By David Mundstock
See the unique Berkeley campaign posters that tried to capture voters’ attention, promote voter registration, and increase voter turnout in the progressive community from the 1970s to the 1990s plus the present.
The campaigns expressed themselves through the posters you will see, and I dedicate this site to all the artists, printers, and people with staple guns who helped to make Berkeley campaigns so colorful.
The April 6, 1971 Campaign
A silk screened, long-haired, hippie butterfly poster represented the counter-culture community that was very active in the 1971 April Coalition. This poster was an invitation to help develop a community platform, which turned out so extreme that electoral people tried to destroy all copies. The April Coalition platform was used by the conservatives to attack April Coalition candidates.
This 1971 April Coalition/April 6th Movement silkscreen used the image of Reconstitution (after the Kent State students were killed) from a year earlier at the University of California campus. The poster linked recent anti-Vietnam War imagery with City Council candidates Loni Hancock and Rick Brown. April 6 was election day.
The peace symbol combined with the clenched fist was itself a strong political coalition symbol, meaning that liberals and radicals were working together against the Vietnam War.
The electoral alliance that was the April Coalition and later became Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) was part of the anti-war movement. It’s political opponents trace their origins back to supporters of the Vietnam War.
Loni Hancock often joked that, as part of a nuclear family, she was too mainstream for April Coalition counter-culture radicals. Loni was a feminist herself, but this famous 1971 poster got her attacked by feminists, who thought there was more leg than political content.
Her running mate Rick Brown is the other person in the pipe. Rick, a University of California (U.C.) graduate student, was the only April Coalition candidate who lost in 1971. Trying to elect a U.C. student to the City Council would prove one of the greatest challenges in Berkeley politics.
The April Coalition slate of D’Army Bailey, Rick Brown, Loni Hancock and Ira Simmons, was joined by their major endorser, Congressman Ron Dellums, in this influental 1971 poster. Voters were led to believe it was a real team who would work together. This is what April Coalition people hoped for. In reality, the slate almost self-destructed before the election. The Berkeley Black Caucus had picked the unknown Bailey and Simmons to run with the April Coalition. That choice turned out to be a disaster. Once in office, D’Army Bailey’s race-based politics and hostile tactics made it impossible for Loni Hancock to work with him. Bailey was recalled in August 1973 by the conservatives.
The June 1972 Campaign
Rent Control has been Berkeley’s single most controversial issue. It was on the ballot for the first time in June 1972, when this silkscreen poster expressed the sentiments of most Berkeley tenants. The Rent Control Initiative passed, only to be declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court. Rent Control would be back on many later ballots, including 1977, 1978, and 1980.
Rent Control has always been the great dividing line between Berkeley’s two rival political coalitions. The left, including Berkeley Ctizens Action, supports it, while the moderate/conservative block has fought Rent Control since 1972.
From 1978 on, Berkeley has maintained a form of Rent Control, although landlords greatly weakened it through state legislation. Berkeley’s elected Rent Board is solidly pro-tenant.
The April 17, 1973 Campaign
The April Coalition’s last slate of candidates in 1973 barely ended up with a poster. The ideological faction objected to having the candidates in alphabetical order (ballot order) because that placed Peter Birdsall first. Peter was from the pragmatic/electoral faction. It was a stalemate. Such factional warfare made the 1973 April Coalition campaign extremely unpleasant, helping the conservatives to win three of four City Council seats.
Jeff Gordon, campaign leader of the pragmatists, ordered this poster printed without permission, just to have a slate poster.
Unlike 1971, and in contrast to their supporters, the April Coalition’s 1973 candidates could work together, and they represented the best the progressive community had to offer.
Once the April Coalition lost the 1973 election, it ceased to exist. However, Ying Kelley had been the one successful candidate, joining Loni Hancock on the City Council.
There were 8 citizen initiatives on the April 1973 ballot. The Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, which passed, turned out to have the most long lasting consequences. It saved Berkeley’s older houses from being demolished for ticky-tacky apartments and other eyesores. Bulldozers were the enemy, as this poster made clear. The initiative organizers were Martha Nicoloff and Ken Hughes.
After nearly thirty years, even leading opponents of the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance in 1973, such as Mayor Shirley Dean, have come to embrace some of its policies.
Berkeley voters strongly supported the California Marijuana Initiative in the November 1972 election. I thought a similar Berkeley measure would increase progressive turnout for the April 1973 contest and assert local control in an important area.
The Berkeley Marijuana Initiative was very simple, directing the police to make no arrests for use, possession, or cultivation of marijuana, without permission from the Berkeley City Council.
The initiative easily made the ballot and this April 17th Movement poster encouraged people to register to vote on the measure.
The initiative won in a landslide, but lost in court.
The next poster indicates how one thing leads to another.
Based upon the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative’s popularity, Tom Accinelli had the idea to run a “Win a Kilo” raffle, which this 1973 poster promoted. Note the wording: “1st prize: 1 kilo of Take a Guess?” The raffle took on a life of its own.
