The Filthy Fight: Berkeley’s April l98l Election
In April l98l the Berkeley Democratic Club was defending the four seats it won in its l977 sweep of BCA. In descending order of loyalty to the conservative coalition, the seats were held by incumbents Gilda Feller, Sue Hone, Bill Segesta, and Carole Davis. With two years remaining in the terms of its four Councilmembers elected in l979, BCA needed to gain just one seat to create a secure five vote majority. Only another center/right sweep would keep BCA out of power.
Adaptation: The Creation of the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC)
As described in April 1979, a major segment of Berkeley’s Republican leadership intentionally withheld their votes from the BDC’s l979 slate in order to win future political concessions. The Republican defection had a devastating impact, as BDC candidates collapsed in the hills and BCA won four out of five Council seats.
The Berkeley Democratic Club’s strategists understood what had been done to their l979 ticket and resolved to re-establish a strong Republican alliance. BDC leaders, especially small businessmen Ovie Wittstock (Layton’s Shoes), Harry Weininger (the Carpet Center), Leo Bach (Campus Copy Centers), and landlords such as Carole Sibley were very comfortable working with the Republicans. So were some present and past BDC Councilmembers, Ed Kallgren for example. BDC and the Republicans negotiated successfully and then formalized their arrangement by creating a new organization in the summer and fall of l980: the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC).
Until now, “coalition” had been exclusively the left’s word, as in Berkeley Coalition and April Coalition. But, in a fundamental break with precedent, ABC was designed to bring moderate/conservative Democrats and Republicans together as members of the same group. The only previous formal attempt at such unity had been l97l’s short lived One Berkeley Community. Under the leadership of Wallace Johnson, the last Republican Mayor, One Berkeley Community endorsed a slate of three Democrats and one Republican, only to fall victim to partisan vote splitting from all sides.
Ten years later, formation of the All Berkeley Coalition was a monumental victory for the Republicans, who would finally be allowed to publicly participate as equals in the nomination of Council candidates. Ever since Ed Kallgren excluded them from the meetings in his living room that put together the l973 Berkeley Four slate, the Republicans had deeply resented a process which forced the GOP to support a pre-selected slate of Democrats.
To accommodate the Republicans, BDC thus moved to its own political right, becoming more conservative as GOP partners inside the All Berkeley Coalition. This strategy violated the political gospel which held that the center was the key to victory. But in BDC’s case, insuring solid Republican backing was the highest priority. Only with their right flank secure again could BDC seek centrist votes.
At its October l8, l980 Organizing Committee meeting, the All Berkeley Coalition adopted this Position Paper which set the tone for the election to follow:
… MANY BERKELEYANS ARE WORRIED ABOUT THEIR CITY GOVERNMENT, AND WITH GOOD REASON: Recent political events, and the practices of the incumbent majority of the Berkeley City Council, and their appointees, have inspired widespread disquiet among thoughtful citizens of this community.
Since April, l979, it has become clear that the policies and actions of the current radical majority do not serve Berkeley as a whole. Rather, they concentrate on accommodating narrow partisan interests and prejudices.
The actions of the present council majority are not the outcome of open council discussion, but are dictated by the non-elected leadership group of the radical political party, Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA). They have sought with considerable success to undermine Berkeley’s political tradition of government by compromise, consensus and moderation, and to substitute a politics of adversity, conflict, and divisiveness. …
Most members of the Berkeley Democratic Club were willing to participate in ABC. The Club’s small minority of partisan Democrats and liberals had a choice between quitting or staying in an organization that seemed to have surrendered to political extortion from the Republicans. But the Berkeley Democratic Club was 45 years old and only the last six years had been spent as the center/right’s primary forum for choosing City Council candidates. BDC would continue to exist as an independent organization, even though it would now function as a component of the larger All Berkeley Coalition.
Thus, the conservative coalition ended up with two allied but separate organizations, the Berkeley Democratic Club and the All Berkeley Coalition. For the sake of unity, both would have to agree on City Council slates. Even in l98l this was an inherently unstable structure, one that the progressive community had long ago abandoned in favor of reliance upon a single organization. In the left’s historic chain that went from the Community for New Politics (l967) to the Berkeley Coalition (l969), the April Coalition (l97l-73) and then Berkeley Citizens Action (l974- ), each preceding group was promptly dissolved or merged to prevent organizational rivalries with its successor.
But now ABC and BDC intended to co-exist, one with Republicans and one without, ABC to the right of BDC. Even the City Council slate endorsement sequence might be complicated. In l98l, the BDC/ABC plan was for ABC to endorse first and BDC to be a rubber stamp. Would the process always work that way?
ABC began by looking at the four incumbents they nominally inherited from BDC’s l977 sweep.
Gilda Feller was running for re-election and would be nominated with ease. She had proven her loyalty to the conservative coalition, hardly ever voting with BCA on a contested issue.
