Not So Many Years Ago
Berkeley was for several decades, including the 1940s, a solid Republican town, run by and for the business community. The conservative Republican councilmembers claimed to be non-partisan, and with the backing of the Berkeley Gazette at every election, they appeared unbeatable. Under the Republicans, the City Council kept both property taxes and city services low, while they attended to routine civic details such as where to put a firehouse or a stop sign. Berkeley’s registered voters were almost evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats until the Democrats began to clearly pull ahead in the early 1950s.
The Democratic Caucus Attacks from the Left in the 1950s
Inspired by the Presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson (Democratic Party nominee in 1952 and 1956), Berkeley’s idealistic liberal Democrats decided to challenge the city’s Republican establishment. By 1955 they had formed a coalition known as the Berkeley Democratic Caucus to run a slate of candidates in each municipal election backed by a city-wide precinct organization. The heart of the Democratic Caucus was the alliance between hill liberals and black community leaders such as D. G. Gibson. The Caucus ran integrated slates throughout the 1950s with black votes instrumental in helping to elect some white Democrats while the black candidates always lost. (If you substitute “student candidate” for “black candidate,” you have the equivalent modern situation.) One of the Caucus’ black losers, in 1955, was Lionel Wilson, Mayor of Oakland.
The Democratic Caucus’ highest officeholder was Jeffery Cohelan, elected to the City Council in 1955 and to Congress in November 1958, defeating the Republican incumbent John J. Allen. The Caucus’ liberal spirit was best represented by Professor Jack Kent, who first won his Council seat in 1957 and served until 1965. But the 1950s ended with the Republicans still holding a firm 6-3 majority on the 9-member council.
Meanwhile, some blacks despaired of their chances to ever elect a black councilmember and were growing disaffected from the Democratic Caucus alliance, which they felt only served to elect whites. Still, the Democratic Caucus’ council minority was an active and visible liberal alternative to the Republicans. With the election of John Kennedy as President in 1960 to boost morale, perhaps the 1960s would be the decade the Democrats finally controlled Berkeley City Hall as well as the White House.
The Democrats Seize Power and Rule, 196l-1965
In April 1961, the Democratic Caucus went after the Republicans again, needing to win three seats for a majority. It got them, in the process electing Berkeley’s first black Councilmember, attorney Wilmont Sweeney, now a Superior Court Judge. The liberal Democratic majority was comprised of Sweeney, Jack Kent (re-elected in 1961), Art Harris, Bernice Hubbard May (elected in 1959), and newly-elected Zack Brown. The Council now consisted of 5 liberal Democrats and 4 Republicans.
The new majority quickly began implementing its program including downzoning to preserve neighborhoods in west Berkeley and other parts of the flatlands, including areas south of the University (but not the immediate area around the U.C. campus), increased municipal services and capital improvements such as swimming pools at the junior high schools, racial integration of the city’s workforce and boards and commissions, and a Fair Housing Ordinance to end discrimination against blacks and other minorities. On the School Board, a similar new liberal majority elected in 1961 moved towards adoption of a voluntary school integration plan.
The Republicans promptly counter-attacked. They blocked the Fair Housing Ordinance with a referendum and defeated it in a bitterly fought April 1963 election, 22,000 to 20,000. Running on an anti-Fair Housing Ordinance platform, Republican businessman Wallace Johnson was elected mayor over Professor Fred Stripp, the Democratic Caucus candidate. In addition to Mayor Johnson, the Republicans elected Joe Bort and re-elected John DeBonis. The Democratic Caucus re-elected Harris and May to retain their 5-4 majority. Thus, the Republicans remained a powerful political force, still backed by the Berkeley Gazette, even though they were now a minority on the City Council and had failed to recall the pro-integration School Board in 1964 after another highly controversial election.
