Two Cal students square off in Berkeley City Council special election

A special election was underway in Berkeley on Tuesday to replace former district seven City Council Member Rigel Robinson who resigned in January.

Two UC Berkeley students squared off in the race and one of them is facing allegations of sexual assault.

The polls closed Tuesday night with a very low turnout.

With only 194 ballots counted, the latest unofficial results from the Alameda County Elections office showed Cecilia Lunaparra in the lead with 60% of the vote over opponent James Chang.

The race was overshadowed by allegations of sexual assault against Chang, which he denied in a video he posted to social media on election night.

"I did not assault anyone," Chang said on the Instagram account Vote4Chang.

According to the campus newspaper, the Daily Cal, an unnamed former volunteer for Chang’s campaign was the alleged victim of unwanted advances, including groping at an off-campus rave.

"This is a hit piece," Chang said in the social media post. "This is a concerted and intentional political attack and I find it abhorrent and that they would come up with such a serious subject for political gain."

Chang declined KTVU’s request for an interview, but our crew caught up with Lunaparra on the campaign trail.

"I’m appalled and saddened that somebody was affected in this way or allegedly affected in this way," Lunaparra said.

Cal professor of cognitive science Dr. Bob Glushko questioned the bombshell allegations against Chang, which didn’t surface until election day.

"It’s often the case that people can manipulate opinion, and this is sort of how social media works," Glushko said. "Your confirmation bias is… of course, this is true."

Both candidates have affordable housing, pedestrian safety, and public safety on their platforms.

"I am really passionate about addressing public safety by addressing the root causes of crime and trying to prevent crime rather than trying to respond to it," Lunaparra said.

The university is planning controversial housing at People’s Park for 1,100 students and separate housing for at least 100 unhoused people.

Chang supports the plan, while Lunaparra is calling to build at a different location.

Crime is top of mind for voters we spoke with.

"With security there’s a lot of things to unpack such as the racial undertones when people think about crime and think about the unhoused and also people who perpetuate crime," voter J Bui said.

"The candidates that are there are saying crazy stuff like ‘emotional safety," voter Daniel Wilkerson said. "We have to worry about our safety. That’s not criminal. And like, you know, we really need to just stop crime."

A representative from the elections office told KTVU the remaining mail-in ballots still need to be counted, and the official results should be available on April 23.