A student at the “Win a Kilo” table on campus was arrested for running an illegal raffle. He later won a seat on the student senate with a platform of “elect a criminal”. The $1 “donation” per ticket became voluntary to avoid future arrests. There were rumors the police were obtaining raffle tickets, hoping to win and then bust the operation.
The day before election, a massive crowd turned up for our campus get-out-the vote rally on the Sproul Steps, which featured the “Win a Kilo” drawing. The grand prize winner’s name was prudently not announced, but the rumor was that a lucky dorm resident received the kilo.
Tom Accinelli later organized a marijuana Smoke-In at the City Council to try and pressure the Councilmembers into implementing the Berkeley Marijuana Initiative, which had passed. That led to national news coverage and near riot conditions.
The entire scenario was repeated in the April 1979 election, with another marijuana initiative and raffle. It passed again.
1974 – 1977 Berkerley Election Posters
The first Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) campaign poster. This poster constituted the entirety of BCA’s November 1974 campaign. But I wanted to establish the organization’s legitimacy looking towards April 1975, and a poster could do that.
With a $50 contribution from each of the three endorsed campaigns, I printed this poster and used my staplegun to place it throughout the campus area.
Congressman Dellums was re-elected, but both John Denton for the BART Board and Measure W (first steps towards a municipal utility to replace PG&E) lost.
Still, BCA had been created as the first Berkeley progressive political organization to be active in June, November, and April elections. BCA appeared off to a better start than any of its predecessors.
1975 and the first Berkeley Citizens Action City Council Campaign slate poster. White on blue would became the BCA colors from 1975 to 1977.
Unlike 1973, when the April Coalition self-destructed, there was relatively little internal bickering. Campaign spending was also limited for the first and only time.
Ying Kelley went on to almost defeat Warren Widener for Mayor. Ying remained on the Council.
Loni Hancock and John Denton finished first and second for City Council, a very strong showing. There would now be three BCA Councilmembers, still short of a 5-vote majority. And Florence McDonald was elected Auditor.
April 1975 was essentially a tie, but BCA people felt that we had recovered from the 1973 defeat, and once again, the future belonged to us.
This November 1976 BCA poster was one of many drawn by Erika Hamberg, a professional artist. I wanted it to look exactly like a United Farm Workers poster. Cesar Chavez, the Farm Workers, and their state initiative, Proposition 14, were extremely popular in the liberal and progressive communities.
This poster was intended to help John George in his race for Supervisor by slating him directly with Proposition 14.
The poster also demonstrates how active BCA was in June and November elections, not just April city council campaigns.
John George won an easy victory against Billy Rumford and never had a serious challenge again. John George was our progressive Alameda County Supervisor for the rest of his life.
This November 1976 success gave BCA strong confidence heading into the April 1977 municipal election.
Artist: Erika Hamberg
Concept: David Mundstock
Art Borrowed From Gary Trudeau
In 1976 I wanted a Doonesbury character to encourage students to register in Berkeley as part of the campus voter registration drive. (Another Doonesbury character had just attended law school in Berkeley.)
I picked Zonker Harris for this role because of his enthusiasm. Zonker might also appeal to less electoral people for whom registering to vote was not automatic. The poster is full of relevant information about registering to vote at one’s college address without any waiting period and registering again if you move. Repetition of these facts was important because there are always so many new students.
The poster was an artistic success, reprinted in subsequent years. I always hoped Gary Trudeau would accept the poster as a complement, not a copyright violation.
Artist: Sandy Martin
Concept: David Mundstock
Enhanced Design: Mal Warwick and Peter Babcock.
The “Vote Today” poster first appeared in 1972 and has been in continuous use for over 30 years as a Get Out the Vote tool. The original colors on the left were a simple red on white. The enhanced design, on the right, including white on red, is more striking, and came out a few years later.
I wanted the south campus and other progressive areas saturated with these posters, so everyone would know it was election day. There should be no invisible elections in Berkeley.
The poster has always included information on polling place hours and finding one’s polling place, since many people can’t vote without a little help. For many years, the Daily Cal had a map of Berkeley which showed everyone their polling place. The first poster plugged that invaluable map, which has not run for ages due to lack of funding.
But this “Vote Today” poster continues into its 4th decade, still encouraging a higher turnout. It appeared once more on election day November 7, 2006.
April 19, 1977 Election
BCA’s 1977 convention only nominated three candidates for four City Council seats in the April election. Factional warfare with the Communist Party and their candidate, Mark Allen, led to the short slate. Allen ran as an independent.
BCA’s slate of three women, led by incumbent Ying Lee Kelley, had to all win in order to gain that holy grail recited at the top of this poster: a progressive council majority.
Instead, the conservative coalition, establishment Democrats and Republicans, unleashed a well-financed anti-radical smear campaign against BCA designed to scare Berkeley voters. Their goal was to preserve the council majority held by the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC). BDC was allied with the landlords similar effort to frighten people into voting against the rent control initiatives on the April ballot.
