BERKELEY (CBS 5) — A political feud between Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and a rival city councilmember has turned into a grown-up game of musical chairs.
With all the issues facing the East Bay city’s government, the council voted Tuesday to change who is sitting next to whom inside council chambers. The proposal came at the recommendation of the mayor.
The proposal has become a political punch line. “A minute ago we were just standing here and this guy came up and he said, ‘Don’t sit next to me.’ Or, ‘Be careful where you sit.’ People say these things,” Councilmember Kriss Worthington told CBS 5.
Worthington said Bates wanted the new arrangement because he doesn’t like the councilmember’s policies, and there’s enough animosity that the mayor doesn’t even want to sit next to him during council meetings.
Until recently, Worthington sat next to the mayor. Starting in the next meeting, councilmember Laurie Capitielli has been designated the seat next to Bates, moving Worthington farther out.
“This is sort of a silly, petty, almost comical thing…On a serious level, it’s sort of emblematic of the kind of petty, personal, and political manipulations that can go on,” Worthington said.
Reaction to the proposal among people who live and work in Berkeley ranged from amusement to outrage.
“I think that’s completely crazy,” Berkeley resident Jenny Greenwood said, laughing.
Ali Hajighafouri , who works in Berkeley, said, “I guess amusing I suppose. Really, if someone is bothering you, I suppose why not get him away from you.”
“Totally ridiculous,” said Michael David Lazzeri, who works in Berkeley. “If it’s just political differences, that’s what those kinds of meetings are for.”
When asked if the change was petty, Bates said, “I say they’re wrong.”
Bates told CBS 5 the change was not meant to exile Worhtington.
“He ran against me for mayor, he got 22 percent of the vote, and we’ve had some friction,” Bates said. “I hope to work with him, but I just thought it was good to move, to have a little change, a little variety.”
On the website Berkeleyside, the mayor said the reason for moving Worthington farther away was, “So I don’t strangle him.”
“People suggesting directly, indirectly, jokingly or not, that violence would be appropriate is totally off the charts and inappropriate,” Worthington said.
Responding to his comments, Bates said, “It was a joke, it was a joke.”
Along with running for mayor, Worthington also opposed the mayor’s sit-and-lie ordinance on the November ballot. The measure was narrowly rejected by voters.
Capitelli, who will sit between Bates and Worthington at meetings, had no comment.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)