In 2016, I endorsed Jesse Arreguín for Mayor–and brought with my endorsement the support of my friend Bernie Sanders. Today, as someone with decades of experience in Berkeley politics, I am endorsing Arreguin’s opponent, environmental attorney Wayne Hsiung. On issues ranging from police reform to climate change, Arreguín has shifted to the right and failed to deliver on the promises he made. In contrast, Hsiung’s progressive vision is the right one for Berkeley in a time where the city urgently needs change.
The first failure of Arreguín’s administration is police reform. As we face a national reckoning on police brutality, Berkeley needs a mayor willing to stand on principle for racial equity. Yet one of Arreguín’s first votes as mayor was in support of sending our police to Urban Shield, the military training program created by Sheriff Greg Ahern, whose history includes false prosecutions of Black men and retweets of white supremacists. Arreguín has supported the use of spit hoods, which have been condemned by Amnesty International’s UK Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague as “cruel and dangerous” and described by The New Republic as an example of “racist state violence.” And Arreguín has shown an inability to stand up to police unions, even as our community reckons with disturbing levels of racial bias in policing.
Hsiung, in contrast, has consistently stood against police abuses for decades. From his early experiences at the University of Chicago protesting against capital punishment in Illinois to his current role as an attorney defending ordinary citizens charged for peaceful civil disobedience, he has the record and commitment to push forward with police reform. If we believe #BlackLivesMatter, we need the change Hsiung will bring to City Hall.
The second failure of Arreguín’s administration is housing and homelessness. Like many of you, when I drive into Berkeley, I am heartbroken by the hundreds of people in camps along the street. Homelessness, however, is not an accident or inevitability; it is a direct result of policy choices made by our elected officials. Instead of providing supportive services and housing, Arreguín has chosen a punitive route–with disastrous results. Arreguín pushed forward a proposal to punish people for sleeping at BART stations until a federal court stopped those kinds of plans. He failed to assist an elderly Black resident, Leonard Powell, who was forced out of his home in what I consider a racist code enforcement process. And he attempted to ban RVs in our city, forcing some of our neighbors onto the streets. “They took my home,” one Berkeley resident said to The Washington Post. “Now I’m homeless.” These punitive measures are not just unethical; they are profoundly ineffective. Experts on homelessness, such as Dr. Margot Kushel at UCSF, explain that supportive housing and voluntary programs–and not punishment–are crucial to reducing homelessness. Yet these more supportive, research-backed efforts have been spotty and unfocused, including the wasteful closure of an emergency homeless shelter (purchased with millions of dollars in city funds) after just months of use.
When I was mayor, we faced the first major wave of homelessness in Berkeley history, after Ronald Reagan shut down our state’s mental institutions. And we made progress on the problem by empowering people, rather than punishing them. We opened the doors of City Hall for the unhoused population to organize for their own benefit. And Hsiung will take the same compassionate, research-backed approach. Indeed, his first campaign event was not a fundraiser with millionaires. (Unlike Arreguín, who has received contributions from wealthy interests such as millionaire developer Patrick Kennedy, Hsiung has committed to only take small donations.) Rather, it was a trash pickup at a homeless encampment. And Hsiung’s grassroots approach, focused on his belief in the strength and goodness of ordinary people, is exactly what Berkeley needs to address this crisis.
And that brings me to the third failure: climate change. The last few weeks have taught us that we simply cannot wait any longer. And activists like Greta Thunberg have led the charge to save our planet from a threat that endangers all life on this earth. Yet instead of supporting these brave young people, Arreguín and his allies have perversely echoed our President in condemning peaceful protest and civil disobedience, which Arreguín’s allies have described as a “real threat” to Berkeley.
Let me be clear on this: the real criminals are not peaceful activists who risk their freedom to create change, but the powerful corporations–including both fossil fuels and factory farms–that have corrupted our democratic process, endangered communities of color, and caused the Sixth Mass Extinction in our planet’s history. And if Berkeley is to effectively lead the nation in the fight against climate change–as we must–we need to be willing to take on corporate power. That is not an easy fight.
I am gravely disappointed that, instead of joining that struggle, Arreguín has engaged in false personal attacks against his opponent. This is not just a distraction from the important issues Berkeley faces; it shows that Arreguín is willing to be on the wrong side of history for the sake of a short term political benefit. To effectively address the climate crisis, we need leaders who have shown the ability to stand strongly by a principle, even when corporate interests are pushing hard the other way. We need leaders who can organize ordinary people, and not just play the insider game of the political and economic elite. And most of all, we need leaders who are willing to sacrifice personal interest for the public good. Hsiung, unlike Arreguín, has demonstrated these attributes.
Berkeley is at a crisis point, caused by years of inaction. We need change. And that is why, as a former mayor and concerned citizen, I urge you to vote for Wayne Hsiung this November.