November 2020: Candidates

Here are my current thoughts on candidates on the November 2020 ballot in Berkeley, in ballot order.

You can also read my thoughts on propositions, or see a cheat sheet summary.

President and Vice President: JOE BIDEN AND KAMALA HARRIS

Only one ticket with a chance at winning is not primarily motivated by malevolence, spite, and bigotry. I sure didn’t vote for either of these candidates in March, but I’m sure voting for them now.

US Representative, District 13: BARBARA LEE

Still great. Though y’know, she could join “the Squad” on a few issues. But still great.

State Senate, District 9: NANCY SKINNER

She’s a good Senator, and I don’t vote for Libertarians.

State Assembly, District 15: Buffy Wicks

While I voted for Jovanka Beckles in both 2018 elections, I never bought into the caricature of Buffy Wicks put forward by Beckles’ supporters. While I would have preferred to elect somebody with a deeper connection to the district and with a more diverse campaign, I think Wicks has been a pretty good representative and got some good laws passed (or at least almost passed: some of these failed due to weird last minute shenanigans where they passed both houses but didn’t get reconciled).

While I like the other “candidate”, Sara Brink, and voted for her in the primary (Republicans have no business being on my ballot), she is not really running for this office. Her campaign website literally starts with “this race does not matter”. I agree with most of what she says on her campaign site and hope this is not the last time I hear from her, but I’ll probably vote for the actual candidate in this election.

Superior Court Judge, Office 2: Elena Condes

I haven’t done further research into this office since the primary.

Both of the candidates appear to be basically fine. Condes has way more endorsements than Fickes, but Fickes has a handful. They are both LGBT and seem to have split the LGBT org endorsements. Fickes has a pretty varied career; Condes has focused primary on defense. In general I think our courts should have more judges with a background in defense, so combining that with the endorsements, I’m voting for Condes. But I’m not voting against anyone here!

Berkeley Rent Board (choose 5): Xavier Johnson, Andy Kelley, Mari Mendonca, Leah Simon-Weisberg, and Dominique Walker

I generally vote for the tenant slate or something close to it, which this year is Xavier Johnson, Andy Kelley, Mari Mendonca, Leah Simon-Weisberg, and Dominique Walker. (All but Mendonca fall into that “if the East Bay DSA and East Bay For Everyone agree, how wrong can it be?” category.)

Berkeley School Directors (choose 2): Laura Babitt and Ana Vasudeo

I did not do a huge amount of in-depth research, but my initial reaction from skimming campaign sites was to support Laura Babitt and Ana Vasudeo, and they seem to be by far the most endorsed candidates.

AC Transit Director (at-large): Victoria Fierce

AC Transit runs the bus systems in western Alameda and Contra Costa counties. (There are only three major transit systems in America with elected directors, and we I two of them on this very ballot: BART and AC Transit! Denver’s RTD is the third.) This election features an at-large seat that everyone in the district votes on, as well as elections for Ward 1 (where I live) and Ward 2 (which starts a few blocks from my house).

I learned the most about the at-large election from the League of Women Voters candidate forum video. Additionally, LWV Voter’s Edge on the race has details on the candidates, and is effectively the closest thing the incumbent has to a campaign website.

I’m a bit torn.

On the one hand, there’s Chris Peeples, the incumbent. He’s been an AC Transit director for 23 years. His campaign seems limited to a brief statement in the voter’s guide, a longer profile on Voter’s Edge (dig into “Political Beliefs” especially), and the LWV forum; he does not have a campaign website or any virtual campaign events. What little I can find about him is mostly positive, including past year endorsements. My take from watching the LWV forum is that he’s a smart hard-working elected official who understands the current state of the system in detail, and is dedicated to a “more of the same but better” approach. He is not optimistic about (or particularly interested in) better cross-agency collaboration or other major changes like BRT (he thinks the main lesson of the recent BRT launch is that it took too long and AC Transit isn’t good at doing things like that so it shouldn’t try again).

On the other hand, there’s Victoria Fierce. She’s somebody I’ve followed on Twitter for a while and have generally been impressed with as an activist. She fits in that socialism-and-building-housing niche that I find attractive. She has a concrete platform with basic goals like more bush shelters, a daily fare cap, and better communication around service changes (something AC Transit really screwed up with a recent Covid-infection-caused major service reduction with minimal communication). She’s all for better regional collaboration, though perhaps that’s a bit quixotic of a goal (for anyone, but particularly for her as she seems to make plenty of enemies, esp given that her job is literally suing suburbs to get them to build more housing).

Dollene Jones, a former driver who runs for director in every election, is also running for this seat. I like her and have voted for in the past but I’m not seriously considering her in this particular race.

Realistically speaking I think this is a very long shot for Fierce, running against an incumbent in a low profile race in a very large district (the entire East Bay west of the hills, rather than just one of the five wards). I enjoy the optimistic approach to AC Transit that her campaign takes, even if I suspect that much of her platform is easier said than done. I am voting for her, but when Peeples inevitably wins I won’t be too sad.