President Lyndon Johnson’s crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in November 1964 bolstered Democratic registration and morale in Berkeley as in the rest of the country. The Republican Party’s obituary was being written both nationally and in Berkeley, and the Democratic Caucus wanted eagerly to be in on the kill. Ten years of work paid off for the Democratic Caucus in April 1965 when the Caucus slate swept all four Council seats and seemed on its way to long-term City Council control. Wilmont Sweeney and Zack Brown were re-elected together with their running mates, appointed incumbent Dan Dewey and newcomer Margaret Gordon. The Democratic Caucus majority was now 6-3 and Democrats held a 14,000 voter advantage over Republicans in Berkeley party registration, up from only 7,000 two years earlier. But unknown to anyone at the time, the 1965 sweep marked the end of the Democrats vs. Republicans two-party era. Things would never be the same again.
Vietnam and a New Challenge from the Left, 1965-1969
l965 – Vietnam
The hill liberal/black/progressive/unified Democratic Party coalition that was responsible for the Democratic Caucus sweep in April 1965 permanently disintegrated thanks to Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War in that same year. A substantial segment of Berkeley’s Democrats opposed the Vietnam War from the beginning and their numbers swelled with each new increase in the bombing, the killing, and the drafting of young men to fight this unwanted, undeclared war.
The Berkeley anti-war movement began on the U.C. campus as the natural successor to the FSM, the 1964 Free Speech Movement. Anti-war teach-ins were first organized in 1965 by the Vietnam Day Committee (VDC), which then moved off campus with demonstrations and marches, growing enormously in political strength, energy, and anger at President Johnson and the other officials behind America’s war policy. Then the anti-war movement decided to enter electoral politics, again utilizing the rights to organize, collect funds, and hold partisan rallies on the U.C. campus, rights that had been won in the Free Speech Movement.
The divisions caused by the Vietnam War determined Berkeley’s political alignments from 1966 on. In a real sense, the fight between the war’s supporters and opponents has never ended in Berkeley. Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) can trace its ancestry back to the anti-war movement while our moderate/conservative electoral adversaries are the political successors to those Democrats and Republicans who initially supported the Vietnam War.
1966 – Scheer for Congress
In 1966 the anti-war movement’s natural target was Congressman Jeffrey Cohelan, titular leader of the Berkeley Democratic Caucus and a l00% Lyndon Johnson liberal. Ever loyal to his President, Congressman Cohelan supported and defended Johnson’s Vietnam War policy. To the anti-war movement, that made Cohelan the enemy, permanently.
In the June 1966 Democratic Party Congressional Primary, Robert Scheer carried the anti-war banner against Congressman Cohelan, then 52. Many of Scheer’s supporters had backed Cohelan in previous years, but now the Democratic Party was engaged in a civil war over the Asian war. Robert Scheer was a 30-year-old editor of Ramparts Magazine, a left-wing periodical similar to today’s Mother Jones. Of his potential election to Congress, Scheer said: “I would have seen my responsibility more as a political organizer, both in the district and outside, than as a person who simply votes in the House. My primary responsibility would have been to enliven the political climate in this country.” Ron Dellums has often spoken nearly those same words.
Bob Scheer was a dynamic candidate and his idealistic, anti-war campaign mobilized hundreds of political veterans and newcomers who spread out as precinct workers from Berkeley into Oakland. Scheer always tried to expand his Berkeley base, continuously linking the money spent on the Vietnam War to the entrenched poverty in the Oakland black community. The Scheer Campaign was a crusade, an organic movement of electoral and non-electoral people The Vietnam Day Committee, which had carried the bulk of local anti-war organizing, including marches, demonstrations, and direct action to try and stop troop trains, endorsed Scheer by a 2/3 vote.
The Scheer campaign was exciting as many people plunged into electoral politics for the first time. 10,000 new voters were registered by Scheer workers. Scheer ended up with six decentralized campaign offices in Berkeley and Oakland to Cohelan’s single office. Cohelan’s strongest backing came from the Alameda County Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), although the Longshoreman’s Union (ILWU) endorsed Scheer. Before the campaign was over, Scheer had made use of 1,000 volunteers and spent $69,000, but all of that was not enough to win.
