November 4, 1997
WEST COUNTY TIMES
Tuesday, November 4,
On Oct. 31, the Times published a letter from Peter Loubal regarding the Sierra Club's endorsement of El Cerrito Councilman Mark Friedman for election today.
Loubal impugned the Sierra Club's endorsement process and questioned the selection committee's actions to verify candidate credentials.
We, Sara and Peter Cleveland, are Richmond residents and Sierra Club members who sit on the San Francisco Bay Chapter's political committee. We were responsible for preparing questionnaires and recruiting people to help us interview City Council candidates in El Cerrito and Richmond this year.
Last year, we performed the same function for City Council elections in San Pablo, Pinole and Hercules, and we were members of the interview committee for the 14th Assembly District. We are familiar with the Sierra Club endorsement process.
There is no "instant" Sierra Club endorsement. The Sierra Club requires candidates to provide written responses to a questionnaire and to have in-person interviews with local environmentalists. Candidates receive endorsement after being approved by a hierarchy of four separate Sierra Club committees, a process which can take as long as two months.
The Sierra Club has granted early endorsement to incumbents and challengers possessing excellent track records and previous club recommendation or endorsement. Richmond Mayor Rosemary Corbin and Friedman fit into this category and were approved by the process previously described, as was Richmond Councilman Tom Butt in 1995. (We interviewed all of these people.)
When the filing period closed in August, we mailed questionnaires to El Cerrito City Council candidates; the same questionnaire was sent to Friedman. We asked candidates why they were running, what their legislative and environmental priorities were, whether they had been endorsed by environmentalists and how they would use the Sierra Club endorsement. We also asked them open-ended questions about the role of the Redevelopment Agency, the mega-theater project and reviving the El Cerrito Plaza, all of which have environmental significance.
The oral interview had a different focus: to see how candidates thought "on their feet." We asked the candidates why they considered themselves to be environmentalists and who their environmental role models were. We used the same procedure to evaluate Richmond City Council candidates. Ultimately, the Sierra Club endorsed two people in El Cerrito and two in Richmond.
Did the selection committee check out Friedman's alleged connections to "gargantuan development plans in Country Costa County" in the 14th Assembly District race? Yes we did, and we found no evidence of developer influence.
Loubal tells us that if we are concerned about our environment and county development, we should be aware that endorsements may not be worth much and he asks us to consider the real record.
Words are cheap, but actions count. Our actions demonstrate that candidates who sought Sierra Club endorsement were treated equitably and that we followed procedures established by Sierra Club regulations.
Sara P. Cleveland
Peter O. Cleveland