UC Berkeley Alumnus Joins City Council

Photo: Jesse Arreguin was sworn in as city council member for District 4 during a short ceremony. Arreguin is the first Hispanic person to be elected to the Berkeley city council.
Anna Hiatt/Staff
Jesse Arreguin was sworn in as city council member for District 4 during a short ceremony. Arreguin is the first Hispanic person to be elected to the Berkeley city council.

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UC Berkeley Alumnus Joins City Council

Amy Brooks discusses Jesse Arreguin's new position.


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Jesse Arreguin was still in elementary school when the late Councilmember Dona Spring was sworn in as the representative of District 4 in the Berkeley City Council in 1992.

But Wednesday evening, Arreguin was sworn in to fill Spring's seat after winning an election battle with several candidates almost twice his age. Arreguin is the first Hispanic elected to the council, and, at age 24, its youngest member in recent memory.

Arreguin points to his record of public service and passion for politics from a young age as reasons for his achievements.

"I get very upset by the injustices that happen around the world," he said. "I felt like there was something I should be doing to try to change that, so rather than be frustrated, I got involved."

Arreguin, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2007, has served on Berkeley's Rent Stabilization Board and the Zoning Adjustments Board, among other positions.

Several UC Berkeley students have made unsuccessful runs at council seats in the past, such as Andy Katz, who ran for the District 8 seat in 2002. Arreguin said working on Katz's campaign served as his introduction to Berkeley politics.

Katz said the debate during his candidacy centered on his lack of "life experience" compared to opponent Gordon Wozniak.

"I think Jesse was able to overcome that by talking with voters on the issues and appealing to what mattered to them," Katz said.

Henry Brady, a UC Berkeley political science professor, said younger candidates can be at a disadvantage because they lack deep connections within their community.

"Local politics requires very substantial contacts within the community," he said. "Those contacts often arrive as people have children and get involved in the politics of the community."

Arreguin focused on face-to-face meetings with residents. Terry Doran, Arreguin's main rival, was seen as the favorite after receiving an endorsement from Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

"We were really the underdog in this election-it really was a David and Goliath battle," Arreguin said. "We weren't supported by the main political establishment, we didn't have all the money, we were not the favorite going into the race; the fact that we were able to change all that and win by such a large margin really speaks to the power of grassroots activism."

The fact that Arreguin is the council's first Hispanic member also makes him proud. Berkeley's population is about 12 percent Hispanic, according to government estimates from 2006.

With Arreguin on the council, dynamics will likely remain the same. Arreguin was seen by many as the heir to Spring's seat because he shares many of her progressive ideas, while Doran was seen as more of a moderate.

"Dona was a very independent voice," Arreguin said. "I'm going to push like Dona to really make progressive change in our city."

Councilmember Darryl Moore believes Arreguin's presence on the council will not change the debate significantly because he will take many of the same positions as Spring.

"I don't think it's going to change much," he said. "I think Jesse will be just as progressive as Dona was."

One of the biggest issues in the district is downtown redevelopment. Arreguin favors limiting the height of new buildings, a practice Doran does not support.

Arreguin said his victory proved voters support his plan for Downtown.

"My victory in this election shows that the voters of District 4 do not want 18-story buildings in their downtown and they want a more community-based approach to planning," he said.

Arreguin said he hopes to inspire more Hispanics and students to become involved in the political process.

"I really want to use my office as a springboard for getting Hispanics involved in government, for getting young people and students involved in government," he said. "Because of the historical position that I'm in, I have a real obligation to make sure that I'm not the last."

Tags: ELECTIONS 2008, STUDENTS, CITY COUNCIL


Amy Brooks covers city government.Contact her at [email protected]



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