Bob Scheer is now a Los Angeles Times national reporter famous for his “Lust in my heart” Playboy interview with Jimmy Carter and his recent book With Enough Shovels on Reagan’s nuclear war policy. Scheer has been able to pursue a successful journalism career because Cohelan defeated him on June 7, 1966 by 35,92l (55%) to 29,393 (45%). The story is told that Lyndon Johnson, or at least his aide Bill Moyers, stayed up very late at the White House on election night repeatedly calling the Alameda County Registrar of Voters for the final results to make sure that the President’s trusted ally Cohelan had withstood the anti-war assault forces. (For further information, see The Scheer Campaign by Serge Lang, published in 1967 by W. A. Benjamin, Inc.).
l967 – The Community for New Politics (CNP)
Scheer beat Cohelan in Berkeley with 54% of the Democratic Party vote, and his supporters decided to take this electoral momentum into the April 1967 Berkeley city election. The Scheer Campaign transformed itself into the Berkeley Community for New Politics (CNP). At a public meeting of several hundred people, the CNP nominated a City Council slate of three white males: Professor Joseph Nielands, Howie Harawitz, and Bob Avakian (now leader of the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party. His father, Spurgeon Avakian, a former Berkeley School Board member, served as an Alameda County Superior Court Judge.) After failing to get Democratic Caucus support for any of these three, the CNP declared the Caucus and the Republicans to be indistinguishable evils and proceeded to run the modern left’s first city council slate campaign.
By now the Berkeley Democratic Caucus had been in power for six years, and after implementing its original liberal program, it had become increasingly tired, conservative, and hostile to progressive or new ideas. A victim of a cultural, political, and generation gap, the Caucus and its Councilmembers’ main concern became the preservation of their power from the youthful movement that had dared to challenge Cohelan and now attacked it from the left at municipal elections.
The Democratic Caucus had several chances to reach an accommodation with progressive, anti-war Democrats by sharing power and city council endorsements, but it always refused. Because of Democratic Caucus rigidity, the split among Berkeley’s Democrats became permanent.
Thus, from about late 1965 on, those actions which did emanate from City Hall continually escalated the conflict between the City Council and the progressive, anti-war, anti-development, counter-culture, student, tenant, south campus, and other neighborhood-oriented communities. Such actions included:
(a) a unanimous City Council resolution in support of the United States Vietnam War policy, Resolution No. 40,935, passed November 9, 1965, which the Council reaffirmed in February 1967.
(b) a proposed South Campus Redevelopment Project that threatened both peoples’ homes and businesses. To some, it appeared to be a city/university plot to rid the south campus of “undesirable” types. Since it also threatened Telegraph Avenue, the campus merchants worked with students and others to convince the Council majority to kill the project.
(c) the West Berkeley Industrial Park, Mayor Johnson’s pet project, approved by the Council in 1967, which involved the destruction of Berkeley’s oldest residential neighborhood.
(d) denials of permits to close streets for political rallies and street fairs.
(e) expansion of the Berkeley Police Department and increasing police clashes with demonstrators, beatings of citizens, teargassing of south campus, marijuana arrests, police spying on and infiltration of anti-war groups and general unresponsiveness to citizen complaints.
(f) a 1970 summer police program to capture and deport teenage runaways, a kind of anti-youth dragnet.
(g) prohibiting street vendors and artists, unless they moved every 5 minutes.
(h) refusal to appoint representatives of the progressive community to Berkeley boards and commissions, nearly all of whose members lived in the hills.
(i) appointment of a conservative City Manager, William Hanley, who was extremely hostile to the progressive community and to citizen participation in Berkeley government.
(j) refusal to consider rent control or protect housing from demolition.
(k) approval of massive development projects such as the Alta Bates Hospital expansion, which devastated several square blocks of the Bateman Neighborhood.
(l) passage of a regressive utility users tax that exempted large industries including Mayor Johnson’s business.
(m) the 1970 proposed purchase of police helicopters, a post People’s Park symbol of military occupation and the police state.
