Impact of Endorsements On Council Race Uncertain
Friday, August 27, 2010
Category: News > City > City Council
The race to fill Berkeley City Council seats is more unpredictable this year than in the past as the city's new ranked-choice voting system may have changed the weight carried by endorsements from labor unions, political groups, individuals and other organizations.
Fourteen candidates are running for seats in Districts 1, 4, 7 and 8, occupied by incumbents Linda Maio, Jesse Arreguin, Kriss Worthington and Gordon Wozniak, respectively. As the Nov. 2 elections approach - Berkeley's first under the new voting system - endorsements may become increasingly important to building a strong coalition of support.
Under the new system, voters rank up to three candidates, who must receive a majority of votes in order to win. Once the first-choice votes are tallied, if no winner emerges, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. The eliminated candidate's first-ranked votes then go to the second-choice candidate. The process repeats if the condition to win is not yet met.
Mayor Tom Bates said endorsements give voters a "frame of reference" for where a candidate lies on the political spectrum but added that no one endorsement defines a campaign.
'A Fairly New Phenomenon'
The introduction of the ranked-choice voting system creates the "fairly new phenomenon" of dual endorsements, which were possible - but far less prevalent - before this election, according to Bates.
Bates, who has co-endorsed District 4 candidates Jim Novosel and Eric Panzer and District 7 candidates George Beier and Cecilia Rosales, said dual endorsements increase the chances of unseating incumbents Arreguin and Worthington.
Wozniak said the new system "levels the playing field" for challengers but that dual endorsements may allow them to "gang up on the incumbent."
However, Worthington, who has been solely endorsed by several liberal interest groups including the Sierra Club and the Black Women Organized for Political Action, said endorsing multiple candidates increases confusion and "dilutes the weight of an endorsement."
Newcomers at a Disadvantage
Relationships between incumbents, community members, organizations and elected officials pose a challenge for some candidates who may lack a track record and have little face recognition in the public sphere.
Maio said winning endorsements is more difficult for her three opponents - Jasper Kingeter, Merilee Mitchell and Anthony DiDonato - because the voters may be unaware of their accomplishments and capabilities.
"You're really running on your record," Maio said. "The proof is in the pudding. People know if they support you or if they don't support you based on what you've done."
Kingeter said it is "impossible" for District 1 challengers to get endorsed by some groups because Maio is "locked in" with several organizations and elected officials who have known her since she took office in 1992.
"I'm not going to have the backing of some senator because .... I'm just entering this world," he said. "It's really hard being a newcomer because you have these people who have been there for way too long, and they're just buddy-buddy."
Andy Katz, political chair for the Northern Alameda County Group at the Sierra Club, said the club's guidelines encourage the group to endorse previously endorsed incumbents with commendable environmental records. He added the process is meant to reinforce "public officials who do the right thing."
"It would be difficult for a candidate running against a previously endorsed incumbent with a good environmental record unless they can show they're viable," he said, adding that the club rarely gives out dual endorsements.
This year, the club has endorsed Maio for District 1 and Worthington for District 7 with pending endorsements for Districts 4 and 8.
Beier, who is running for the District 7 seat for the third time, said his experience with city elections has made it easier for him to build a large list of endorsements this time around.
"You have to prove viability and last time I ... proved that I was a really viable candidate," Beier said. In 2006, he lost the election by a margin of about 200 votes.
He added that more people have endorsed him in this election because people are ready for change.
Invaluable Personal Contact
While endorsements allow voters to catch a glimpse of candidates' values and accomplishments, candidates agreed that the experience of meeting prospective officials in person is what decides votes.
"In Berkeley, endorsements as a whole are less significant ... because Berkeley is such a small place that (voters) generally have a chance to meet the candidates and figure it out for themselves," Worthington said. "Endorsements have less impact than personal knowledge that people gain."
Stephanie Baer covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]
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