Berkeley Candidates Court Students for Votes, Support

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As students head to the polls this November, many will have the opportunity to influence local politics by voting for Berkeley mayor and City Council representatives.

This increase in potential student influence is prompting several candidates to seek student support by listening to their opinions on issues that most impact them, such as housing, safety and tuition costs.

Guy Ashley, spokesperson for the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, said more students are registering to vote and increasing their potential impact.

"During the first two elections of this year, there was a lot of activity on college campuses. UC Berkeley in particular definitely got a lot of students registered with registration drives on campus," he said. "We expect college campuses to be big contributors to the election in Alameda County."

In the mayoral race, former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean is running against incumbent Tom Bates. Both candidates stressed their desire to work with students.

Dean said she hopes to improve the relationship between the city and the campus on contentious issues such as the athletic center lawsuits.

"I think meeting with students is a very exciting thing to do," she said. "Sometimes, they're very much aware of what's going on in the city, and sometimes they haven't got a clue, but that doesn't matter. It's the energy the students bring to it and the ideas which are important, and I welcome that."

Bates, who has met with student groups throughout his career, also said that he enjoys working with students and has appointed some to government positions.

"I hope the campaign will have an active role on campus," he said. "Students are very important in this election-not just for my own election, but for the national election. I really want student voices involved in running city government."

Cal Berkeley Democrats President Molly Brennan said that a politician's history of working with students can pay off in the form of continued support.

"The most important thing to get support and get (students) to mobilize is just to reach out to them in the first place," she said. "A lot of times, the factor is who has been there for us as part of a community and part of local politics, rather than just reaching out as part of the election."

Some students also choose to support local candidates after working for national presidential campaigns.

"I've seen a surge in people who are interested in local elections," said Stephanie Chan, the California Students for Barack Obama communications coordinator. "Students worked their butts off for the primaries and then they were like, 'Wait a minute, what do I do now?'"

Making themselves visible can help bolster local candidates' support among students. Several students said they would only vote for local candidates if they were made aware of their platforms.

"I'm not going to vote (for mayor) because I'm not familiar with it and I don't want to vote in something I'm not familiar with," said UC Berkeley sophomore Alice Lee. "A lot of the local elections I don't hear anything about; they need to make themselves more visible around the area."

The race to fill late City Councilmember Dona Spring's seat in District 4 also has candidates seeking student support. District 4 includes the Downtown area around Shattuck Avenue, which is home to many students.

The five candidates in the race-Jesse Arreguin, Asa Dodsworth, Terry Doran, Jay Jockin and LA Wood-all said they plan to meet students in neighborhood events. The candidates pledged to revitalize the Downtown area with new businesses.

Wood said there are many benefits to a growing student interest in local politics.

"Students need to recognize the value of coming to a vibrant city like Berkeley and involving themselves in local issues," he said. "There are a lot of lessons to be learned outside the university."


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

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