Campaign Notebook: Mayoral Candidates Muddle Differences at Forum

Wendy Lee covers the City Council. E-mail her at [email protected].

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Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean glanced at her watch and wiped a bead of sweat off her face.

It was 7:30 p.m. and halfway into Tuesday's one-hour forum against former Assemblymember and current mayoral candidate Tom Bates.

The forum, sponsored by the Berkeley Ecological and Safety Transportation Coalition, covered issues ranging from traffic to parking.

Bates spoke with charisma for most of the debate, advocating "communitywide efforts," urging the city to create more committees to take on city issues such as air pollution in West Berkeley and bicycling.

Dean, however, cited her eight-year experience as mayor and appeared to be more educated on Berkeley history, citing past City Council bills that had already addressed Bates' suggestions.

With television cameras rolling, both candidates smiled and spoke with confidence. Bates was particularly active under the spotlight, using significant hand motions as he spoke.

But off air, it was a different story.

Both candidates seemed distracted and tired while off camera. Bates often maintained a blank expression when the camera focused on Dean. Meanwhile, Dean kept her arms crossed during the entire debate.

Along with similar off-camera appearances, both candidates seconded virtually all the issues the other addressed in the forum.

When Bates advocated encouraging UC Berkeley to buy organic foods for its dining facilities, Dean agreed it was a good idea.

When Dean advocated expanding AC Transit operating hours and installing more bicycle racks, Bates agreed it was a good idea.

Both hope to slow down city traffic, improve public transportation, and promote bicycling.

Undecided voters seemed unswayed by either candidate.

"I don't actually see that much difference between the two, so I'm still not sure who I'm going to vote for," said Berkeley resident Nancy Lee.

Improving Berkeley traffic was a central issue of the forum.

"The automobile is the single most cynical problem in our town," Bates said.

He advocated that UC Berkeley faculty and staff establish a carpool Web site indicating shared transportation schedules and locations in order to reduce traffic.

Dean seconded the motion, suggesting reducing the parking rates for electric cars in public garages while raising parking rates for cars running on gas.

Dean added she "would like to make transportation fun," proposing a free trolley for city residents.

Bates said he would like to have more staff members work on improving conditions for bicyclists, developing the city's relationship with the university and reaching out to farmers who grow organic foods.

At a "forum on the arts" Saturday, both candidates said they favored more parking Downtown. Bates, however, was hesitant Tuesday night to discuss increasing parking spaces.

Toward the end of the forum, Dean appeared defensive to some Berkeley residents in a minor disagreement on speed limits.

"I don't think I like 35 miles per hour, Tom. I like 25 miles per hour," Dean retorted to Bates' earlier suggestion on speed limits. "I am concerned to go 35 miles per hour. It's too easy to go to 40."

Ironically, Bates, who did not look Dean in the eye and spent more time preparing his responses than listening to Dean's statements, advocated communication between the City Council and city residents.


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