If you ever drive around Berkeley, chances are you've seen stop signs tagged by a politically conscious vandal so that they read "STOP DRIVING." Turns out Berkeley police think that, at least in a few of those instances, the vandal is mayoral candidate and bicycling enthusiast Zachary RunningWolf Brown.
RunningWolf is awaiting trial in Alameda County Superior Court on a misdemeanor vandalism charge for allegedly defacing a stop sign at Fourth Street and Bancroft Way last New Year's Eve. But his legal troubles don't end there.
Police also nabbed him back in December 2005 for allegedly spray-painting other stop signs, a transgression the district attorney's office says violated the terms of RunningWolf's probation. That's right, probation. The 43-year-old candidate was on probation for a 2003 misdemeanour conviction.
According to court documents and police reports, RunningWolf's December run-in with the cops went down like this: A witness driving westbound spotted a guy with a ponytail and a red bandanna spraying the word "driving" on a stop sign at Bancroft and West. The witness called the cops; while waiting for them to come, the witness watched the ponytail guy tag another stop sign. When two officers later confronted RunningWolf, he was "immediately hostile to us, saying we were racially profiling him, that he had been stopped before and harassed," the police report says. "He stated several times he was an 'Indian Warrior' and would 'put a foot in our ass.'" He also denied defacing the signs, even though police spotted a stencil that said "DRIVING" sticking out of his courier bag, and found a can of white spray paint in the bag.
A few weeks later, another cop on patrol spotted RunningWolf kneeling near a stop sign on Fourth Street putting a "DRIVING" stencil in his bag. If that wasn't incriminating enough, the sign was freshly spray-painted and RunningWolf had white paint on his fingers.
A former member of Berkeley's Peace and Justice Commission, RunningWolf announced his candidacy for mayor in March (although he's still registered to vote in Oakland). In an April 28 op-ed in the Berkeley Daily Planet, he dissed Mayor Tom Bates as a "career politician" who cut a "sweetheart deal to sell out downtown Berkeley to his alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley."
RunningWolf is a vocal biodiesel advocate who fourteen months ago embarked on a 2,400-mile bike trip to spread the message of energy independence to Indian reservations across the Southwest. One Web site promoting the ride says, "RunningWolf believes that the Creator is sending a message to Native people to ultimately stop driving cars and to start walking, running, and riding bicycles."
Feeder tried to reach the candidate for comment, but found no working phone number for him and couldn't track him down at the Berkeley co-op address he gave to police. So, RunningWolf, dude, if you ever stop running, give me a call.
Foiled by a Cupcake?
D'oh! Will joke votes cast for Homer Simpson be counted in the oh-so-close Oakland mayoral race and force a runoff between frontrunner Ron Dellums and Ignacio De La Fuente in November? That's what advisers to Dellums who at Feeder's deadline was within half a percentage point of winning the election outright were asking county election officials early this week.
As of this writing, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters was including 108 ballots cast for, ahem, unqualified write-in candidates in the overall tally of votes in the mayor's race. Every election season, mischievous voters pencil in the names of candidates not on the ballot, nominating everyone from fictional characters like Homer Simpson, Bugs Bunny, and George Bush to inanimate objects like Cupcake and Al Gore. In the past, Alameda County has included these ballots in the overall totals without controversy. But this time there are so few votes keeping Dellums from an outright victory that his backers are demanding county election officials disqualify the write-ins. "These are not valid votes and they should not be counted," says Dan Siegel, an attorney working on behalf of the Dellums campaign.
County officials still hadn't figured out whether the write-ins should count. "It's an open question right now," county counsel Richard Winnie said Monday afternoon, as thousands of remaining provisional ballots were still being counted. Winnie hopes his office will render an opinion this week, and is researching a similar situation last year in Modesto in a super-close city council contest. That race went to a runoff because the county clerk counted 243 votes cast for unqualified write-ins including Elvis and Tinkerbell.
Had those votes been nixed, frontrunner Kristin Olsen would have won outright, but with them in this mix, she only got 49.86 percent of the vote. The city of Modesto tried to stop the runoff, saying it was unnecessary, but a Stanislaus County judge refused to call it off since neither of the affected candidates was a party to the city's lawsuit.
Siegel insists that state election law is clearly on Dellums' side, and expects that county officials will ultimately agree. "If the registrar doesn't come to that conclusion on his own, maybe the court will have to help him reach that conclusion," he said.
The point also could be moot: As the count stood at press time, throwing out the write-ins wouldn't put Dellums over the top. By the by, Dellums spokesman Mike Healy says the campaign won't ask for a recount should the former congressman not clear the 50 percent mark.
Oakland Auditor Roland Smith says he's surprised that none of his fellow elected officials joined his crusade to make city bureaucrats refund 1,291 car owners $48 each for erroneous parking tickets that's about $62,000 in bunk fines. The drivers were slapped for parking in street-sweeping zones on Presidents' Day and, as previously reported in this space, Smith had argued that city regulations barred street-sweeping tickets on designated holidays. The parking people, however, countered that Presidents' Day wasn't one of those holidays. So Smith took his case to City Attorney John Russo.
Strangely, Russo's office agreed with Smith, but said the city wasn't obligated to refund tickets not challenged by affected car owners within the fifteen-day appeal period. Smith then argued that the auditor's office had appealed those tickets on everyone's behalf within the fifteen days, but Russo's office rejected the argument.
This being election season and all, ya think someone either Russo or a city councillor would have appealed to the voting masses by refunding the tickets, which, after all, were issued in error. Russo, by the by, lost his bid for the Assembly last week. And City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente is on pace to finish a distant second behind Ron Dellums. "I think De La Fuente should have jumped on the bandwagon," Smith sniffs.
Then again, maybe the issue wasn't so potent: Smith's refund crusade didn't even ensure him a victory at the polls last week. He'll face a November runoff against newcomer Courtney Ruby.
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