Incumbent Laurie Capitelli during the Solano Stroll. Photo: Alan Tobey

Update 8:20pm: Sophie Hahn read to Berkeleyside from her prepared remarks made to the John George Democratic Club. Here’s what she said:

“I am emphatically opposed to the death penalty. The incumbent did not support a resolution to end the death penalty in Alameda County. I am in favor of equal pay for equal work. The incumbent did not support a resolution in favor of Obama’s Lily Ledbetter Act.”

Hahn said she does not ascribe views to incumbent Laurie Capitelli. “He speaks through his record,” she said.

Original story: The race for the District 5 City Council seat has taken an ugly turn, with supporters of incumbent Laurie Capitelli claiming that challenger Sophie Hahn and her surrogates are mischaracterizing his record.

In the last few weeks, Hahn or her supporters have been arguing implying that Capitelli is not pro-choice, favors the death penalty and opposes equal pay for equal work — because he didn’t take a stand on these issues when they came before the City Council in non-binding votes.

Capitelli unequivocally says he is pro-choice, against the death penalty and supports equal pay.

“As much as I’m a politician, when people are saying really untrue things about your positions, it hurts,” Capitelli said. “But I’ve really tried not to respond.”

Hahn allegedly made the claims at the endorsement meetings of both the John George Democratic Club and the National Women’s Political Caucus, according to several people who attended the meetings. Last night, at the Cal Berkeley Democrats endorsement meeting, Hahn’s surrogate repeated the charges, according to someone who attended. The John George Democratic Club endorsed Hahn, while the NWPC and Cal Democrats made no endorsement in the District 5 race. Hahn’s yard signs also proclaim her as “pro-choice Democrat for City Council”.

“This ‘pro-choice Democrat.’ I get asked by at least one person each day, ‘Aren’t you a pro-choice Democrat?’ And I reply, ‘Yes, I am,’” Capitelli said. “What she’s done, is she’s taken some abstention votes that I took over the last eight years and turned each of them into an issue. She stood up and told people that I was in favor of the death penalty. And she told people that I wasn’t in favor of equal pay for equal work.”

Hahn’s yard signs proclaim her as a “pro-choice Democrat”. Photo: Lance Knobel
Hahn’s yard signs proclaim her as a “pro-choice Democrat”. Photo: Lance Knobel

Hahn said the reason she calls herself a pro-choice Democrat is that it’s a “statement about my core values. These are core issues for me, that I’ve been involved in my whole life,” she said.

Hahn said she has not specified Capitelli’s policies, but has pointed to City Council votes where he abstained on issues, such as a December 8, 2008 vote on ending the death penalty in Alameda County. Capitelli and Council Member Gordon Wozniak both abstained on the vote, which was taken without discussion as the last item of business in a 4.5-hour council meeting.

Hahn points to a March, 2008 abstention on a resolution by Kriss Worthington “Opposing ‘The Ban on Killing a Viable Unborn Baby Prior to Birth’ Act” by Capitelli, as showing he is not pro-choice saying she would have supported the resolution.

“Quite frankly, I think when you hold office your voting record is something you should be proud of,” Hahn said. “It’s your record of service. I feel a voting record is something a candidate should be able to speak to. But that’s it. It’s not a characterization. It’s pointing out a vote. I’m pointing to his voting record and where I would have voted differently.”

Capitelli said he could not recall every vote, but that he sometimes abstains when he thinks resolutions are poorly drafted or that inadequate discussion has been held. Capitelli has also been vocal at meetings, together with some other members, about his view that the council should not devote time to issues outside its authority.

Sophie Hahn at her campaign kick-off event at Cafe Clem downtown

Hahn insists that her focus is on her own policies, and not on her opponent.

“Certainly our campaign is being conducted very respectfully,” she said. “We are running a positive campaign. We are not engaging in the kind of behavior I have seen directed towards us. We’re really just connecting with voters, putting out our positive message. Our literature is all positive.

“I really prefer not to characterize the other candidate.”

Julie Holcomb, who attended the NWPC endorsement meeting and is a Capitelli supporter, said Hahn’s claims that she’s just pointing out a voting record is false.

“She’s knowingly lying about his views, and then denying that she did it,” Holcomb said. “But these aren’t really district issues, so it’s character assassination. There always are real issues to differ on. It’s outrageous.”

Local resident Martina Reaves has circulated an open letter to Hahn on what she terms a “Not in My Backyard” moment.  In it, she asks Hahn to explain her statement that Capitelli is not pro-choice. Hahn replied: “Neither I nor anyone from the campaign has discussed his position on Choice. His Council voting record includes an abstention on an item that opposed the placement of a strongly anti-Choice measure on the State Ballot and I have referenced that.”

Reaves was not assuaged: “Sophie, your sign, your email to me, the statements you made at your booth at the Stroll — all imply that Laurie is anti-choice. Say what you will about Laurie’s abstention, but it’s simply not a convincing piece of evidence that Laurie is anti-choice. His explanation makes complete sense.”

In addition to the allegations of character attack, both Capitelli and Hahn say they have had huge problems with vandalizing of yard signs. Capitelli said at least 100 signs have been destroyed or stolen. Hahn said 40 or 50 of her signs had been destroyed.

Capitelli won District 5 re-election in 2008 by defeating Hahn 4,299 to 3,898.

Berkeleyside launches one-stop, non-partisan voting guide [09.24.12]
Berkeley election activity begins in earnest [09.04.12]
Berkeleyside’s approach to local politics [08.22.12]
Roster of 2012 Berkeley candidates firms up [08.13.12]
Capitelli, Bates, lead in campaign fundraising [08.06.12]
Sophie Hahn announces candidacy for City Council [05.09.12]

Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to November 6.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...