The fear-smear worked perfectly and the Berkeley Democratic Club won a sweep of all four City Council seats.
After such great expectations, BCA was devestated by this massive loss, which now gave BDC a 7-2 Council majority. The defeat of Ying Kelley was the worst part and completely unexpected.
While I retired from Berkeley politics after the 1977 election, many other BCA people vowed to continue the fight. Unlike the April Coalition following the 1973 defeat, BCA was down but not out in 1977.
The movie “Jaws” came out in 1975. I liked this image for a 1977 rent control poster, drawn by Vicki Morgan. In a year of vicious smears by landlords and the conservatives, at least this poster fought back.
The landlords turned out to be highly successful sharks, exploiting a massive campaign spending advantage. They scared tenants into voting against rent control. The pro-tenant rent control initiatives lost in April 1977 by a very large margin. Most observers would have concluded that rent control was now dead in Berkeley.
All that would change a year later, thanks to unintended consequences from Proposition 13, the conservative Jarvis-Gann state initiative that drastically cut property taxes (and resurrected rent control).
In this 1977 BCA poster, I tried to motivate students and other tenants to register to vote in order to sign and support the rent control/tenant union initiatives then being circulated for signatures to make the ballot.
The poster was an invitation to join the battle against the landlord empire to be waged in the April 1977 election.
The message is not subtle. Given the always ridiculously high level of Berkeley rents, I thought financial self-interest should be directly appealed to.
A unique April 1977 mystery poster. Close to election day, this poster turned up all over Berkeley. Both sides tore it down, believing it came from the opposition.
The poster’s text thanked center-right incumbents Sue Hone and Carole Davis for voting to allow McDonalds to open a restaurant in the center of downtown. There had been widespread public opposition to McDonalds, which the Council majority, including Hone and Davis ignored..
Using Councilwoman Sue Hone’s campaign colors, it appeared to some that McDonalds had produced the poster on behalf of the Hone and Davis campaigns. That was not the case.
However, the Hone and Davis people saw the poster as a BCA plot to embarrass them by linking the Councilmembers to their unpopular pro-McDonalds vote.
I believe the poster was intended as a cynical anti-Hone and Davis prank by people connected with no organized campaign. The poster combined art, politics, and satire so perfectly that both sides made certain it was seen for only a very short time.
Hone and Davis were re-elected anyway in 1977 as part of the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC) sweep.
The creative people who produced this poster have never been publicly identified.
1978-1986+ Berkeley Election Posters
After the 1977 defeat, Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) staged a dramatic recovery. It became a membership organization, hired Mal Warwick as full-time coordinator and opened an office.
When Proposition 13 passed in June 1978, landlords received property tax reductions, but tenants got nothing. Yet the campaign for Proposition 13 had promised lower rents.
A bill by Berkeley Assemblyman Tom Bates attempted to enforce this promise, but the landlord lobby defeated it. Efforts to lower rents based upon Proposition 13 then broke out in cities all over California.
BCA, led by Mal Warwick, decided to sponsor its own Proposition 13-based, modest, temporary rent control initiative, authored by Kathy Reilley and Marty Schiffenbauer. Rent would be reduced by 80% of a landlord’s Proposition 13 savings. This became Measure I.
It was to be a historic confrontation between BCA and the landlords.
Mayor Widener and his Council majority placed a rival ordinance on the ballot, Measure J. It promised tenants lower rents than Measure I, but was unenforceble and fraudulent. Even the landlords would not campaign for J.
BCA’s November 1978 campaign focused on distinguishing between the two measures, as in this poster above.
There was also Larry Shapiro’s button, with the immortal slogan:
I = Initiative
J = Jive
The landlords spent over $300,000 attacking Measure I in an effort to repeat their successful anti-rent control campaign of 1977. But it did not work in a climate where passage of Proposition 13 put basic fairness on the side of rent control supporters.
Measure I passed on November 7, 1978 with 58% of the vote. Measure J was crushed at 22%.
Thanks to Proposition 13, rent control was alive in California, and BCA was a political contender again in Berkeley.
Everybody knew Gus Newport had no chance to defeat Warren Widener for Mayor in 1979. Widener had been in office for eight years and Gus was completely unknown.
An attractive poster, in the new BCA colors designed by Mal Warwick and Peter Babcock, was not expected to help much. However, the poster’s “Democrat for Mayor” slogan was unusually pragmatic and electoral in tone. Winning was the goal.
Mayor Widener was loathed by the progressive community for being elected with left wing votes in 1971 and then becoming the leader of the conservative coalition. This betrayal remained unforgivable. Widener had by now run left, right, and center in his ten years on the Council.