(n) refusal to place on the ballot a 1971 initiative ordinance calling for peace with Vietnam for which sufficient signatures had been gathered.
Over the next few years, City Hall thus became the enemy to a sizable proportion of Berkeley’s population. However this pattern was just beginning in 1967 when the CNP first attacked the City Council for supporting the Vietnam War and for general non-responsiveness to the community on housing, land use, the need for rent control and police review, and the Council’s refusal to act on City Manager Phillips’ recommendation favoring public ownership of PG&E, among other issues.
The CNP did endorse the Democratic Caucus’ black candidate, Ron Dellums. In spite of the CNP endorsement, Dellums was in 1967 following the Wilmont Sweeney black establishment tradition of campaigning as the Democratic Caucus candidate with his running mate Bernice Hubbard May.
Republican Mayor Wallace Johnson ran for re-election in 1967 without Democratic Caucus opposition. Sweeney even endorsed Johnson, a tremendous irony, since Johnson had four years earlier led the referendum forces against Sweeney’s Fair Housing Ordinance.
In fact it appeared that the Republicans and the Democratic Caucus were each running less than full slates in a cooperative effort to maintain the balance of power and freeze out the CNP. The Democratic Caucus only nominated a two-person slate, May and Dellums, after refusing to endorse any of the CNP candidates. 1967’s unofficial establishment Democratic Caucus/Republican alliance to avoid splitting the anti-CNP, pro-status quo vote was the forerunner of the much more blatant pattern developed in the 1970s.
At least in the case of the Mayor’s race, the establishment forces had little to fear. Mayor Johnson had already taken credit for a successful unity campaign to pass a bond issue undergrounding the BART tracks so that Berkeley would not become a racially divided community. Elected four years earlier on the basis of opposition to Fair Housing, he had buried his political past with the new slogan: “Bury the Tracks.”
Meanwhile, the CNP endorsed no candidate for Mayor either. Instead, Jerry Rubin, then 28, ran for Mayor as an independent, a year and a half before his Yippie protest leader/Chicago 7 defendant role at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Rubin’s campaign was part serious and part circus. Rubin issued an artistic, all-encompassing, 24-page campaign program that ranged from supporting rent control, public ownership of PG&E, and other CNP positions to disarming the Berkeley Police and abolishing grades at the University of California.
The CNP, which thought of itself as l00% “serious,” did not appreciate Rubin’s contribution nor the fact that both the public and the press tended to link Rubin to the CNP. Such linkage was only natural since Rubin endorsed the CNP ticket.
The April 4, 1967 results: 37,379 voters
elected Wallace Johnson 25,224(7l%) Republican, Incumbent
Jerry Rubin 7,385(20%) Pre-Yippie
Fred Huntley 2,160( 6%) John Bircher
Pete Camejo 1,019( 3%) Socialist Workers’ Party
elected Joseph Bort 21,495(58%) Republican, Incumbent
elected Bernice Hubbard May 20,524(55%) Democratic Caucus, Incumbent
elected John DeBonis 18,817(50%) Republican, Incumbent
elected Ron Dellums 17,171(46%) Democratic Caucus
Bordon Price 15,312(41%) Republican
Joseph Nielands 10,876(29%) Community for New Politics (CNP)
Bob Avakian 10,490(28%) Community for New Politics (CNP)
Howie Harawitz 8,025(21%) Community for New Politics (CNP)
In 1967 Berkeley re-elected its Republican Mayor, Wallace Johnson, by a margin of three and one half to one over Jerry Rubin. The CNP did better than Rubin, with its leading candidate, Professor Nielands, receiving 10,876 votes (29%). This was a massive CNP defeat, its candidates finishing 6th, 7th, and 8th, well behind both the Democratic Caucus and the Republicans, whose standard-bearers each had twice as many votes as the CNP. The status quo was therefore preserved in 1967 with the re-election of three Republicans (Johnson, DeBonis, and Bort), one Democratic Caucus incumbent (Mrs. May), and the addition to the Council of Mrs. May’s running mate, 31-year-old Ron Dellums, the city’s second black Councilmember. The Democratic Caucus thus retained its 6-3 Council majority and successfully repelled the Community for New Politics, which faded into little more than a newsletter.
