Election 2020: Who is Wayne Hsiung?

Meet Wayne Hsiung, one of four mayoral candidates in Berkeley’s November 2020 election.

Berkeley mayoral candidate Wayne Hsiung
Wayne Hsiung. Photo: Hsiung campaign

Name: Wayne Hsiung, 39, environmental attorney

What office/district are you are running for? Berkeley mayor

What is the main reason you are running? I am running because Berkeley needs a Green New Deal. Our government has been criminalizing homelessness rather than providing affordable housing. It plans to wait 30 years to reach carbon neutrality (as wildfires burn across the state) rather than moving on a timeline demanded by science. It has too often catered to corporate interests rather than serving ordinary people. And it has failed to provide the basic services – street repairs, trash clean-up, etc. – we would expect from a city with immense wealth.

Our city has the resources, intelligence, and will to confront these challenges successfully. But to do that, we need new leadership. We need a Green New Deal.


Why are you qualified? As a community organizer for 20+ years — starting as a student organizer in the Chicago housing projects under Michelle Obama — I bring people together for change.

As an environmental attorney, I move projects forward. I’ve advised clients on multi-million dollar solar financings and helped dozens of small businesses achieve their goals.

As a former academic researcher, I have the technical expertise to craft effective policy. I’ve worked closely with leading thinkers like Harvard’s Cass Sunstein to identify evidence-based solutions to complex problems.

And as an activist, I stand by principle and take real risks. I not only defend activists taking on climate-destroying and animal-abusing industries, I join them in nonviolent civil disobedience.

What sets you apart from other candidates? What sets me apart is that I am an expert at organizing passionate people to accomplish challenging goals. Our campaign is not about me. It’s about the 100+ volunteers who have stepped up, and about the thousands of residents who have committed to support us, in working together for change. Together, we’ve offered facemasks to more than 24,000 households and had over 11,000 voter conversations – and we’re still growing.

We are financed entirely by small donors – yet we outraised the incumbent (who is taking corporate PAC money) in the most recent reporting period.

We have an incredibly diverse team of supporters, from former Mayor Gus Newport to legendary journalist Glenn Greenwald, and their skills have been deployed to engage voters in new ways.

We have bold and evidence-based policies, based on best practices and leading research across the globe, on issues ranging from affordable housing to climate change.

But, most important, we have a vision that Berkeley believes in: an end to homelessness, rents cut in half, and carbon neutrality in five years. By setting ambitious goals that might seem unachievable, and working incrementally to make real progress, we will lead Berkeley to a better future.

What brought you to Berkeley and when did you come? As a child struggling in central Indiana, I dreamed of moving to the Bay Area. I read about Berkeley’s history and the brave activists, like Mario Savio, who changed the nation.

The dream of moving to Berkeley came to life under difficult circumstances; my mother developed brain cancer and sought treatment in the Bay Area. I moved here with her in 2012, started my own business in Berkeley in 2014 — a legal practice focused on green startups – and became an official Berkeley resident in 2016.

What are the three biggest challenges for Berkeley in the next five years? The pandemic is the challenge of the moment. Housing and homelessness are the challenges of the decade. And climate change is the challenge of our generation. We have an opportunity to move boldly and effectively on these issues. But to do that, we need new leadership.

What are your ideas to begin to solve them? Berkeley should be more proactive in responding to the pandemic. Our public health department should provide same-day testing and contact tracing, communicate more regularly with residents, and deploy innovative solutions – such as outdoor classes for children – to serve our community members.

Solving the housing crisis starts with putting the unhoused into homes rather than pushing them from one neighborhood to the next. By securing regional agreements and state funding, we can avoid burdening the average Berkeley taxpayer. Code and zoning reform are necessary, as Berkeley is among the most expensive cities in the nation to build in. However, a long-term solution requires more public funding for housing. In Vienna, Austria, 62% of the housing is “social housing” provided by the municipal government or nonprofit housing associations. The city is among the most affordable and livable in the world.

Solving the climate crisis starts with a reasonable goal. The city’s current goal of 30 years is far too late – especially when entire nations (Norway) and corporations (Delta) are moving in 10 years or faster. Our carbon neutrality target should be 2025. We will use incentives, rather than punishment, to accelerate four transitions: a solar panel on every roof, an electric stove and heat pump in every home, electric cars and shuttles on every road, and plant-based food on every plate. We need a war-time mobilization against climate change, and we need it now.

What is your most inspired/unique idea for Berkeley? A wealth tax. In the last 20 years, public services have shriveled while the largest corporations have accumulated vast wealth – all while paying little in taxes. To confront this, we have to tax not just income or real property but total wealth, including stocks.

I will use novel methods – such as the gross receipts tax on large corporations recently passed in San Francisco, or a personal wealth tax on ultra millionaires – to ensure the wealthiest interests in Berkeley pay their fair share.

How will you be accessible to constituents? We built our campaign on direct contact with voters, and our administration will be the same. I plan to hold weekly town halls where residents can bring any concerns about the city directly to me. I will walk the streets on a daily basis, talking to our neighbors. And I will make constituent engagement and service one of the keystones of our administration.

Why should voters choose you over the incumbent? Our policies are right for Berkeley. The incumbent voted for Urban Shield; we will demilitarize the police. The incumbent has a 30-year plan for climate change; ours is five. The incumbent sought to criminalize homelessness, only to be stopped by a federal court; we’ll use research-based models to house the unhoused.

I have the right experience. The incumbent is a career politician. I’ve spent my life on the frontlines: as a community organizer on housing, an attorney and law professor bringing real solutions on climate change, and an activist risking my freedom to stop climate-destroying industries.

We bring a new style of governance: collaborative, grassroots, and focused on service. Berkeley politics has locked out too many. We need leaders who serve. That’s the culture we’ll deliver.

Are you using public financing? Yes

How much money do you expect to spend on your campaign? We are aiming to raise and spend $150,000, all through small donations of $50 or less and public financing.

Share a personal interest or passion people might be surprised to learn about. I’m passionate about seeing and cultivating the good in everyone, regardless of our disagreements. For example, after I investigated a factory farm filled with cruelty and disease and removed two severely injured animals, I returned to the farm to speak directly with its workers and ended up in a two-hour conversation with the owner. We became dear friends, and we have since worked together on major projects to protect animals.

In an age of unprecedented conflict, we must learn to communicate with, and believe in, those with whom we disagree. I will lead by example in doing so. And at the end of this race, I will collaborate with anyone in the current administration to solve our challenges.

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