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Worthington won't seek re-election to Berkeley City Council

by Alex Madison

Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington
Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington  

Longtime gay Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington announced Thursday he will not run for re-election in November. He broke the news on the front steps of Berkeley City Hall where he also endorsed Rigel Robinson, who is running for Worthington's District 7 seat.

"I give this baton to Rigel Robinson," Worthington said July 19, handing a bejeweled baton to Robinson. "I'm going to make a lot of friends really mad at me that I am not going to run, but I didn't do this easily or lightly. I have tortured myself about this and what is best for the city of Berkeley and what is best for District 7."

Worthington is the first openly gay elected official in Berkeley and has served on the council as a progressive for more than 20 years. As a councilman, Worthington focused heavily on issues relating to education, affordable housing, the environment, diversity, economic development, and equality for the LGBT community.

When first elected in 1996, Worthington, 64, advocated for marriage equality, a topic then considered controversial, even for Berkeley, a predominantly liberal community.

"One of the very first things I did, which sounds sort of funny today, was in 1996 when I first got elected. I proposed that Berkeley support marriage equality," he told the Bay Area Reporter. "Berkeley became the first City Council in the nation to endorse marriage equality."

When asked about the accomplishments he is most proud of, Worthington also noted helping pave the way for more diverse commission appointees in the East Bay city.

"I have appointed more Asians, Latinos, and African-Americans than anyone else on the City Council," he said. "One of my biggest accomplishments as council member was I proved that all the politicians were wrong when they said there were no Asians, Latinos, or African-Americans who wanted to be on the planning commission or other commissions."

He said he did this simply by reaching out to members of minority communities and letting them know there were open commission seats.

Worthington has also been a proponent of empowering student voices throughout his tenure, including appointing them to various commissions. His endorsement of Robinson is an example of this.

Robinson, 22 and a straight ally, is the former vice president of external affairs for the Associated Students of the University of California and as an intern for former City Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who is now the mayor.

"For many years now, Kriss Worthington has been the representative students needed in City Hall to make sure students are heard," Robinson said on the steps of City Hall.

In his speech, Worthington applauded Robinson's work at the state level at the UC Board of Regents. The councilman explained that he endorsed Robinson because he is focused on many of the same issues Worthington is.

At the end of his speech, Worthington received many hugs and warm wishes. A friend of his in the audience praised Worthington's work in the LGBT community. Bob Dixon, a 24-year resident of Berkeley and gay man said, "He helped with a lot of things big and small. He helped get the first gay and lesbian family night at the YMCA. We regret he's not running."

Also in the audience was Andy Katz, a member of the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors, who recently came up short in the June primary race for the open 15th Assembly District seat in the state Legislature.

"He's been a real local advocate for LGBT rights, affordable housing, and fighting inequality," Katz, a bisexual man who also identifies as gay, said. "His legacy is hard to sum up with any one accomplishment."

Worthington has about four months remaining on the City Council, after which, he said he is unsure of his next professional steps, though he could see himself back at work in the nonprofit sector.

The B.A.R. will have more in next week's paper.

Contact the reporter at a.madison@ebar.com.

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