1968 – Disunity On All Fronts
Berkeley was bursting with electoral politics in 1968, with the progressive forces bitterly divided. The more radical anti-war activists, including many people from the Community for New Politics (CNP), worked to register voters into the Peace and Freedom Party, which qualified for the California ballot in that year. A larger segment of Berkeley’s anti-war movement rallied behind Senator Eugene McCarthy’s peace candidacy for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination. After registering Peace and Freedom to get the party on the ballot, many Berkeleyans switched back to Democratic to support McCarthy. Senator Robert Kennedy’s Presidential campaign also opposed the Vietnam War and had Berkeley support, especially in the black community. McCarthy and Kennedy fought it out in the June Democratic primary.
The leading beneficiary of all this division was Congressman Cohelan. Instead of the unified, anti-war, Democratic Primary challenge presented by Bob Scheer two years earlier, Cohelan faced a fragmented left opposition in 1968. Cohelan’s opponent in the Democratic Party Primary was John George, a McCarthy delegate, who later became Alameda County’s first black Supervisor. George had originally wanted to challenge Cohelan in 1966, but stepped aside to support Bob Scheer. Now in 1968, George was hoping to combine anti-war white votes with black votes to succeed where Scheer had failed. Except a few thousand of Bob Scheer’s voters, the more ideological faction, were now registered Peace and Freedom and supporting Black Panther Huey Newton’s write-in candidacy for Cohelan’s seat. (Newton was in jail charged with the murder of an Oakland policeman.)
To Newton’s backers, John George was as much the enemy as Cohelan because both were Democrats. Newton’s supporters booed the introduction of John George at Senator McCarthy’s April 4, 1968 appearance before a capacity crowd in the U.C. Greek Theater. That rally was the highpoint of 1968 optimism since President Johnson had just withdrawn from the race prior to the Wisconsin Primary. McCarthy was welcomed as a conquering hero. We went home to learn that Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
The spirit of disunity represented by the Newton campaign was more damaging to John George than the numbers involved. On June 4, 1968, Cohelan easily beat John George by 52,591(61%) to 33,110(39%) with 3,088 Newton write-in votes winning him the Peace and Freedom Party nomination. That night, Robert Kennedy won the California primary and was shot. Cohelan went on to routine re-election in November by 50,000 votes over a Republican and by 90,000 votes over Huey Newton.
As the Peace and Freedom Party fell apart, the Berkeley McCarthy campaign split into one faction that was willing to vote for Democratic Party nominee Hubert Humphrey and another that conducted a November McCarthy for President write-in campaign. Berkeley’s disunity reflected the nation’s and Richard Nixon was elected President.
1969 – The Berkeley Coalition
The chaos of 1968 convinced many progressives that a serious effort had to be made to unify the left so that an effective challenge could be conducted against the ever more conservative, ever more out-of-touch Berkeley City Council. The Berkeley Coalition was created to bring together veterans of the McCarthy, CNP, Scheer, and Robert Kennedy campaigns, plus new progressive organizations such as the Better Berkeley Council (of which Leo Bach was co-chairman), students, and all others who felt frozen out and alienated from City Hall. As a merger of organizations, the Berkeley Coalition was broader based than the Community for New Politics (CNP) which it replaced. The Berkeley Coalition’s leadership included Frank Daar, Charlie Sellers, Nancy (Sellers) Snow, and Luanne and George Rogers. Leo Bach was an active member, wanting to be a Council candidate.
Instead of running its own slate of three or more candidates as had the CNP, the Berkeley Coalition’s more modest strategy was to nominate a single candidate who could then be slated with other forces in a broad alliance. The Berkeley Coalition, 125 persons voting, first chose two candidates, U.C. History Professor Charlie Sellers (first choice), and Loni Hancock, a young, articulate housewife who was the editor of the CNP newsletter and worked with the Le Conte Neighborhood Association and Women for Peace, among many other organizations (second choice).
