In Berkeley’s District 2 City Council Race, Cheryl Davila Seeks to Champion a Movement. Her Opponent Aims to Co-Opt It.
This past summer, we experienced the largest period of nationwide protest in over 50 years. Centered around the experiences and leadership of black people, a multiracial rebellion took to the streets demanding that our country invest in public health and truly effective public safety rather than racist police violence and corporate greed. As November approaches, so many of us are seeking to advance these aspirations further with our votes. Yet we must work hard to discern which politicians are actually with us and which candidates are co-opting the spirit of the movement to gain power.
In 2016 Cheryl Davila, a working class black woman, was elected by her West Berkeley community to become the most progressive voice on the Berkeley City Council. Today, she is challenged by Alex Sharenko, a young, white newcomer who positions himself as a Black Lives Matter candidate. Yet he is the preferred choice of big real estate in a historically black and rapidly gentrifying district. He has also opposed efforts to reallocate a truly meaningful portion of our city’s bloated police budget and has refused to hold the Berkeley Police Chief accountable for suppressing data on racial bias in the BPD. Most of all, Sharenko’s choice to run against the councilmember who most embodies this movement’s ethos should delegitimize his claim to represent it and his candidacy as a whole. At best, his presence in the race is an example of a class-privileged white man who falsely thinks he knows what’s good for a community that is not his own. Yet good intentions or not, his election would result in the maintenance of a status quo in which working class black residents have their own community stolen from them through mass eviction and incarceration. Sharenko’s central campaign tactic? Misrepresenting Davila’s positions, policies, votes, and impact on the district.
Sharenko exploits residents’ genuine desire for safety and uses Davila as a scapegoat for crime. He blames her for the district’s recent uptick in crime without acknowledging the financial hardship and mental health challenges arising in this pandemic as root causes. The reality is that Cheryl Davila has proposed a gun buyback program and has worked with the local community to launch “Voices Against Violence,” a youth violence prevention program that has just completed its first year.
Davila’s opponent is also smearing her efforts to fight for the rights of Berkeley’s working class residents. Sharenko parrots the real estate industry talking point that big increases in market rate housing will drive down overall housing costs and criticizes Davila for taking a different approach. Berkeley and the Bay Area as a whole has an abundance of expensive, market rate housing units that have remained empty because so many residents cannot afford them. This is why Davila insists that 100% of new housing in her district be affordable housing. Sharenko has also knocked Davila for pushing to increase city councilmember salaries from $39,000 to a living wage, saying that doing so amidst budget shortfalls and a homelessness crisis would be irresponsible. What he doesn’t realize is that this move will finally make the city council accessible to the disproportionately black working class of Berkeley — a city with one of the largest racial wealth gaps in the country. These residents are also the people most capable of actually understanding and advocating for the needs of marginalized members of their community.
Too often, California politicans use progressive rhetoric to mask status quo agendas. What sets Davila apart is her courage to do something different. It is this courage that drives her effort to move 50% of Berkeley’s Police budget into services of community uplift that would actually address the causes of crime. It is this courage that leads her to fight to make this city carbon neutral by 2030. And it is this courage that allows her to bring the demands of our movements to the halls of power. Let us know courage when we see it and not allow deceptive politicians to lead us astray.