The November l976 Campaign: John George for Supervisor
BCA’s strategy for the November l976 general election was the reverse of our approach in the June primary. Now we went with a very short and focused slate covering five contests, only one of which was a new endorsement. BCA candidates Ron Dellums for Congress, Tom Bates and John Miller for Assembly now faced relatively minor Republican opposition.
There was but one local race that really counted – John George vs. Billy Rumford in the 5th District County Supervisorial run-off. At the start this appeared to be a close battle.
For the first time in five years, not a single Berkeley initiative was on the ballot. However, Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union (UFW) had a state initiative (Proposition l4) that would have permanently protected the rights of farmworkers to organize. The UFW felt that California’s newly enacted Agricultural Labor Relations Act was so politically vulnerable that it had to be replaced by a stronger, pro-union initiative statute which the Legislature could not later weaken. BCA endorsed Proposition l4 and made it a prominent feature of our campaign. We also wanted to use l4’s coattails to help John George.
BCA’s short slate reflected an organizational consensus not to get involved in a host of other contests, including the following:
- President of the United States. Jimmy Carter’s candidacy against Jerry Ford inspired very little enthusiasm.
- U.S. Senate. Senator Tunney would have to get along without BCA’s help in his race with Republican S. I. Hiyakawa.
- State Senate. l976 was not going to be the year that BCA supported liberal incumbent Nick Petris. He failed to meet our standards on issues such as rent control and his endorsements of Council majority candidates.
- BART Board. John Denton’s opponent of two years earlier, incumbent Dick Clark, was now facing eight challengers, of whom the most serious was Oakland attorney Art Shartsis. Considering that BCA retained a dislike for Clark while Dellums and Bates still strongly supported him, this was an excellent case for neutrality. Shartsis was essentially an unknown quantity with many right of center endorsers (Joe Bort, Sue Hone, Shirley Dean) plus some prominent BCA backers, notably Anna and Marty Rabkin.
- Five minor amendments to the Berkeley Election Reform Act originating from the Fair Campaign Practices Commission and the City Council. Measures H, I, J, & K were non-controversial housekeeping changes that included deleting sections expressly declared unconstitutional by the Buckley v. Valeo series of rulings, and the final elimination of Sue Hone’s cumbersome trustee/responsible person system for controlling the disbursing of campaign expenditures. These four measures all passed overwhelmingly.
Measure L would have established a procedure by which municipal candidates could keep contributors’ names secret to prevent “threats, harassment or reprisals”. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) claimed that it needed such protection for its candidates, but neglected to file a ballot argument in favor of L. The only argument in the voters’ handbook came from the League of Women Voters opposing such an exemption procedure as an unworkable, unnecessary denial of equal treatment under law. That helps explain why L was defeated by 2 to l.
Unencumbered by any of the above low priority matters, BCA was free to unite with our Oakland allies in a massive effort focused on electing John George to the Board of Supervisors. Mal Warwick once again operated out of 3250 Adeline jointly on behalf of John George and the BCA slate. Without the Fred Harris problem, BCA and the Campus Community Coalition (CCC) were able to work much more closely together, sharing campaign responsibilities.
In the summer of l976, after months of struggle, CCC had finally obtained two student slots on the BCA steering committee. This amounted to official BCA recognition of CCC’s legitimacy. Joining in for the first time were the Tom Hayden supporters who had stayed together after the June primary. Originally called the Hayden Group, they later became the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED) and helped supply BCA with a new generation of leaders.
Together, Berkeley and Oakland progressives created a one time only John George juggernaut. It was probably the most overwhelmingly partisan campaign we ever conducted for a non-partisan office. Bill Cavala was a key strategist and Margaret Amoureux from Oakland served as John’s overall campaign manager.
John George’s heavyweight endorsers from outside the East Bay included Governor Jerry Brown, Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, Tom Hayden, United States Senators John Tunney and Ted Kennedy, Georgia’s Julian Bond, plus Mayor George Moscone and Assemblyman Willie Brown from San Francisco. John also had the support of nearly every Democratic elected official in the East Bay, the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, all the major labor unions including the United Farm Workers and the Alameda County Central Labor Council, the California League of Conservation Voters, his former opponent Stan Naparst, plus the black press (the California Voice and Carlton Goodlet’s Metro Reporter).
In contrast, Billy Rumford’s highest ranking elected endorsers were some of his Berkeley City Council majority allies, Carole Davis, Shirley Dean, and third-place finisher Sue Hone, plus Rumford’s father, the former Assemblyman. Widener and Ramsey appear not to have endorsed Rumford, although he was supported by the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC) and the Gazette.