In a final attempt at Democratic Party unity, the Berkeley Coalition asked the Democratic Caucus to put either Sellers or Hancock on its slate. Had this modest request been granted, Berkeley history would have been quite different. Instead, the hardliners in the Democratic Caucus prevailed and they nominated a full five-person slate of their own people. All male, it consisted of incumbents Wilmont Sweeney and Zack Brown, black attorney Warren Widener, and Joseph Grodin, plus appointed incumbent John Swingle for a separate two-year term resulting from Councilman Joe Bort’s appointment by Governor Reagan to the County Board of Supervisors. Grodin was put in the final slot that the Berkeley Coalition felt should have gone to it. He is now Justice Grodin of the California Supreme Court, having been put in a much better slot by Governor Jerry Brown.
Frustrated in their efforts to strike a deal with the Democratic Caucus, the Berkeley Coalition designated 28-year-old Loni Hancock as its sole candidate and created an alliance with the Black Caucus. In 1969, the Black Caucus embraced a broad spectrum of political views from progressive to establishment.
Councilman Dellums was one of the left-oriented leaders. The Caucus’ unifying factor in 1969 was dissatisfaction with the “token” number of blacks traditionally selected by the Democratic Caucus. In addition to the pair of blacks nominated for City Council by the Democratic Caucus, Sweeney and Widener (who both won), the Black Caucus endorsed two other black candidates, Herman Pecot – 4 year term, and Allen Wilson – 2 year term. (Pecot and Wilson were overwhelmingly defeated.)
The Black Caucus then had one slot out of five for a white and as part of its rebellion against the Democratic Caucus, that white endorsement went to Loni Hancock. The Berkeley Coalition hoped that Loni’s presence on an otherwise all-black slate would win black votes for her that would ordinarily have gone to the white candidates of the Democratic Caucus. This strategy was relatively successful. Loni received the endorsement of black radio station KDIA and Ron Dellums served as her campaign co-chairman. In return, the Berkeley Coalition endorsed the Black Caucus slate while concentrating on electing Loni.
The Berkeley Coalition’s efforts with students were not significant, and since the election fell on April 1, the second day of registration week, campus turnout was greatly deterred. Nor did the Berkeley Coalition turn on the counter-culture community. It was too middle class for them.
Meanwhile, the Republicans, who had been swept by the Democratic Caucus four years earlier, ran a two-person slate of Tom McLaren and Bordon Price. With no seats to lose, the Republican comeback attempt tried to capitalize on the divisions within the Democratic Caucus’ present and former constituencies by urging bullet balloting for just McLaren and Price. Thus, unlike 1967, when the Democratic Caucus and the Republicans had essentially cooperated to preserve their incumbents against the CNP/Rubin threat, 1969 was much closer to a three-way race with the Republicans out to recapture lost power.
Loni Hancock’s 1969 campaign slogan was “Cities Are for People.” She raised the issues of rent control, police reform, neighborhood preservation, and limiting development that still characterize the progressive platform. As a young woman, Loni was non-threatening to liberals and succeeded in expanding the progressive vote in the black and white communities. She received 33% of the votes cast, a 4% improvement over Nielands’ total, an average 7% improvement over the CNP slate as a whole. This was progress, but still not enough to win. Loni finished sixth, although losing by only 1,600 votes compared to the over 5,000 votes that Nielands had lost by two years earlier.
The April 1,1969 results: 3l,434 votes cast.
elected Wilmont Sweeney 19,493 (62%) Democratic Caucus, Incumbent
elected Tom McLaren 13,537 (43%) Republican
elected Bordon Price 12,652 (40%) Republican
elected Warren Widener 11,962 (38%) Democratic Caucus
Zack Brown 10,635 (34%) Democratic Caucus, Incumbent
Loni Hancock 10,34l (33%) Berkeley Coalition
Joe Grodin 8,769 (28%) Democratic Caucus
The above vote was a great Republican victory, gaining two seats to narrow the Democratic Caucus majority from 7-2 to 5-4. Note that Hancock beat one Democratic Caucus candidate, Grodin, and nearly equaled the vote received by losing Caucus incumbent Brown. By taking votes away from Democratic Caucus candidates, the Berkeley Coalition had shown power, but this vote splitting had helped elect the two Republicans while the left came up empty once again.
