Op-ed: Laurie Capitelli? Progressive leadership?

— “I renege.” — Laurie Capitelli, May 6, 2014 Berkeley City Council meeting.

— Renege (verb): “to refuse to do something that you promised or agreed to do.” —Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

In campaign mailings Laurie Capitelli is bragging about being “a progressive leader” who “raised the minimum wage to protect working families.” But those of us who were there know the real truth. For Mr. Capitelli to claim credit for minimum wage “leadership” is simply outrageous— and a complete distortion of reality.

Three years ago, citizen activists along with the city’s Labor Commission worked with Mr. Capitelli and other council members over a period of many months to fashion a progressive piece of legislation that would have raised the minimum wage to the level of the city’s living wage.

I was witness to no fewer than five separate occasions when Mr. Capitelli pledged to support a strong version of the Labor Commission’s proposed legislation. On the day of the very first city council meeting on the minimum wage, after making excuses for why the Council would not be taking up vote at that meeting, he personally told me “I give you my word” that he would support the Labor Commission’s draft at the very next council meeting. This was a version of the legislation that he himself had worked to fashion and had said he would vote for.

But within days of that meeting, he began dodging my calls and then at the very next council meeting he led the charge to defeat the very compromise that he had pledged numerous times to champion. His excuse? He simply said “I renege.” Period. In other words, he simply went back on his word.

Far from taking leadership to build a consensus, he dragged his feet for 2 more years until the Council finally voted for a $15 wage— but only after they were facing a much stronger ballot initiative put forward by community activists.That Mr. Capitelli is now taking credit for “leading” on legislation that he resisted for years is simply Orwellian.

I can respect people with whom I disagree politically. I can work with and compromise on challenging issues. That’s how a democracy is supposed to work. But someone who says they are working in good faith to come to agreement, who then repeatedly pledges to stick to agreements they make, but then who turns around and betrays the very process and outcome they said they would support— progressive or moderate or conservative— such a person is not my first choice to lead our city.

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Long-time Berkeley resident Nicky Gonzalez Yuen was an active organizer for Berkeley’s minimum wage campaign, is a political science instructor at De Anza College, and has been an elected Trustee on the Peralta Community College Board since 2004.