Gus Newport was lucky to have even received BCA’s nomination for Mayor. Gus barely led Councilmember John Denton after an eight ballot marathon, two- week convention ordeal, in which no candidate achieved the necessary 2/3 votes to win. By agreement, the trailing contender, John Denton, then withdrew, and asked BCA to nominate Gus Newport by acclamation. The longest primary fight in BCA history left relatively little bitterness to mar the campaign.
On April 17, 1979, Gus Newport defeated Warren Widener for Mayor, the biggest upset in modern Berkeley history. BCA partisans partied all night.
It was the Berkeley Republicans who later took credit for this result, by having denied Widener crucial votes in an organized boycott. The Republicans were tired of being marginalized by their Democratic partners in the conservative coalition. Widener was sacrificed, but the Republicans had demonstrated their power, and the 1981 election would be very different.
BCA’s 1979 Council slate consisted of John Denton for re-election, Veronika Fukson (who ran in 1977), Guy Jones (a U.C. student), and Florence McDonald (previously Auditor).
Loni Hancock was leaving to work in the Carter Administration after 8 years on the Council. Her decision not to run for Mayor had led to the Newport-Denton contest.
On April 17, 1979, every BCA candidate on this poster won, except for Guy Jones. Jones became the fifth U.C. student to lose on April Coalitin/BCA tickets in the 1970s. Student precincts remained the heartland of BCA support.
With Gus Newport as Mayor, BCA had elected four Councilmembers in 1979, after being swept two years earlier.
The pattern of winning, then losing in alternate elections, was asserting itself again.
The 1979 comeback led to an unexpected result, because Councilmember Carole Davis had been voting against her former running mates. With Davis as a fifth vote, Mayor Newport and BCA suddenly had a progressive Council majority for the first time.
Anna Rabkin would serve several terms as auditor, an office BCA-endorsed candidates have now held since 1975.
Berkeley does take its foreign policy very seriously. Candidate Newport here appears on a 1979 BCA poster for an initiative that helped Berkeley lead the effort to divest from South Africa. The measures passed. This precedent setting initiative was a California Public Interest Research Group (Cal-Pirg) project, joined by the Campaign for Economic Democracy and BCA.
Congressman Ron Dellums initiated the national fight for sanctions against South Africa, which is one reason why Nelson Mandela, after being released from prison, paid a visit of thanks in 1990.
As Mayor, Gus Newport traveled the world extensively, and the Berkeley City Council would continue to take positions on international issues.
Also supported on this poster is Steve Bloom’s 1979 version of the 1973 Berkeley Marijuana Initiative, which passed again.
The June 1980 rent control fight would determine Berkeley’s future on this issue. With a temporary rent freeze about to expire, the City Council placed a comprehensive permanent Rent Control Ordinance on the ballot. (Measure D) It had been drafted by the Berkeley Housing Coalition. This was the first time rent control came before the voters without the need to collect signatures on an initiative.
Measure D’s official title was “rent stabilization”, intended to sound more acceptable than rent control. I doubt that it mattered.
At this same election, the landlords had a fraudulent anti-rent control state initiative, Proposition 10, on the ballot. It was intended to destroy the many local rent control measures that had been adopted in the wake of Proposition 13’s passage two years earlier.
Proposition 10 actually worked against Berkeley’s landlords, because it diverted anti-rent control funds to the state, rather than the local level.
BCA’s campaign tried to continue the momentum from Measure I’s victory in 1979 and the defeat of J. Proposition 10 was condemned and Measure D promoted, as on this BCA poster. Tenants and homeowners were both appealed to.
Mal Warwick was no longer the BCA coordinator, having started a direct mail fundrasing business (Mal Warwick & Associates). For the first time in years, the campaign had a new, collective leadership, including Dave Panush and Sean Gordon, among many others.
On June 3, 1980, as California’s voters defeated Proposition 10, Berkeley adopted permanent rent control. This would have been unthinkable after the 1977 defeat. The legality of Measure D survived landlord challenges in both the California and United States Supreme Courts.
Measure D, although weakened by pro- landlord measures passed by the State Legislature, remains in effect today, more than 20 years after the June 1980 election.
This is a very typical BCA slate poster for a June or November election in the 1970s and 1980s. In this case it is June 1980.
Congressman Dellums, Assemblyman Bates, and Alameda County Supervisor George were all extremely popular progressive Democrats. Their re-election was certain.
The three Democrats are slated with Measure D, the Berkeley rent control ordinance. The poster and the campaign are really about Measure D, whose fate is unknown. Votes by association was the strategy. If enough ordinary liberal Democrats accepted voting for Measure D as comparable to supporting Dellums, Bates, and George, Measure D would win.
It did win, on June 3, 1980.
BCA’s April 1981 City Council slate needed to win just one seat for a Council majority. It was an ill-fated dream for Walter Edwards, Carole Norris, Nancy Skinner, and the Reverend Gus Schulz.
Instead, these four candidates were subjected to the single most brutal, fear-smear attacks in modern Berkeley political history.
