At Least It's Not Theft 

Berkeley mayor gets an earful after confessing to avoiding Street Spirit vendors.

Bates and the Press II

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates spent an hour talking on KPFA last Sunday, absorbing abuse from listener call-ins and generating a fair amount of local controversy just by opening his mouth.

"People feel uncomfortable being yelled at and constantly being assaulted," Bates said on Sunday with Peter Laufer, though he wasn't defending himself in this case. He was referring to "problematic street behavior" he says is hurting business in Berkeley. "As an example, I go to the Berkeley Bowl and I shop there and there's a fellow always there on the corner right by Shattuck who's selling the 'Street Sheet,' and he's very pleasant — but I don't like to walk by there and tell him I'm not going to buy it. So I walk through the parking lot, just to avoid that."

A caller from Oakland was disappointed and offered the mayor some free advice in PC PR: What Bates should have said was "Sometimes I don't want to buy a 'Street Sheet,' but I wave at that guy 'cause I know ... he's doing the best he can."

The mayor was put in the hot seat by other callers upset over crime and gentrification in South Berkeley, the shortage of downtown parking, and for stealing a stack of the Daily Californian, which endorsed his opponent in the 2004 election. Show host and moderator Peter Laufer asked, "Mayor, sometimes do you just wonder, 'Why am I doing this?'"

Bates responded, "I was a county supervisor from '72 to '76 and in the Legislature from '76 to '96, and this job is by far the hardest job I've ever undertaken."

The mayor's visit to the studios of KPFA also was criticized in the pages of the Berkeley Daily Planet, which is, editorially speaking, the archenemy of the Bates administration. "I think that any comment by an elected official that condones people avoiding Street Spirit vendors is reprehensible," wrote Susan Chacin in the Planet, calling upon the mayor to acknowledge publicly that selling Street Spirit is part of the solution, not the problem.

Planet executive editor Becky O'Malley took a break from ripping into Bates to attack Laufer instead. She accused the radio host of lobbing "an embarrassing series of softball pitches" to Bates, and for cutting off the mayor's critics when they called in. "It might as well have been Rush Limbaugh at the controls," she wrote in an editorial.

In a press release e-mailed to the Express, Laufer responds: "As abhorrent as Limbaugh's politics may be, he is a skillful and talented radio presenter. He and I both create fine radio, and I'm glad to see The Daily Planet recognizes quality."

At the end of the show, Mayor Bates promised to buy a paper every month from the man in front of Berkeley Bowl. – Eric Klein

Full disclosure: As a reporter covering Berkeley, Eric Klein was also a guest on the Sunday program.


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