Armstrong to End Tenure With Berkeley City Council

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Berkeley City Councilmember Polly Armstrong announced Tuesday she will not run for re-election to her District 8 seat in November.

She often played the moderating force on a council dominated by progressives. But her frustration with the council's apathy and political contentiousness has left her unwilling to add to her eight-year council career, she said in an interview yesterday.

"The council has in the last year been more discouraging and dispiriting than in the previous years," Armstrong said. "With the animosity, the lack of collegial respect and the lack of involvement by some council members, it just doesn't feel grown-up or thoughtful or valuable most of the time."

Mayor Shirley Dean, one of Armstrong's strongest allies on the council, spoke only praise for Armstrong's service to the city.

"Polly was always a master at saying things in a very forthright way," Dean said. "She could be funny and incisive, and that's always a wonderful skill to have on the council. She frequently got it right."

Armstrong hails from Tibido, La., where she had an afternoon radio news show. Among the highlights of her journalism career, she said, was an interview with Dolly Parton.

She came to Berkeley with her husband in 1978, lured by the city's liveliness.

"The street scene was so exciting," she said. "There were old people and young people and crazy people and interesting people. I felt instantly at home."

Armstrong got a job as an assistant to a city council member soon after moving to Berkeley. She said she was always interested in politics, and called herself a "third generation uppity woman."

She gained experience on the council, working in District 8 through the fires of 1991 and the People's Park riots. After working for eight years under the decision-makers, though, she felt it was time to become a decision-maker herself.

In 1994, Armstrong was elected to represent District 8.

As a council member, Armstrong vehemently promoted the colorful atmosphere she says makes Berkeley so unique. She worked to revive Berkeley culture by voting to fund the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and other parts of the Arts District.

Armstrong's other proud accomplishments include supporting UC Berkeley's Class Pass and instituting curbside plastic recycling.

Armstrong said she thinks she will be remembered most for her opposition to the symbolic resolutions the council often passes, such as the recent condemnation of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan.

Ironically, many remember Armstrong as the author of a popular symbolic resolution. In response to Rev. Jerry Falwell's 1999 claim that Tinky Winky, a character from the children's TV show "Teletubbies" was a gay role model, Armstrong authored a resolution stating the city of Berkeley endorsed the character.

"She always said she didn't want to express opinions outside of Berkeley political issues, and then she did the council item to support the Teletubbies," says Councilmember Kriss Worthington, a frequent political opponent of Armstrong. "I thought it was the most hilarious moment of her career."

Armstrong is also quick to admit disappointment. Her inability to regulate the university's growth and to reduce traffic in her district contributed to her opting not to run for re-election, she said.

"You have to know when to start, and I think it's healthy to know when to quit," she says. "The district and the city both deserve somebody who's coming with fresh energy and new ideas."

She plans to get a job in business or community relations.


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