Berkeley Republicans, having deserted their establishment Democratic allies in 1979, were now brought back into the conservative coalition fold. The Republicans were rewarded with a new organization, the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC), which they would share with their Berkeley Democratic Club friends.
ABC meetings were the first public appearances of the Republicans alongside the Democrats, even though their alliance against the left was a decade old.
This move to the political right included nomination of a more conservative ticket, featuring Leo Bach. Having satisfied the Republicans, ABC was in a poor position to campaign as liberal, the traditional BDC tactic.
Instead the conservatives greatly escalated attacks upon BCA as so dangerously radical that the destruction of Berkeley was certain if BCA won another Council seat.
BCA’s record was distorted, its issues and candidates ignored, as off-duty Berkeley police went door-to-door scaring voters into believing that BCA policies were pro-crime. This was the Berkeley Police Association’s entry into city politics, although virtually no Berkeley cops lived here. The landlords also joined ABC’s crusade.
Three separate conservative organizations, including the Republicans, deluged Berkeley voters with mailers villifying BCA. This helped ensure a healthy right wing turnout in April 1981.
BCA hired a professional campaign manager who sent out targeted mailers. They were no match for the climate of fear created by ABC.
On April 21, 1981, the All Berkeley Coalition repeated the 1977 right wing sweep of four Council seats, firmly re-establishing its control of City Hall.
BCA’s slate was led, in fifth place, by Nancy Skinner, the first female UC student candidate. Although Nancy became the sixth student to lose, all the rest had been the weakest on their respective slates. In the 1981 disaster, Nancy Skinner was BCA’s top vote getter. She might have a political future, if BCA survived that long.
Election Date Change
The June 1982 button says “November BEATS April”, and truer words were never spoken by any work of Berkeley campaign art.
The massive April 1981 loss had hit BCA extremely hard. The pattern of alternating victories and defeats every two years appeared to offer no realistic chance of a progressive City Council majority. People did not know what to do.
Except for Marty Schiffenbauer, who saved the day and kept electoral hopes alive.
Marty personally drafted and collected nearly all the signatures for an Initiative Charter Amendment to move Berkeley’s city election from April of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years, when it would be consolidated with the state general election.
This change to November would increase the turnout of students, tenants, Democrats, and low-income voters, giving BCA candidates a major advantage over ABC/BDC.
While BCA supported Marty’s initiative on the June 1982 ballot, and the conservatives opposed it, neither side appreciated the dramatic impact this election date change would have. (There was not even a campaign poster for Marty’s measure; just the button.)
Following a mild campaign, Berkeley voters passed the initiative and April elections were history. Berkeley’s next municipal ballots would be cast on November 2, 1982.
Two years after that, a very different looking City Council would present a special commendation to Marty
In the first November election for City Council, BCA’s 1982 slate consisted of Mayor Gus Newport, John Denton and Venoika Fukson for re-election, plus Wesley Hester and John Brauer. All five needed to win for a ruling majority.
Gus Newport’s opponent was Councilmember Shirley Dean, giving up her seat to make the race.
Wesley Hester had become famous for resigning from the appointed Rent Board, because his pro-tenant votes so offended the conservative Councilmember that appointed him. Now Wesley was seeking his own personal mandate, with the slogan “taking it to the streets”.
John Brauer was the seventh U.C. student seeking election to the Council on an April Coalition or BCA ticket. The previous six had all lost.
With the November 2, 1982 general election date producing the favorable turnout of tenants and Democrats that we expected, the BCA slate rolled up an impressive victory.
Gus Newport easily won re-election over Shirley Dean. John Denton had the most votes of all candidates, finishing first in the City Council race. He was followed by the rest of the BCA ticket, who nearly all won Council seats. The exception was John Brauer, who finished a close fifth, but lost.
The conservative coalition had barely retained their City Council majority, emerging from the November 2, 1982 election with a 5-4 advantage.
John Brauer came so close to winning on election night, November 2, 1982, that a large number of BCA people, myself included, stayed up until the final precinct was counted early the next morning to see if John would pull ahead for the last (and deciding) Council seat. It did not happen.
John Brauer’s campaign meant more than the seventh consecutive defeat by a U.C. student in the past decade.
John’s near victory actually energized students and BCA. He had done extremely well fo a young, white, male student, the type of person who had not been nominated since 1975.
There was an emerging new belief that a student belonged on future slates and could actually be elected to the City Council.
I had been a student organizer myself when Rick Brown’s loss in April 1971 began that long, collective losing streak that now stood at 11 years and counting. BCA still relied heavily on student votes. Many of us continued to believe BCA needed to elect a student as part of the continuing quest for a Council majority.
The November 1984 Presidential election – Reagan vs. Mondale. BCA was the Mondale Campaign in Berkeley, as part of a strategy to help the BCA City Council candidates benefit from the expected massive anti-Reagan turnout of Democrats.
Having learned from November 1982, BCA concentrated upon persuading these extra November voters into casting ballots for the entire ticket, which meant the BCA Council slate on this poster, prominently labeled “Democrats for Berkeley”.
