BERKELEY -- She's an unlikely candidate: an unemployed woman with only one name who has never run for office. And she's taking on a popular incumbent.
But Rhiannon says she decided to run simply because she doesn't think that City Councilwoman Linda Maio should run unopposed.
"In a democracy you need a choice," says Rhiannon, who is running for the District 1 seat against Maio, the district's representative for the past 10 years.
Rhiannon, who long ago deleted her last name from all her legal documents, has lived in West Berkeley for 24 years. For six years she has served in an appointive post on the West Berkeley Project Area Commission, which advises the city on redevelopment projects such as the new pedestrian bridge spanning Interstate 80.
But by entering the City Council race, Rhiannon has gotten herself in trouble with her political mentors. Councilwoman Dona Spring, who named Rhiannon to the commission, says she was surprised to hear of her protégé's bid for office.
"She never consulted me about running against Linda Maio," Spring says. "I am not exactly pleased that my appointee is running against an ally of mine on council."
Rhiannon styles herself as an advocate for low-income voters in West Berkeley. She lives in federally subsidized housing and says she is unemployed, although she lists her occupation on the ballot as "student." She says she is currently enrolled for at a local community college in one class -- a class about the history of Berkeley.
So far, Rhiannon has raised $130 in campaign funding and is relying on supporters to knock on doors and distribute leaflets to neighbors. She says health problems, including a broken bone in her foot and an ear infection, have kept her from doing much campaigning.
Her opponent Maio has raised $850 dollars and has sent out one mass mailing.
Rhiannon opposes Measure M, which would raise the tax on property transfers from 1.5% to 2% because it would affect low-income homeowners disproportionately.
"There's a lot of poor people like myself who don't have a lot of money," says Merrilie Mitchell, a Rhiannon supporter and a homeowner who also opposes Measure M. "If we pay for something, we should be getting something for it."
Although the additional transfer tax would apply only to houses over $350,000 and would use the money raised to fund additional affordable housing, Rhiannon says that wouldn't exempt many homeowners.
"There are no houses in Berkeley which cost less than $350,000," Rhiannon says.
Rhiannon also wants to maintain lower-density development in Berkeley and is a strong supporter of Measure P, the ballot initiative that would limit building height in Berkeley. The initiative encourages citizen participation in zoning decisions, she says.
Her opponent Maio, on the other hand, is strongly opposed to Measure P.
"It'll basically stop all housing development, particularly affordable housing development, right in its tracks," Maio says.
Rhiannon argues that West Berkeley has enough housing.
"We need jobs more than housing," she says, because West Berkeley has a high rate of unemployment.
She supported the city's decision in April to halt the conversion of West Berkeley light industrial space into office buildings, saying the removal of manufacturing space replaces blue-collar jobs with white-collar jobs.
At the same time, Rhiannon says air pollution is a problem in her neighborhood and blames the dust generated by West Berkeley's cement and asphalt plants, as well as the train tracks and highways that run through the area. To solve the problem, Rhiannon proposes wetting the area's streets during weekly street sweepings and increasing the filtering of factory emissions.
Rhiannon is a member of the Oceanview Neighborhood Association, which in 1998 filed a lawsuit against the city to oppose the expansion of the Berkeley Asphalt Company. Although the lawsuit was settled and the company did expand, Rhiannon says she remains committed to working on environmental problems in West Berkeley.
"She has really fought diligently on environmental issues in this neighborhood," says Terry Terteling, who is also a member of the neighborhood association. "Especially protecting the rights of low-income people."
Maio argues that she has supported a number of measures to curb West Berkeley pollution as a council member. She commissioned a study to monitor the air quality in an effort to pinpoint the sources of air pollution. She also supports the use of bio-diesel fuel, which produces a less polluting exhaust, in the city's fleet of trucks and buses.
Rhiannon says she grew up in a suburb of Boston and came to Berkeley in a school bus that she and her husband drove across the country and lived in for a few years. Rhiannon's 19-year-old son, Cassidy, uses only his first name, as did her late husband Clance.
"If Cher and Liberace can do it, so can I," Rhiannon says.