Breakthrough – Dellums and Meade in 1970
Ron Dellums for Congress
Ron Dellums had campaigned for and been elected to the City Council in 1967 as a Democratic Caucus candidate. His highly reluctant entry into politics (really a draft) actually originated in a meeting held in Councilman Wilmont Sweeney’s living room, although Dellums’ earliest black supporters, such as Don Hopkins and Maudelle Shirek, were well to Sweeney’s left and saw Dellums as their representative. Dellums’ endorsement by the Community for New Politics (CNP) was secondary and even lukewarm. The CNP had felt an obligation to endorse the black community candidate, even if he was, as he appeared to some, another black conservative like Wilmont Sweeney. CNP hardliners refused to vote for Dellums because he did not endorse the CNP slate and spent his time campaigning on Democratic Caucus incumbent Bernice Hubbard May’s coattails. Naturally, the May-Dellums ticket was endorsed by Congressman Cohelan. This produced a strange irony in CNP literature, which called for a vote against Cohelan’s politics while simultaneously supporting Cohelan’s candidate, Ron Dellums.
Between 1967 and 1969 an unexpected political transformation occurred. Ron Dellums evolved into the leading spokesman for the white and black Berkeley left. He came on the U.C. Campus and spoke at Sproul Steps rallies in support of the 1968-69 Third World Strike. In 1969 he endorsed Loni Hancock for City Council, was co-chair of her campaign, and helped lead the Black Caucus’ attack on the Democratic Caucus. With Channel 9 broadcasting the City Council meetings live, he blossomed into a TV star in May 1969, as a dynamic advocate in favor of People’s Park (vacant, neglected U.C. land at Dwight and Bowditch, where the University had bulldozed housing, made into a community park by south campus people, and then suddenly fenced off by U.C. Chancellor Roger Heyns on May 15, 1969, leading to the most violent community/ police clashes ever in which the Alameda County Sheriffs Deputies killed a man and many other people were wounded by the Sheriffs and the Berkeley Police).
Dellums called for the City Council to take over the park from the University and return it to the community. He attacked the police shooting and teargassing of Berkeley’s citizens and called for an end to the city’s occupation by Governor Reagan’s National Guard troops and the curfew. Under extraordinary community pressure, the City Council actually passed a motion to request the University to let the city have the park, but the University Regents, reflecting Reagan’s views, cared only for their property rights and were intransigent. People’s Park produced mass demonstrations and mass arrests, radicalizing the Berkeley community more than any other event before or since. A huge, 30,000-strong, peaceful Memorial Day march to the park ended the violence, but not the struggle. The park was still surrounded by that hated fence.
Being a media star didn’t solve Dellums’ personal problems. Council work paid very little while conflicting with his various jobs as social worker and traveling consultant. Meanwhile, he was becoming increasingly isolated politically from the rest of his Council colleagues. Angry and frustrated, towards the end of 1969, he announced on Channel 9’s Newsroom that he was thinking about quitting politics altogether. This produced an outpouring of support for Dellums from the leadership and rank and file of the Berkeley Coalition, black community, campus, counter-culture, and anti-war movement, among many other groups. At meetings, people pleaded with Dellums to stay in politics. The community’s response to Ron caused him to completely change his mind. Dellums announced that he would challenge Jeffrey Cohelan in the Democratic Party’s June 1970 Congressional Primary.