Having won four seats in 1982, victory by only a single candidate this time would mean a BCA majority at last.
The BCA slate consisted of attorney Don Jelinek, who had been a civil rights movement lawyer in the south 20 years earlier. He was also famous for saving the Ashby Bart Station Flea Market from being evicted. Don also displayed humor, a rare quality in Berkeley politics.
Maudelle Shirek, is the ultimate survivor/mentor of the progressive movement. She had been the central part of a black community group that persuaded Ron Dellums to run for the City Council in 1967, launching his political career. Now Maudelle would win her own place on the Council in 1984 and become the left’s solid rock.
Maudelle was 73 years old at the time of this 1984 race, by far the eldest on that BCA slate. But she outlasted everyone else. Continuously re-elected, Maudelle served for 20 years on the Berkeley City Council, until 2004, breaking every modern record for unbroken longevity in city office. At some point after her 90th birthday, she was considered to be the oldest elected official in California, perhaps even the nation.
How to properly honor Maudelle’s service was the issue in 2005. Congressional Republicans blocked the naming of Berkeley’s main post office after her, proving that the blacklist for leftists is still alive in Washington. The Berkeley City Council then decided to name old City Hall after Maudelle Shirek as a fitting tribute.
Nancy Skinner, was making another try in 1984 to become the first U.C. student elected to the Council. Six candidates had failed before her on April Coalition/BCA tickets. But none had ever made the race again. Nancy was also attempting to become the first environmentalist on the Council.
Ann Chandler, a public health professional, also took the lead on other issues, including gay rights. She introduced ordinances to ban cigarette smoking in public places and prohibit cigarette vending machines. Berkeley set an example for the anti-smoking movement. Ann had been a key leader in the BCA organization for many years, helping, raise funds, and doing whatever was needed for BCA to survive the bad times.
On November 6, 1984, with the largest turnout in recent memory, the entire BCA slate swept to victory, crushing three conservative incumbents. Thanks to consecutive November triumphs, BCA would now have an 8-1 City Council
It was a success story beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
On November 6, 1984, Nancy Skinner not only became the first University of California student elected to the City Council, she was the most popular candidate, finishing ahead of her BCA running mates in a massive sweep.
The effort led by students to elect one of their own, which I had helped begin in 1971, took over 13 years to find a winner in Nancy Skinner. Along the way, Rick Brown, Peter Birdsall, Lenny Goldberg, Jeff Rudolph, Guy Jones, Nancy herself, and John Brauer had all gone down to defeat. There was a time when nominating a student was considered the kiss of death for electability. Nancy erased all of that.
Councilmember Nancy Skinner would make Berkeley into a national and international leader on environmental issues.
The new 8-1 BCA Council majority was not sufficiently charitable to its adversaries. Neighborhood people who opposed the Council’s low-income housing projects felt unfairly publicly insulted by some BCA Councilmembers. These citizens from the flatlands resolved to fight back.
Their anger led to a coalition of BCA’s enemies who drafted an initiative charter amendment, Measure C, to establish District Elections for eight City Council seats. Only the Mayor would continue to be elected at large. The inititaive mandated run-off elections whenever no candidate received a majority. Thus, municipal elections would still be in November, but any run-offs would take place in December, with a much lower turnout.
Measure C also gerrymandered the campus community into several districts, making election of a student highly unlikely. It was a partisan payback for historic student support of BCA candidates.
Measure C amounted to a recall of the entire Council, since all seats would be contested anew in November 1986. This anti-BCA measure attracted broad conservative support.
The City Council responded with its own measures, D and E, which promised consideration of fairer alternatives to Measure C. Thus, the BCA June 1986 poster opposes C, while supporting the Council measures D and E.
BCA fully understood the danger posed by C and seriously tried to defeat it. However, district elections were not an easy target, given their progressive history, especially in San Fracisco.
Meanwhile, Berkeley hill voters, who felt un-represented by the current Council, were strongly motivated to support Measure C.
In a low turnout election on June 3, 1986 (with most students gone), Measure C won every hill precinct by huge margins, while losing virtually all the rest of Berkeley. Hill votes were enough for Measure C to barely pass with 51% of the vote.
Thus, District Elections trumped November elections, and the most significant change in Berkeley’s political system during the last twenty years had been made.
With District Elections, everything had now changed. This November 1986 BCA slate poster even abandons the orange on blue color scheme that BCA had used since 1979. That was intentional.
Loni Hancock returned to Berkeley politics as BCA’s candidate for Mayor. Loni wanted many changes, including a less confrontational atmosphere. Some of Gus Newport’s supporters would never approve this difference in style.
Loni would win fairly easily in 1986, but faced a much tougher race for re-election as Mayor in 1990 against Fred Weekes. She survived both a run-off and a lawsuit to win a second term.
The era of City Council slate politics was over. There are no Council candidates on this poster besides Loni, because the other eight races are by district.