AC Transit Director, Ward 1: JOVANKA BECKLES!

Ward 1 covers most of Berkeley, Albana, El Cerrito, Richmond, and El Sobrante. The incumbent is Joe Wallace of Richmond. Unlike Peeples he at least has a rudimentary campaign site, though the endorsements page is quite bare. I really don’t know anything more about him than what he’s written there. He is being challenged by Jovanka Beckles and Ben Fong.

Jovanka Beckles is a former Richmond City Councilmember, who came in second in a crowded field in my State Assembly race last year. She’s a self-identified democratic socialist who’s running on a platform of supporting the drivers’ union (in fact, she says they tapped her to run), fare-free transit (which AC Transit has actually had for most of the year due to Covid; fares only fund a small share of the budget), and a general Black Lives Matter/Green New Deal approach to the system.

I wrote about her a lot two years ago in the Assembly primary and general election. Both times, I said things like “If it weren’t for the issue of housing, there’s little question I’d vote for Jovanka Beckles”. And: (a) this is not a particularly housing-focused role; (b) my views on housing have evolved a little bit towards her side in the last two years anyway; and © I voted for her both times even with that caveat!

So indeed, there’s little question I’m voting for Jovanka Beckles this time. I think she has the right values for this position, looking out for riders and for the drivers who are shouldering the burden of keeping the buses safely running in a time of pandemic.

Ben Fong seems fine, if you’re looking for more of a Berkeley YIMBY type than a Richmond DSA type. That said, even if I liked Fong and Beckles equally, any low profile race against an incumbent is a long shot; I’m more optimistic about the candidate who got 90 thousand votes two years ago than the one I hadn’t heard of before this race.

AC Transit Director, Ward 2 (not my district): JEAN WALSH!

Bonus endorsement!

I live a few blocks from the Ward 2 border; this district covers Oakland west of about 35th Avenue plus Emeryville, Piedmont, and a chunk of southeast Berkeley.

Like in the at-large race, the incumbent (Greg Harper) doesn’t seem to have a website or any other campaign. For some reason, he isn’t even writing that he’s the incumbent on the ballot, which makes it more believable that his first-time challenger has a chance.

That challenger is Jean Walsh, who happens to be a friend of mine! We’ve been on a few bike rides together over the past few years, and I’m excited that she’s running for this position, though I’m sad I don’t get to vote for her. She’s focused on getting a transbay bus lane and (like Fierce) improving communication. I wish I could vote for her!

BART Director, D7: LATEEFAH SIMON!

Lateefah Simon has been an excellent BART supervisor. (District 7 is a strange district that contains a huge chunk of the East Bay from West Oakland out to the Carquinez Bridge, and also a bunch of SF from the Bayview through eastern SOMA; SF has enough population for 2.5 districts so the map gets drawn this way.)

Sharon Kidd is running against her. Her entire campaign is about being opposed to any constraints on BART cops. No thanks.

BART Director, D1 (not my district): JAMIE SALCIDO

Bonus endorsement!

BART District 1 contains a big chunk of Contra Costa County, including Walnut Creek, Martinez, San Ramon, and parts of Lafayette and Concord. Its incumbent, Republican Debora Allen, is my least favorite elected official in the Bay Area. Any time I’ve read about any disagreement among the BART board, Debora Allen is there spouting something racist and/or classist. As far as I can tell, her belief is that BART should exist solely to transport rich folks between her suburbs and downtown SF during rush hour, and anybody else using BART is a problem. She’s never seen a BART cop action she doesn’t like (even speaking out claiming it was “humiliating to our police force” when BART apologized for violently arresting a black passenger for eating a sandwich on the platform).

Jamie Salcido appears to be a competent person running a real campaign for this seat. If you live in the district, please vote for Salcido to get Republican Debora Allen as far away from elected office as possible.

East Bay Regional Park District Director, Ward 1: Elizabeth Echols

Elizabeth Echols was appointed to this seat in January when the previous director retired due to illness. So she is only technically running for “re-election”.

Just from reading the two candidates’ campaign sites, Norman La Force seemed like the clear best candidate. Echols is a former Obama administration official whose career is interesting but not particularly focused on East Bay parks. Her endorsements come from a lot of people I respect but on the whole leans a little bit towards the “moderate” (for this area) side. La Force has a deep history of involvement with the East Bay parks, including being one of the main people behind the creation of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park (that wild park on the way to the Berkeley marina). He’s got the more “progressive” side of the endorsement slate, which is where I tend to lean especially on issues that aren’t directly housing-related. (Though… one of the big issues here is the development of Point Molate for housing, which he opposes. I don’t know where I fall on that project — it’s certainly not a very transit-accessible place to focus new development.)

