Berkeley native Sean Barry has filed to run for the District 7 City Council seat in November, likely challenging 18-year incumbent Kriss Worthington.
At 27, Barry, an alum of UC Berkeley and Berkeley High School, would be the youngest person on the current council. He is presenting himself as a necessary liaison between the campus and the city at large. In a newly redrawn district that is now about 86 percent students, that could make the difference in November.
“It’s been nice to see more students in the last few years join commissions,” Barry said. “I can’t pretend I’m as connected to the campus as I was a few years ago, but I think what I can offer as a candidate is an understanding of the perspective of being a student, but also a broader perspective on the city. That’s what I’ve heard a lot of students say they want — to feel like they have a conduit in City Hall, and a pathway to getting involved.”
Barry, a spokesman for the insurance company Blue Shield, was still an undergraduate student when he first got involved with city politics. As an editor for the Daily Californian, he covered city meetings and got to know the council members. With Mayor Tom Bates’ blessing, Barry applied to sit on the Waterfront Commission (since merged with Parks), which he later chaired.
Councilman Daryl Moore later appointed Barry to the Planning Commission and to the Community Health Commission, where he was elected vice chair and wrote an item that would raise awareness of Covered California eligibility. It was passed unanimously by the council.
“My orientation on that commission has been finding items that can go to the council, get passed, and have an immediate impact,” Barry said.
Barry’s platform, detailed on his website, emphasizes three priorities in the district, and three in the city. He wants to tackle the growing scarcity of affordable housing near campus, beginning by raising awareness of existing tenant protections in Berkeley. Barry referred to the new housing development downtown as “positive momentum.”
Barry said he would also address public safety in the district that contains the city’s second highest-crime area. “It’s an issue of building trust between the campus community and Berkeley police,” he said, explaining that many crimes — especially sexual assault among students — go unreported because of a lack of awareness or confidence in the process.
The third piece of Barry’s district-specific platform is the revitalization of Telegraph Avenue. He wants to loosen restrictions on types of businesses permitted in the commercial district, and pointed to Peet’s Coffee as a project that had overwhelming support yet required exemptions from multiple city ordinance quotas in order to open.
“A filled storefront is better than a vacancy,” he said. “There have been some positive developments in terms of allowing for additional density both on the corridor and in the current district. So, adding some housing units and adding office units, building foot traffic so you have a base clientele for these often very small businesses.”
Barry’s triple-pronged citywide plan includes forging partnerships with health nonprofits, working to boost job opportunities in the city by supporting corporations such as Bayer that offer apprenticeships to students, and harnessing student energy to ensure that the city meets the Climate Action Plan goals.
“So many people who live in this district don’t drive, and live close to where they go to school and shop,” Barry said. “Those things can contribute toward these goals, and hopefully we can help to advance that through things like solar financing, and doing a better job at meeting Zero Waste goals.”
Currently, the only other candidate vying for the seat is Worthington, who has said in the past that he would drop out of the race if a progressive UC Berkeley student wanted to replace him.
“If none of the progressive students that I think are qualified are going to be a candidate, then I am preparing to jump in,” Worthington said.
The incumbent said both the endorsements Barry has made and those he’s received “indicate that he supports a certain brand,” which Worthington referred to as “the pro-landlord and pro-Chamber of Commerce side of Berkeley politics.”
Barry has the support of Bates and Council members Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf, and Gordon Wozniak. Barry has also endorsed Worthington’s former opponent George Beier, who is running in District 8, along with numerous other candidates.
“I don’t have an awful lot to say about him,” Worthington said. “Nobody that I’ve talked to has seen him out there taking a strong stand for major issues.”
Safeena Mecklai, last year’s Associated Students of University of California external affairs vice president, begged to differ.
“Sean’s been really proactive about reaching out to student leaders and hearing their thoughts about how he should move forward,” said Mecklai, who served on the Health Commission with Barry last year.
She said his platform addresses students’ major concerns.
“Questions about what students want are often answered by non-students,” Mecklai said. “So I think it’s important for students to get a more vocal representation when it comes to business on Telegraph, especially when it comes to what kinds of businesses are brought in, but also lighting, safety and cleanliness.”
Mecklai was involved in the creation of the Berkeley Student District Campaign (BSDC) redistricting map, which a judge approved in April after a protracted and bitter battle. The map does not stray significantly from the previous district boundaries, but includes more students. The district now stretches south from Hearst Avenue, and has an eastern boundary on Piedmont Avenue, encompassing most of the Greek system, Southside student residences, and parts of the Willard and LeConte neighborhoods.
An intern in Worthington’s office created an alternate map that included additional student housing areas, including the International House, and some typically progressive coops and neighborhoods that are excluded from the BSDC map.
“I was supportive of the Berkeley Student District Campaign, and I think it’s a good outcome of that process,” Barry said. “I think it’s important to keep in mind that there are more students than you could possibly fit in one district map.”
Barry said he won’t comment on the major differences between his and Worthington’s politics and platforms until it is clear who the final candidates are.
“It’s probably premature to make any comparative statements,” he said.
But he stressed his connection to Cal students.
“I’m not running because I want to do this for 20 years,” he said. “It’s a young district. At a certain point, I would want to pass it on to somebody else who was younger and ready to take the torch and run with it. I’m doing this now because I think it’s an opportunity in this district at this time.”
If Barry is elected, he would be the youngest member of the current City Council. Jesse Arreguín was 24 when he was elected to the council and Nancy Skinner was 25, and still a student, when she was elected in 1984.