City-wide political organizations became much weaker and less relevant. Instead of strong organizations carrying candidates, a district candidate often had to create his or her own personal campaign group.
BCA immediately lost three Council seats after the November 1986 District Election contests. This is exactly what the supporters of District Elections had wanted. The casualties were John Denton (defeated in District 8), Veronika Fukson (beaten by Nancy Skinner at the BCA convention in a face-off between two incumbents from the same district), and Wesley Hester (who successfully ran for the Rent Board).
However, all four BCA candidates elected in the November 1984 sweep won their 1986 district races. With Loni Hancock as Mayor, BCA still retained a Council majority, now reduced to the bare minimum of 5 votes. Despite new faces on the Council during the next several years, this thin majority would never be lost to the conservatives while during Loni Hancock’s two terms as Mayor.
Meanwhile, Shirley Dean (defeated by Gus Newport for Mayor in 1982) returned to the Council from District 5. She would become the leader of a new conservative block that grew to four Councilmembers. Three of them were from safe districts where no BCA candidate ever had a serious chance to win.
The City Council did not accept narrow passage of District Elections in a low turnout June 1986 election as the final word. District Elections were just too terrible to tolerate. The Council promptly placed Measure I on the November 4, 1986 ballot to repeal District Elections in their entirety.
This BCA poster makes the Council’s case: “Reunite Berkeley, Repeal Unfair Districts & Runoffs”. It was hoped that a higher turnout November election would undo the 51% victory of District Elections in June.
However, BCA had to also nominate and run candidates in the district elections taking place in November 1986. This made for an extremely awkward situation. Berkeley voters were being asked to repeal a District Election system at the same time that election method was being tried out for the first time.
The result was a stronger mandate for District Eections. The Measure I repeal of districts received only 40% of the vote, losing in a landslide.
The other measure on this poster, Q, intended to save the waterfront from development, did pass, receiving more votes than its rival. This was an environmentalist victory.
Nevertheless, no matter how much BCA and the progressive community hated them, district elections were here to stay. They are still with us into the new millenium.
Both sides in Berkeley’s electoral wars have learned to live with District Elections. And both sides are now virtually assured that they will each have several City Council seats, without wild swings in either direction.
With most Councilmembers entrenched in their safe districts, few competitive races developed unless the incumbent retired. A charter amendment increasing Council terms back to 4 years, instead of the 2 years in the original District Elections initiative, made Councilmembers even more secure.
Only the city-wide race for Mayor every four years would really bring out the old competitive juices, as the two parties battled for what could be the decisive fifth seat and a ruling Council majority.
Florence McDonald was elected Auditor in 1975, City Councilmember in 1979, and Rent Board Commissioner in 1986, the race featured in this poster. No one else won so many different Berkeley offices without a defeat.
As Auditor, Florence tried to reduce her salary to the same as the highest paid ordinary worker. The bureaucracy fought her, but the voters grew to love Florence.
Florence had a real family, including husband Worden and their son, singer Country Joe McDonald, who would perform his “Fixin’ To Die Rag” anti-Vietnam War anthem at our rallies. But BCA was a second family to Florence and she was BCA’s honorary grandmother. Florence also cleaned up after meetings, fundraisers, or political dinners.
Florence actually had a radical, activist, working class background dating back to before the Depression era. Her father was an anarchist tailor, her mother a former Russian Communist revolutionary. Not surprisingly, Florence was passionate about BCA fulfilling its political potential. She challenged the organization to bounce back from its many defeats the way she had personally survived a lifetime of political setbacks.
Florence’s approach combined ideology and pragmatism. When she wanted something, it was impossible to stand in her way. From her hospital bed, Florence demanded of Gus Newport that he run for Mayor in 1979. He gave in, and together they changed Berkeley’s history.
When control of the Rent Board hung in the balance between tenants and landlords, Florence ran for her last office in 1986 and won again. She was re-elected in 1988, only to pass away the next year. Her departure from the political scene may have been the worst loss BCA ever suffered.
As for the elected Rent Board, landlords did eventually gain power, to the great detriment of rent control. BCA and other pro-tenant forces took the Rent Board back.
The landlords shifted their strategy to passage of anti-rent control bills such as vacancy de-control by the State Legislature. Once rent control had been weakened to their satisfaction, Berkeley landlords let pro-tenant slates run unopposed. Thus, Berkeley’s current Rent Control Board always knows which side it is on. So did Florence McDonald.
Since District Elections were often dull, it took someone special to liven them up.
Wavy Gravy, Berkeley’s best known clown, ran against Shirley Dean for her District 5 City Council seat in the November 1990 election.
His campaign slogan was: “Let’s elect a real clown for a change.”
Wavy Gravy’s flamingo poster/lawn sign was probably the best campaign art of the District Elections era. Wavy also gave away clown noses to supporters instead of buttons.