Running as an anti-Vietnam War candidate, Dellums unified the left as Scheer had done in 1966 while making real the potential strength in the black community John George had tried to tap against Cohelan in 1968. Dellums spoke on campus and all over the district. His campaign speeches were inspirational events as he called for a new coalition politics and unleashed a flood of political energy. The Dellums Campaign mobilized a tremendous voter registration drive on the U.C. Campus and in the Oakland and Berkeley black communities. Although I had worked on John George’s 1968 Congressional campaign, I really entered Berkeley politics as a part of the 1970 drive, registering 1600 campus voters, 90% Democrats, with Dellums as their chief motivation for voting. In total, about 22,000 new Democratic voters were added to the rolls in Dellums’ district for the primary. The Berkeley Coalition put everything it had into the Dellums campaign. Nixon’s April l970 invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent murder of the four Kent State students in Ohio still further intensified anti-war activity in the district and reconstituted much of the University to work against the war. The Cambodian invasion punctuated the need to elect Dellums and new volunteers flooded into the campaign.
Cohelan was complacent after his easy 1968 victories and a favorable gerrymander of his district to add more pro-Cohelan type white working-class voters. Now a six-term veteran Congressman, Cohelan was too busy exercising his seniority in Washington to worry very much about another primary challenge. It was late in the campaign when Cohelan returned to Alameda County and discovered that Dellums’ charges about the incumbent congressman being out of touch with his district were all too true. Cohelan’s old Democratic Caucus and AFL-CIO constituencies couldn’t save him this time. On June 2, 1970, Dellums defeated Cohelan by 42,778(55%) to 35,223(45%). The left had finally won an election, four years after Robert Scheer first challenged Cohelan on the Vietnam War issue. (The Central Labor Council later embraced Dellums with total enthusiasm.)
Since Cohelan had been deemed unbeatable, Dellums’ November 1970 Republican opponent was a complete nonentity named John Healey. The strangest event in the campaign was when the youthful Healey admitted having smoked marijuana as a soldier in Vietnam. Dellums replied that he smoked Cools. The next big news was Vice President Agnew’s October attack on Dellums as a dangerous radical, hardly a persuasive campaign voice in the heavily Democratic district.
Ken Meade for Assembly
The real November 1970 race was for the California Assembly, where liberal Democratic challenger attorney Ken Meade squared off against the entrenched conservative Republican Don Mulford. This Assembly District had been gerrymandered as a Republican bastion, tailor made to keep Mulford in office forever. It included Piedmont and the Oakland and Berkeley Hills, plus south campus, but not West Berkeley. The district was so bad that the Democratic Caucus had given up trying to beat Mulford. Mulford’s idea of representing the University community was the creation of an act bearing his name that authorized the police to remove non-students from college campuses and jail them if they returned. This Mulford Act was the Assemblyman’s response to the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement (FSM) in which U.C. students and non-students fought for and won the First Amendment right to have political activity on campus.
Meade had already lost to Mulford by 9,000 votes in a 1968 attempt. Now Meade was back, better organized and financed to win. Meade ran as a more mainstream Democrat than Dellums with a large corps of workers that included many Cohelan backers. Dellums and Meade had overlapping districts and the two campaigns cooperated, mostly behind the scenes. By election day on the Berkeley campus, the U.C. Dellums Campaign headed by Lee Halterman and Peter Birdsall ran a merged doorhanger and get-out-the-vote operation with the Campus Meade Campaign led by Jeff Gordon. Hundreds of campaign workers were mobilized, on and off the campus, including a huge number of students. The doorhanger (which didn’t hang) was a unity picture of Dellums and Meade together, a visual statement of the coalition we have maintained publicly ever since, with Ken Meade being followed as Assemblyman in 1976 by his 1970 campaign manager and first administrative assistant, Tom Bates.
The Dellums and Meade ticket swept to victory over their Republican opponents on November 3, 1970, Dellums 89,784 to Healy 64,69l; Meade 44,777 to Mulford 3l,939. In 1970 Dellums and Meade had each beaten an incumbent where many others had failed. Together, they and their organizations were a Democratic Party progressive political powerhouse. For their Berkeley supporters, that powerhouse would now be targeted on the April 6, 1971 Berkeley city election.