Election 2018: Who is Mary Behm-Steinberg?

Mary Behm-Steinberg. Photo: Courtesy

Name: Mary Behm-Steinberg, 51, former international NGO and fair trade negotiator (District 1)

What is the main reason you are running? I’m running because I see a need to address a number of issues that aren’t sufficiently part of the conversation, and because I see serious conflict in the community that could be effectively addressed with a more nuanced approach and creative problem-solving. For this reason, I attempted to establish a more collaborative model of campaigning, and I put forth a number of common sense proposals that would allow the City to get much better results with far fewer resources. We will only be able to build community when we all have a voice and that voice is respected.

Why are you qualified? First and foremost, I’m qualified because I listen at least as much as I talk, and I’m open to alternate strategies to get to common goals. This strategy has served me well as a person with multiple disabilities, because we often have to be very creative at problem-solving to get the same results as other people with far less resources, and far less reliable bodies.

I took those skills and applied them to some very difficult to navigate situations both as UC’s program representative to China with the Committee on Legal Education Exchange with China, and in my own fair trade antiques and folk art business. And I did that in my third language. I understand that getting to a place more people can be satisfied with involves understanding the perspectives of others and being able to concede when they are correct and treat them with respect.


What sets you apart from other candidates? Each candidate in this race has their own strengths and weaknesses. What sets me apart is that I’m focused on collaboration and my best skills are in negotiation and creative problem-solving. I have already consulted extensively with Margo Schueler, who is a brilliant engineer that knows more than I could ever hope to about the City’s environmental and infrastructure challenges, as well as with Igor Tregub, who understands the City’s political landscape and the positions of both the rent and zoning boards better than any of us. I continue to do all I can to model politics of collaboration, so that no matter who wins, we will all feel comfortable consulting with our colleagues, and hopefully, we can find a way for them to use them in service to the public that benefits us all within the structure of City government.

I don’t have the same technical skills as the other candidates, and I have a big gap in my resume from my misdiagnosis and subsequent recovery from spine surgery. But the skills I offer only deepen with hardship. This perspective and ability to think outside the box to not only survive, but thrive, is key.

How and when did you end up in Berkeley? I came to Berkeley following my graduation from college in 1989 and stayed with friends of friends on a couch in an illegal sublet until one of them left and I took over his room. I was looking for a chance to launch my career in the international non-profit or fair trade business world, and was able to do both.

What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? The biggest challenges that Berkeley faces now and in the foreseeable future are how to best address our housing crisis in a way that preserves diversity (in every sense of the word), ends homelessness in the city, and preserves the essential character of the City. Infrastructure and policing are also major issues, but they are all tied in to the economic realities that people who live here now face. This doesn’t mean that nothing changes, but it means that we must plan carefully to avoid the kind of displacement we saw in the Fillmore in the 60’s and the architectural heritage lost to Urban Renewal in NYC. I believe these things are all possible, but that we will have to engage collaboratively and respectfully to do so.

What are your ideas to begin to solve them? Solving these problems involves a collaborative approach in which we are all safe to acknowledge when we have overlooked something we weren’t aware of and open to modifying well-intentioned plans that aren’t working as hoped. Digging in over ego and fear won’t get us anywhere, and being open to the vast brain trust and range of experiences in our own community is the only way we will get buy-in from the vast majority of residents.

If elected, I would regularly seek out the opinions of people directly affected by those policies and look for existing examples of how such concerns have been successfully incorporated elsewhere. I would also seek the expert opinion of people who have far more experience than I do in any given field (such as Margo and Igor, who I mentioned earlier, and Aidan Hill of District 7, who offers the perspective of gender non-binary people and people of color in addition to their fantastic rhetorical and negotiation skills).

I would also set up an internal office that surveys the City’s plans in various departments and seeks to make them more effective by combining them with plans different departments and local non-profits. Examples of this can be found on my website.


In tandem, I would have a grant writer going after existing federal, non-profit, and corporate charitable money that is being left on the table, and coordinate that with an external affairs director, who would coordinate with other municipalities and non-profits to create more funding as well as pursue common goals. Beyond funding, that strategy would have worked great to pressure Jerry Brown to sign the bill that would have made closing Alta Bates much more difficult.

The power to get these things done exists if we address issues directly and maximize our resources.

What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? My three-pronged strategy of an internal affairs office, a grant writer, and external affairs office would go far in realizing not only the goals I’ve set out in my proposals, but future needs of the city. The collaborative approach I’ve outlined between people with disparate views and engaging in civil discourse over controversial matters is also essential, and that must be done no matter who wins.

How will you be accessible to constituents? I will staff my office in such a way that constituent concerns are clearly addressed, and I will hold regular town halls.

Are you using public financing? Yes

How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? I’m not certain, because my campaign seems to be picking up speed, but I’m more about ideas than big spending on branding.


A final thought? No matter who wins, it is essential that we refocus our efforts on collaboration and issues based campaigning. We must recognize that there are many ways to get to a common goal, including some that aren’t necessarily ideologically “pure.” This approach has been unpopular in some opposing (to each other) camps, but I’ve found a large number of people who are more than happy to consider it, and I think we’ll all be much happier with the results if this ethos is adopted.

Find Mary online: WebsiteFacebook

Read more about Mary Behm-Steinberg on Berkeleyside. See complete 2018 election coverage on Berkeleyside.