Laura Babitt and Ana Vasudeo
Laura Babitt and Ana Vasudeo won the Berkeley School Board election on Nov. 3, 2020 to replace retiring incumbents Judy Appel and Beatriz Leyva-Cutler. Photos: Courtesy

Laura Babitt and Ana Vasudeo — the two frontrunners in the Berkeley School Board race — will replace two retiring incumbents on Dec. 9 after securing a nearly equal share of votes on election night.

Both first-time candidates, Babitt and Vasudeo won over voters with their extensive leadership experience in BUSD parent organizations and organizing committees.

The race focused on school reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, student safety amid reports of sexual harassment, budget-balancing during the pandemic and ongoing discussions of equity in education.

“I think voters resonated with our experience and our qualities … especially during this time when re-engineering our schools is ever before us,” Babitt told Berkeleyside Wednesday afternoon. “We’re in a new day, a new time.”

Despite announcing her candidacy later in the cycle than Vasudeo, Babitt was pleasantly surprised to see a larger share of votes with 17,151 to Vasudeo’s 16,741.

“I’m thrilled that Berkeley voters elected two moms of color. Women of color are so underrepresented in politics, it speaks true to our values as a city for equity,” said Vasudeo, who spent the previous evening celebrating results with the apparent District 3 winner, Terry Taplin, — also a first-time candidate.

“Not only were we two moms of color, we’re both well-qualified and connected and have been deeply involved with our schools,” Babitt added.

Michael Chang, Babitt and Vasudeo’s main challenger, had secured 20% of the votes to the winners’ 33% by Wednesday afternoon. He was endorsed by both Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and Judy Appel, who are retiring, and announced his candidacy shortly after Appel announced she would not be running for reelection. Three remaining candidates, Jose Luis Bedolla, Esfandiar Imani and Norma Harrison, each gained 6% or fewer votes.

Michael Chang at a viewing party waiting for results against Laura Babitt and Ana Vasudeo
School Board candidate Michael Chang at a viewing party on Nov. 3, 2020, before the first round of results came in for local elections. Photo: Supriya Yelimeli

At a watch night party in his backyard on Tuesday night, Chang said he was proud of his largely youth-led campaign, but he was prepared to run again in two years if the night wasn’t successful.

“Berkeley is the place I came to 25 years ago from the Midwest, and I really truly believe that this is the city that can be a national model for change, and for equitably based practices and policies,” said Chang, who will have children in the school district for four more years. “I want to continue to serve the city in any way that I can.”

Both Vasudeo and Babitt said they’ll spend the next several months speaking with Appel and Leyva-Cutler to glean what they learned from years on the board, as well as to understand the logistics of their roles and different school board committees.

“I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and help our schools plan for reopening, because I think that’s gonna be a big chunk of our work right now, and it’s something I’m really invested in on a professional level,” said Vasudeo, who has already begun having meetings with groups like Latinos Unidos de Berkeley to prepare for the upcoming year.

The winners were each endorsed by the entire school board during their campaigns, and Babitt said soon-to-be board President Ty Alper was the first one to call her up on Tuesday night and tell her about the election win.

“I think we’re gonna be a very well-balanced committee with everyone’s expertise and everyone’s passion. We’ve all been — over the last years — been able to say, ‘hey, we agree, we disagree, how can we agree to come to the best solution?’ So I’m looking forward to that,” Babitt said.

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Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...