The George-Rumford campaign failed to generate any issues relevant to the Board of Supervisors. John George pledged to follow in Tom Bates’ footsteps “Placing human needs high on the County’s agenda.” John’s literature never even mentioned that he had an opponent. Billy Rumford, campaigning as a Democrat, once again stressed his experience and independence, while adding a few muted attacks:
“I am offering my candidacy as an alternative to the political machine that is endorsing a slate of candidates. You, the voter, are being asked on the word of a few elected officials to accept their string of candidates. When a politician becomes part of a political machine there is a great injustice perpetrated upon the voter. When allegiances are owed to political blocs, the independent voice and vote is lost. As a member of the Berkeley City Council, I have maintained a position of political independence so that I could evaluate issues in an unbiased manner.”
This same Rumford letter to Berkeley voters also criticized John George for being too strong a voice for “Oakland interests”.
Amusingly, one piece of George literature stressed John’s commitment to Berkeley issues, explaining that “he fought Measure O (anti-traffic diverters) because he supports the preservation of neighborhoods.”
It was really in the area of campaign tactics and techniques that this race became memorable. John George is a tireless, effervescent campaigner, a very friendly, unpretentious, down-to-earth man, the East Bay’s happy warrior. He creates strong bonds of trust and affection with his supporters and ordinary constituents. To best utilize these qualities, it was decided that John would personally conduct a Lawn Sign Project. John George walked house-to-house down the major residential streets of the Oakland/Berkeley black community, asking for permission to put up his lawn signs. Naturally the signs read: “John George – the DEMOCRAT for Supervisor”.
After a while John’s lawn signs became a West Oakland/Berkeley forest, the most successful trail marking a candidate’s own precinct walking that I have ever seen. I doubt that any other candidate would have John George’s combination of energy and charm to personally saturate so large an area with lawn signs. Here was the ultimate grass roots candidate.
Since John is a self-employed attorney in private practice, he could generally control his own schedule and allow a great deal of time for campaigning. In contrast, Rumford was now the BART Chief of Police, an employee of the BART Board of Directors. John George’s endorsers included four BART Directors and it was explained to me that some of them had promised to keep Rumford busy with extra work, thus depriving Billy of valuable campaign time.
Then there was our massive effort to slate John George with the Farmworkers Initiative, Proposition l4. Cesar Chavez and the UFW were extremely popular in John’s district as progressive symbols. One day John George, Cesar Chavez, Ron Dellums, and Tom Bates went precinct walking together, followed by a hoard of supporters. Pictures of this foursome came to symbolize the November l976 slate campaign and our coalition in general.
My major contribution to the campaign was production of a “Yes on l4 – John George for Supervisor” slate poster in the striking United Farmworker colors, black on florescent red. This poster proclaimed the Cesar Chavez endorsement and it looked exactly like a farmworkers poster, complete with their black eagle symbol. The artwork was by Vickie Morgan. I received UFW permission to print it, but the poster was entirely designed and paid for through BCA. The farmworkers had nothing to do with the poster, although its authentic appearance impressed them. The poster accurately communicated that the Farmworkers not only endorsed John George, but were helping to campaign for him. This was probably the most effective election poster I ever produced.
The main BCA/CCC campaign consisted of Mal Warwick’s more conventional white on blue “Dellums-Bates-George-Yes on l4” slate poster, 50,000 copies of the BCA tabloid, and 35,000 of our traditional BCA election day doorhangers, all of which were widely distributed throughout Berkeley. Dave Poindexter and the Campus Community Coalition once again did a superb job covering the campus area while the BCA office handled west and southwest Berkeley.
Finally, there was the saturation slating for John George as the “official” Democratic Party candidate for Supervisor. Democrats United proclaimed this in their tabloid. The Bates campaign, managed by Lynn Suter, mailed literature on behalf of the Bates/George Democratic Party ticket. Voters received a telegram from Senator Edward Kennedy urging support for all the Democratic candidates, including Jimmy Carter and John George. The actual official Democratic Party/Carter Campaign election day doorhangers, as well as the BCA doorhanger, all included John George as the Democrat for Supervisor.
After a typically frantic election day Get-Out-The-Vote effort, the November l976 campaign ended with a unique coalition victory party at the Columbo Club in Oakland. Instead of the separate victory parties each individual campaign normally holds on election night, all the progressive Berkeley and Oakland campaigns (except for the Farmworkers) held one massive joint victory party for the first and only time. Black and white together, the hundreds of campaign workers for Dellums, Bates, Miller, George, BCA, CCC, etc. assembled to watch the Presidential returns on a newly invented giant projection TV screen. Late in the evening, when Walter Cronkite announced that Jimmy Carter was the new President of the United States, the crowd cheered. Congressman Dellums then went to the stage and delivered a speech full of optimism for the future of our country.
