Outgoing Councilman Kriss Worthington passes the baton to recent UC Berkeley graduate Rigel Robinson, one of two new City Council members and two incumbents now officially elected. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Berkeley’s election results have been all but certain since shortly after the Nov. 6 event but, a month after votes were cast, the outcomes are officially certified. Two new City Council members, including Berkeley’s youngest ever, will be sworn in this weekend, joining two re-elected incumbents. Other city offices are welcoming new and returning faces to the dais as well.

Berkeley’s turnout in the election was 73.7% this year (58,367 ballots cast from 79,154 registered voters). That marks an enormous increase on the 2014 mid-term election, when just over half of the registered voters in Berkeley came out to vote. This year’s figures barely fell short of the 2016 general election, when Berkeley turnout was just over 78%. Around 71% of the ballots cast this year were by mail.

City Council

Rashi Kesarwani was elected to replace Linda Maio in District 1 with 44% of the votes. Photo: Courtesy

The Berkeley City Council this week bid farewell to Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington, its two longest-serving members. Their retirement paved the way for two people newer to Berkeley politics to take the reins: Rashi Kesarwani in District 1 and Rigel Robinson in District 7.

In northwest Berkeley, Kesarwani ended up with 44% of the votes, to runner-up Igor Tregub’s 36%. Kesarwani, a former city housing and health commissioner, campaigned actively, running on a pro-building platform. In a victory statement a few days after the election, she said, “I know we can achieve our shared vision of a safer, more sustainable, and more welcoming city.”

The District 1 race was the only one where no candidate initially garnered more than 50% of the vote, activating the ranked-choice voting process.

In the campus and Southside neighborhoods, Robinson earned 56% of the vote and a reportedly unprecedented set of endorsements from every sitting council member. His jurisdiction was redistricted through a controversial 2014 process that built a “student supermajority district.” The 2018 UC Berkeley graduate fulfills a long-standing desire among many constituents, as well as Worthington himself, for a leader with a direct connection to the university. He is 22.

Robinson has expressed strong support for development throughout the city as well as heavier police oversight, suggesting he might not fit squarely into either of the two typical factions on council. He beat former business owner and activist Cec Rosales, who ended up with 34% of the vote.

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The two incumbents up for re-election held onto their seats — by wide margins. In the downtown District 4, Kate Harrison got 52% of the vote to Ben Gould’s 35%. District 8, in the Elmwood, unequivocally re-elected Lori Droste, giving her 56% of the vote to runner-up Mary Kay Lacey’s 30%.

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The City Council members will be sworn in during a private ceremony Saturday, and again publicly at their first meeting Tuesday.

School Board

Current and future Berkeley School Board members say goodbye to Josh Daniels and Karen Hemphill. From left: Daniels, Ka’Dijah Brown, Julie Sinai, Hemphill, Judy Appel, Donald Evans, Ty Alper, Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, Arvin Hariri. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

When Berkeley School Board incumbent and UC Berkeley law professor Ty Alper, former appointed member and LifeLong Medical executive Julie Sinai, and Richmond teacher and BUSD alumna Ka’Dijah Brown decided to run for the three available seats as a slate, their election was nearly guaranteed. The group was up against two repeat candidates, Abdur Sikder and Norma Harrison, who have consistently garnered a negligible number of votes, and Dru Howard, who was largely absent from the campaign trail.

Ultimately Alper and Brown were each elected with 31% of the vote and Sinai with 26% (voters could select up to three candidates).

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The first-ever election of an active K-12 teacher to the board — Berkeley teachers are not allowed to serve, so the eligible pool is small — could change the dynamic on the dais, amplifying educators’ voices as the district heads into another round of serious budget cuts and a public push by the teachers union for higher compensation.

On election night, Alper said he was thrilled to have a teacher on the board and praised Sinai’s “experience and wisdom.” Of his colleagues Josh Daniels and Karen Hemphill, longtime officials who decided not to run again in 2018, he said, “We’re losing two really important board members.”

Rent Board

The “Community Power” slate (from left) John Selawsky, Paola Laverde, Soli Alpert, Maria Poblet and James Chang was elected to the Rent Board. Photo: Community Power slate

The five Rent Stabilization Board candidates who ran as a pro-tenant slate were all elected — or mostly re-elected. Incumbent James Chang earned the most votes — 20% — followed by incumbents Paola Laverde, Maria Poblet, John Selawsky and newcomer Soli Alpert, an aide to Councilwoman Harrison. Former Rent Board member Judy Hunt was ahead of Alpert early on, but ended up with 10% of the vote to his 13%.

The purview of the board could have expanded after the election with the passage of California rent-control Proposition 10 and the related Berkeley Measure Q, but the state proposition failed, keeping restrictions on rent control in place.

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Berkeley City Auditor Jenny Wong in November 2018. Photo: Tracey Taylor
New Berkeley City Auditor Jenny Wong. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The least contentious race was that which determined the successor of veteran Berkeley auditor Ann-Marie Hogan. Jenny Wong, an auditor for the federal Government Accountability Office, won the seat with 92% of the vote — and the most votes received by any individual candidate in Berkeley this year — to Vladislav Davidzon’s 8%.

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Assembly District 15

Buffy Wicks greets supporters at her election night party. Photo: Pete Rosos

The controversial race for California’s 15th Assembly district ended in a solid victory for Buffy Wicks, a former Barack Obama campaign strategist and staffer, who got 54% of the vote. Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles ended up with 46%. The race drew a lot of attention — and accusations of carpet-bagging, anti-Semitism, corporate-shilling and divisiveness.

Wicks, who was sworn in Monday, ran a very active campaign including many house parties, and thanked supporters after the election, saying, “You knocked on doors, made phone calls, texted, posted, and hosted me in your living rooms.”

Beckles, who was in good spirits election night, later tweeted, “We are celebrating our victory in bringing together an unprecedented coalition of community in our East Bay movement to put people over profit.”

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Wicks replaces Tony Thurmond, who gave up the seat to run for state superintendent of public instruction. That nail-biting race started with a days-long lead for opponent Marshall Tuck, and was later tied exactly, but ended with a 51% victory for Thurmond, the favorite of Berkeley public school leaders. 

Berkeley measures

An early rendering of 1601 Oxford St. a project that will be partially funded by the city’s Housing Trust Fund. Image: HKIT Architects

All four local measures on the Berkeley ballot easily passed.

Measure R, supporting the city’s creation of a 30-year plan for Berkeley’s infrastructure, succeeded with a whopping 85% of the vote.

Measure O, the $135 million affordable housing bond, needed two-thirds of the vote, and got that and more, with 77% of voters approving the measure. Supporters of Measure O campaigned for Measure P as well, which passed with 72% of the vote, raising the transfer tax on the top third of property sales, for homelessness services.

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Measure Q passed with 71% of the vote, but is largely moot since the changes to Berkeley’s rent-control ordinance were mainly dependent on the passage of the state Proposition 10, which did not materialize.

Berkeley election results were certified Dec. 6.

Lance Knobel contributed reporting.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...