norm of what other states have already.”

Beckles told Berkeleyside she considers her support for the full repeal of the Costa Hawkins rental law and her support for a moratorium on charter schools as the two policy platforms where she differs most greatly from Wicks. She’s been emboldened by the showing of “solidarity” and support from progressive organizations and on-the-ground volunteers.

Harrison kicks off re-election campaign

Kate Harrison and her supporters in front of City Hall on July 16, 2018. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

City Councilwoman Kate Harrison led a group of her supporters to City Hall on July 16 to drop off signatures that would qualify her for the ballot. Harrison, who was elected in March 2017 with 62% of the vote to fill in the remaining term of Jesse Arreguín, now has to run for a full four-year term. Arreguín and City Councilwomen Sophie Hahn and Cheryl Davila showed up to the mini-rally as did John Selawsky, a former School Board member who now sits on the Zoning Adjustments Board and on the Board of Library Directors.

Harrison will face Ben Gould, a policy analyst who ran against her for the seat in 2017, too, and who garnered 38% of the vote. City Councilwomen Lori Droste and Susan Wengraf have endorsed him.

Droste is another incumbent up for re-election, in District 8, which includes the Elmwood. Three candidates intend to challenge her. Five candidates have taken out papers to vie for Linda Maio’s vacated seat in District 1, in West Berkeley, and two for Kriss Worthington’s in UC Berkeley-area District 7. So far nine candidates plan to run for Rent Board and five for School Board. See all the names.

Frances Dinkelspiel contributed reporting. This story was corrected to reflect the accurate date of Kate Harrison’s election.