By then we also knew that our entire local slate had won, with John George defeating Rumford in a landslide. Only the Farmworkers were losers, Proposition l4 being defeated soundly statewide. BCA thus finished l976 by having prevented a breakthrough to higher office by all three of the Council majority members who made the attempt – Widener, Hone, and Rumford. No such future electoral escapes have been tried since. The ambitious majority members were still on the Berkeley City Council, contrary to their own wishes and ours.
The November 2, l976 Results – 58,928 Berkeley Voters
Alameda County Supervisor, 5th District
Berkeley / Oakland / Grand Total
John George 32,l85(63%) / l9,907(65%) / 55,963(62%) Elected
Billy Rumford l9,269(37%) / l0,949(35%) / 33,84l(38%)
The Farmworkers Initiative, Proposition l4
Berkeley / California Grand Total
YES 42,574(76%) / 2,9l5,98l(38%)
NO l3,597)24%) / 4,79l,966(62%) Defeated
The turnout of nearly 59,000 was the second highest ever for a Berkeley election, although there were l0,000 fewer voters than four years earlier when the McGovern vs. Nixon Presidential contest set the all-time record. What both Presidential elections had in common was the huge, dominant outpouring of voters by the greater campus community.
John George’s triumph over Billy Rumford was overwhelming. John carried every single Berkeley precinct outside the hills, including the entire black community. This was a dramatic reversal from the June primary when Rumford had finished first in southwest Berkeley, beating John in l9 black precincts. George’s greatest victory margins came in the campus area where he received 87% of the vote in his best precinct and beat Rumford 3 to l overall for an 8,000 vote advantage. Although Rumford won the Berkeley
hills, his victory margin was insignificant, less than l,000 votes. Absentee ballots, conservative at this time, helped Rumford, along with other cities in District 5 not discussed here.
Meanwhile Oakland rewarded John George with a nearly 2 to l trouncing of Rumford, pushing John another 9,000 votes ahead of his opponent.
The John George landslide remains the best showing BCA and its allies ever achieved in a high level, contested, non-partisan race. However, it now appears that at a time when the entire progressive coalition focused on electing John George, Billy Rumford was effectively deserted by the major political and economic interests that were expected to bolster his campaign.
The Council majority did not mobilize its constituencies for Rumford. Billy had reason to feel he was being punished for lack of team play, such as the crime of running against Sue Hone in the first place. The Alameda County conservative/developer interests that concentrate on controlling the Board of Supervisors appeared indifferent to the outcome in the 5th District. A progressive minority of one on the five-member board, whether that lone individual was Tom Bates or John George, was not a threat to the balance of power.
This political reality became much clearer in both l980 and l984 when John George was unopposed for re-election. John had a free ride, in spite of some unfortunate incidents generating bad publicity, including his arrest for drunk driving, a charge later dismissed. During the next decade, the fight for control of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors appeared to take place everywhere except in the 5th District.
Thus, BCA gained unwarranted confidence in its own political strength from John George’s huge success. While we had elected an exceptionally dedicated Supervisor to represent the 5th District, helping solidify and invigorate what could now be called the Dellums/Bates/George coalition, John George’s victory did not expand BCA’s support in Berkeley for the upcoming April l977 city election.
On Proposition l4, Berkeley voters gave the UFW twice the support of the state as a whole, 76% “Yes” compared to 38%.
In other returns, Dellums, Bates, and Miller had their expected easy triumphs for Congress and Assembly: Dellums l22,342, Philip Breck 68,374, Bob Evans (Peace and Freedom Party) 6,238; Tom Bates 72,708, Art Flegal 49,400; John Miller 56,473, Todd Roust l2,l00.
The only real surprise came for BART Board District 3 where Art Shartsis upset Dick Clark 30,623 to 27,2l7. Berkeley voters in the hills and campus produced a nearly 2 to l Shartsis advantage that Clark could not overcome with his Oakland plurality. Unlike John Denton, who had lost to Clark in the hills two years earlier, Shartsis did best in the hills. His hill vote, a reflection of Shartsis’ conservative backers, was an indicator of where he would line up in local politics. Shartsis, a Democrat, became an endorser of the Council majority, several of whose members had endorsed him against Clark. Shartsis even backed a Republican against Dellums in l982. Meanwhile, from a Berkeley perspective, Shartsis’ performance as a BART director duplicated Clark’s unresponsiveness. So in hindsight, Dick Clark, the Dellums/Bates ally, was clearly preferable to the more conservative, politically hostile Shartsis. This was one of many electoral realities BCA people did not understand in November l976.