Then I did more research on La Force. This blog post is a long anti-La Force polemic. For the most part I’m taking it with a grain of salt. It seems to mostly be a guy who has strong feelings against the removal non-native trees like eucalyptus; I’m not an expert on these issues but mostly am anti-eucalyptus. That said, some of the things La Force has done that are brought up in this post do trouble me. La Force’s SPRAWLDEF group sued to block the creation of the new Bay Trail segment behind Golden Gate Field (which I love), according to this Berkeleyside op-ed… although… maybe the op-ed is being disingenuous? Because the actual filing it links to doesn’t talk about the path at all. Maybe the path was just going to be collateral damage? Also, apparently when he boasts about doubling the size of the Point Isabel dog park, he’s hiding that he tried to stop it from being an off-leash dog park at all. I’m not really a dog person but I know that Point Isabel is a wildly popular off-leash dog park, and I do think there’s a place for off-leash dog parks even though I’d prefer that not all parks work that way. The people who don’t like La Force characterize him as being opposed to people using parks.

These Berkeleyside op-eds make similar points.

Certainly everything I know about La Force is from sources with strong opinions. And it’s disappointing that there’s no clear strong “pro Echols” argument out there, just pro and anti La Force.

There is a legitimate tension between prioritizing conservation vs access in parks, and I’m certainly sympathetic to the conservation side. But it like La Force so extremely in favor of protecting wildlife in urban parks to the detriment of any ability for people to use the parks. That might make sense for rural parks but not for urban parks (like, ones within sight of I-80)! I am voting for Echols.

Berkeley Mayor: Jesse Arreguin #1, Aidan Hill #2

I have not been super impressed by Jesse Arreguin’s tenure as mayor. He hasn’t been awful, but he hasn’t been that great too. On the basis of issues and policies alone, I’m pretty impressed by the platform of the one challenger who seems like he might stand even a small chance of winning, Wayne Hsiung. I found Hsiung to be pretty compelling when he knocked on our door and we talked for a bit.

Hsiung is best known as the founder of the vegan activist group Direct Action Everywhere, something he does not highlight as part of his campaign. I don’t have strong opinions in either direction about positions or activism of this group. But I am definitely concerned by accusations that DxE is an abusive cult, and about sketchy behavior toward a 16 year old when he was 27 (and Hsiung does not deny sending her these emails). Not to mention that he literally wrote a blog post five years ago urging his supporters to move to Berkeley to take over local government to pass local animal rights legislation. (Frankly if animal rights was one bullet among many in his website, I’d be less concerned about that; the fact that he pretends that animal rights isn’t part of his political goals for Berkeley when he wrote something like that just five years ago feels disingenuous and untrustworthy.) Maybe this is a conspiracy by the meat industry to make him look bad, but it’s concerning enough that I don’t think I’m comfortable voting for him despite liking his platform.

Aidan Hill looks like a fine person but does not seem prepared for this role. However, I’m more comfortable with Hill than Hsiung so will vote for them as #2.

I will probably vote for Arreguin and hope for more impressive candidates in four years.

Berkeley City Council, District 3: Ben Bartlett #1, Deborah Matthews #2

The two major candidates were also the two major candidates four years ago. I wasn’t ultra impressed by either of them four years ago (I did vote for Matthews), and that hasn’t changed.

I’m still underwhelmed by the idea of voting for Matthews, a literal realtor, for a housing-centric position (especially as my confidence in my YIMBY-ish tendencies has waned).

I still feel like Bartlett mostly just says what people want to hear. He keeps telling me he’s made a deal to get something to happen to the abandoned houses across the street any day now. It’s hard to forget the story I mentioned 4 years ago about him whispering in my ear that he actually supported the project he was speaking against that night (though hey, no lie, he did end up pushing to get the project through once elected, though the project seems to have fallen through after that anyway). As soon as he was elected to his first office he immediately began running for Assembly (and came in 8th in the primary). He tried to get out of a red light ticket by texting the chief of police. He’s got a weird blockchain obsession, though I don’t think he’s actually figured out a way to try to get the city to use it.

That said, I do usually agree with his actual City Council votes. Recently, I’m happy that he’s a cosponsor of Rigel Robinson’s proposal to break all traffic enforcement out of the Police Department into a new Department of Transportation. While many other countries work this way, it’s virtually unknown in the US, and is the sort of bold move Berkeley should be doing. (I emailed Matthews and she is vaguely positive on this policy but it doesn’t seem like it’s a priority, though she has other ideas about policing that are interesting.)

I am very slightly leaning towards Bartlett at this point, but not particularly excited about either major candidate. That said, I’m not going to abstain because I definitely want to make sure that there’s no chance that the third candidate, Orlando Martinez, gets elected. He’s part of the usual gang of anti-taxers who write the opposition statement on every otherwise non-controversial revenue-raising Berkeley proposition. While I doubt he has any chance of winning, expressing my disapproval of his brand of politics is important, so I definitely need to vote for Bartlett and Matthews in some order in this ranked-choice election rather than abstain.

At the end of the day, I don’t like Bartlett but I’m not going to vote for a challenger from the right. I’m voting Bartlett #1, Matthews #2, and hoping for more inspiring candidates next time.