Richmond filmmaker runs for public office
Student activist tries hand in local politics
Student Mark Wassberg throws his hat into the Richmond City Council election in the hope of obtaining a seat Tuesday. George Morin / The Advocate
He can be found roaming the campus of Contra Costa College or causing a ruckus at Richmond City Council meetings, where he has been tossed out on occasion.
Yet, despite holding many unpopular views, filmmaker Mark Wassberg managed to gather enough support to have his name placed on the Nov. 6 ballot as a candidate for Richmond City Council.
Jeff Jerge, owner of "The Pedaler Bike Shop" in El Sobrante, knew Wassberg in high school and said the city council hopeful had a different demeanor when they were growing up.
"He blended in just fine," Jerge said. "He was not a standout. He was an easy going guy - really easy to get along with."
Jerge said he has not thought much about the fact that Wassberg is running for Richmond City Council because Jerge is a resident of El Sobrante.
However, Jerge is fully aware of the controversy surrounding Wassberg from his actions at council meetings as well as his videos posted on YouTube.
"He's into a lot of 'hot-button' stuff about religion and homosexuality," Jerge said. "Although I do disagree with his views on these issues, I respect his opinions. That's one of the great things about this country - people can voice their opinions."
Wassberg is fully aware of the way most in the city view him - negatively. But, he said he does not care. He said he wants to, "Keep it real," with the people of Richmond and influence a change at the city council level.
"It's all about keeping it real," he said. "That's all I can do. There's no use in lying about these issues.
"The political scene at the Richmond City Council is a disaster," Wassberg said. "Politics are so corrupt it's hard to believe that people can still believe in the Richmond City Council. They always talk about the national political scene and they never can agree on issues."
A 1975 graduate of Richmond High School, the now 56-year-old Wassberg was born and raised in San Pablo. As an independent contractor he worked as a pipe fitter in oil refineries.
In 1986 Wassberg became a student at CCC and worked full time while attending college until earning a certificate as an auto mechanic in 1987. He worked as a mechanic until 2006.
In 2007 he re-enrolled at CCC taking a course in film editing, which sparked his interest in filmmaking.
"I had some health problems," Wassberg said. "I was on medication because I suffered from a heart condition, which caused me to drop out of the workforce - I also took a gamble."
He said, after he got better, he decided to focus on making documentaries, mainly highlighting the violence in the Richmond area.
"Riding along with the Richmond Police Department in 2007 was the climax of my filmmaking career," Wassberg said. "I was in two high-speed chases, went to a shooting's crime scene and I was with an officer when he discovered $25,000 in drug money."
Wassberg said he rode around Richmond on a bicycle, armed with a police scanner and a camcorder, for a couple of years, and he would frequent some of the city's most dangerous areas to find criminal activity.
"I hung out inside the Iron Triangle waiting for violent acts (to occur)," he said. "It didn't take me long to film shooting and homicide crime scenes."
Wassberg's films can be found by entering his name into the search field on YouTube. Other than films on violence, he has also posted videos covering topics of race, immigration and rape. In these un-candid short films he expresses his views regarding actual events.
There are also videos of Wassberg drawing groans from spectators and members of the Richmond City Council at council meetings.
Although he is viewed as not the most likable person on the ballot, he managed to find enough support to become a Richmond City Council candidate.
He said through the years, he and many of the friends he knew as a youth have grown apart. Even those who are affiliated with him hold reservations about claiming any allegiance to the controversial Wassberg.
Nat Bates, a seven-term Richmond City Council member can be found on YouTube as a guest on Wassberg's show, "Tell it Like it Is." In the 12-minute in-home interview, Wassberg and Bates discuss issues, some that both share opinions on, regarding the Richmond City Council.
However, Bates said, other than Richmond City Council meetings, he has no knowledge of Wassberg, or his views.
"He's a citizen running for city council," Bates said. "That's a privilege that anyone can enjoy. I know him from his activities at the city council meetings - that's it."
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