A child of the 60s, Wavy Gravy is perhaps most famous for being on stage as master of ceremonies at the original Woodstock in 1969. He’s also a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor, world humanitarian, and runs a children’s summer camp. For more, check out the Wavy Gravy website. [Website no longer exists.]
Whether Shirley Dean felt insulted by having a clown as her opponent is unclear. BCA had helped to send in the clown, but could not offer any real support in such a conservative district.
District 5 voters remained unamused, and Shirley Dean was easily re-elected over Wavy Gravy on November 6, 1990.
A decade later, the City of Berkeley did proclaim May 15, 2001 as “Wavy Gravy Day” to help celebrate his 65th birthday.
1994: Don Jelinek vs. Shirley Dean for Mayor of Berkeley with control of the City Council at stake.
Folowing Loni Hancock’s departure to work for the Clinton Administration, Don Jelinek hoped to extend BCA’s string of victories in the race for Mayor to five in a row, while also protecting a 5-4 progressive Council majority.
Shirley Dean, a loser to Gus Newport in 1982, was making her second race for Mayor. A Dean victory would mean the first hill-based, conservative coalition majority in ten years.
Since each side had four district Council seats, to the winner of the 1994 race for Mayor went the majority.
Just before election day in November 1994, Dean’s campaign stooped to one of the lowest blows within memory. Literature was circulated in African-American precincts falsely claiming there was no proof Jelinek had worked as a civil rights attorney in the South thirty years earlier, when Don represented Martin Luther King, Jr., among other leaders. The smear was answered, but Dean’s big lie tactic may have worked.
On election day, November 8, 1994, Jelinek finished with more votes than Dean, but short of a majority. This required a December run-off under the District Elections initiative passed in 1986. With a greatly reduced turnout, plus University policies that hampered student voting, Dean won the December 1994 run-off. To the progressive community, Dean’s election as Mayor lacked legitimacy.
It had proven unfortunate that Berkeley elects its Mayor in the same year as the California race for Governor, The turnout, especially among Democrats and tenants, is much higher in Presidential election years.
Shirley Dean (subsequently called Shirley Mean by some) now had five votes and City Council control. Mayor Dean used this power to withdraw city funding from community groups suspected of being allied with BCA.
(This was also an unusual period when all nine Berkeley City Council seats were held by women. What a change from 1971, when Loni Hancock had been the only woman on the Council.)
November 1996, a Presidential election year (Dole vs. Clinton), and advantage could be taken of the higher turnout.
In Southwest Berkeley’s District 2, the only non-hills district to elect a conservative, BCA had repeatedly tried and failed to defeat Councilmember Mary Wainwright, a strong Shirley Dean ally.
On November 5, 1996, BCA candidate Margaret Breland finally beat Wainwright, and progressives regained a 5-4 Council majority over Mayor Dean. Don Jelinek had been involved in this race and a second victory that day by a Jelinek ally, Kriss Worthington. He defeated Councilmember Carla Woodworth, a District 7 independent. It looked encouraging for Jelinek in his anticipated rematch with Dean.
However, on November 3, 1998, Dean won the rematch with Jelinek, obtaining a clear majority without need for a run-off.
The election of November 7, 2000 maintained the status quo, with Margaret Breland beating back all challengers and winning re-election. It was another strong progressive showing in a Presidential election year.
Thus in 2002, Mayor Shirley Dean presides over a divided City Council. Whenever they choose to vote together, the nominal 5 vote progressive majority of Kriss Worthington, Maudelle Shirek, Dona Spring, Linda Maio, and Margaret Breland have control, although Mayor Dean attempts to obstruct them.
Berkeley Citizens Action has also endorsed candidates for the School Board, off and on, during the years.
This BCA poster is from April 17, 1979, when both Anna de Leon and Jeanie Rucker were elected. Rucker was jointly supported by BCA and the Berkeley Democratic Club, which can happen for School Board, where everyone agrees on the need to provide a good education. School board has always been non-partisan, compared to the City Council.
The details still get in the way, especially how to balance the needs of academic achievers (usually kids from the hills) against those of lower income, minority kids with poorer test scores (usually from the flatlands). And many hill parents will often resort to private schools if the balance is not in their favor.
Berkeley has been wrestling with this problem for at least 40 years, since the schools were voluntarily integrated. The problem seems to defy any solution, although everyone tries their best.
Many years ago, during the period of BCA’s greatest electoral success, the entire School Board consisted of BCA-endorsed candidates. Their focus was more on the non-achievers. This appeared to make matters worse, precipitating a backlash from hill voters around issues such as which surplus schools to close. Non- BCA hill candidates have subsequently been very successful in getting elected.
For a time BCA lowered its School Board profile. But this changed, and BCA discovered that it could once again endorse School Board candidates who would win in low profile races.
District Elections only covered the City Council, and the Berkeley Board of Education continues to be chosen at large. The School Board members remain a political mixture, who struggle with their limited budget, and generally avoid the acrimony for which the Berkeley City Council is famous.