After nine years on the Council, Sue Hone wanted to retire. She hated being in the minority, and could not assume another sweep that would restore her to power. As the top vote getter in both l973 and l977, Hone was presumed to be unbeatable and ABC people were counting on her to lead the ticket to victory. But persuasion failed and Hone removed herself from consideration, telling Grassroots she would use her newly expanded free time to paint her kitchen.
Bill Segesta campaigned in l977 as an independent minded person who cared little for partisanship. Such claims were routinely made (but rarely honored) by the members of conservative coalition slates over the years.
Following in the Bordon Price, Billy Rumford, and Carole Davis tradition, Segesta actually maintained a large degree of independence after being elected. He publicly expressed disgust with both BDC and BCA Councilmembers for placing party loyalty above principle. Often voting with BCA, especially after the l979 election, Bill Segesta disappointed major elements of the coalition that had elected him.
Given his political unreliability, ABC was unlikely to endorse Bill Segesta for anything. But, long before candidates were to be chosen, Bill Segesta had announced his retirement from local politics. (Note that no center/right Councilmember who displayed actual independence in office has ever been re-nominated.)
As for Carole Davis, BDC/ABC would never trust her again. If she had a political future, it was with BCA.
Needing three running mates for Gilda Feller, ABC appointed a politically diverse seventeen member Screening Committee, including four Republicans and a spectrum of BDC viewpoints. This was a partial imitation of the BCA Candidate Search and Screening Committee, except that membership in the BCA group is open to any organizational representatives who wish to participate.
The ABC Screening Committee interviewed two obvious choices: Andrea Washburn, who had finished sixth in April l979 on the BDC ticket; and James Sweeney, the very unsuccessful candidate against Helen Burke for an East Bay Municipal Utilities District seat in November l978. Both Washburn and Sweeney had few enemies and were almost universally acceptable to ABC.
But, for the final slot, perennial Council hopeful Leo Bach was the antithesis of consensus. In the BDC/ABC world, Leo has been the single most divisive person for nearly a decade. His historical counterpart on the BCA side is Mark Allen.
Both Leo and Mark represent the ideological extremes inside each coalition, so they are intrinsically unacceptable to other factions. The people who oppose Mark/Leo internally (l) assume the man cannot be elected because he will repel centrist voters and (2) object to what he stands for politically. Conversely, BCA people long for a Leo nomination and BDC stalwarts pray that Mark will be chosen, again for the same reason: anticipation that he is the weakest possible candidate the other side can run.
In BCA’s l975 and l977 nomination fights, Mark’s Communist Party affiliation dominated the internal debate over electability and personal independence. In Leo’s case, it was his anti-diverter crusade and abrasive personality that made him so unpopular among BDC neighborhood-oriented moderates. This unyielding opposition to Leo, which defeated him for the l979 BDC nomination, helped trigger the Republican revolt. Now in l98l, the Republicans would have preferred ABC to nominate one of their own. But if the BDC strategists weren’t ready to support a registered Republican for City Council, then the Republicans demanded the next best thing: Leo Bach.
This time Ed Kallgren and the other BDC leaders on the ABC Screening Committee embraced Leo Bach’s candidacy as the price they had to pay for the formal Republican alliance. Unlike l977 (Bill Segesta) and l979 (Jack Bonno), there would be no more surprise candidates imposed as a compromise between BDC’s antagonistic left and right wings. l98l belonged to the right wing as the Screening Committee recommended Leo’s nomination on a divided vote.
Since Leo Bach was total anathema to BDC’s pro-traffic diverter/neighborhood group faction, their five representatives on the ABC Screening Committee (Pat Devaney, Bob Holtzapple, Kate Simpson, Janet Johnson, and Mark Braymond) all resigned to protest Leo’s selection. But, the committee’s Republican members, including Paul Harberts and Sandy Muir, were satisfied with the slate and they were the ones who counted. The ABC/BDC leadership thus ignored the five defectors and their constituencies.
ABC assembled over 200 people to pick its first Council slate on January 24, l98l, at All Souls’ Church. The group’s officers were BDC veterans Carol Sibley as Chair and Harry Weininger as Vice Chair, plus Al Simmons from the Berkeley Black Council. Their collective political history included the fight for integrated schools and housing in the l960’s. But in ABC they were united with the traditional enemies of Berkeley liberalism, Republican leaders from the once dominant political movement that bitterly fought integration, repealed the fair housing ordinance, and tried to recall Carol Sibley from the School Board.
It was an incongruous gathering, held together solely by hostility towards BCA and its programs, real or imagined.
Past conflicts were forgotten and harmony prevailed as the Screening Committee presented its recommended City Council slate: Gilda Feller, Andrea Washburn, James Sweeney, and Leo Bach. In a spirit of bi-partisan solidarity, the Republicans and Democrats took pride in each others company as former Mayor Warren Widener introduced Gilda Feller to the group, while Republican Sandy Muir nominated James Sweeney. Paul Harberts, another conservative Republican, spoke on behalf of Andrea Washburn, while former Councilman Ed Kallgren personally presented Leo Bach. Leo pledged to wage an aggressive campaign.
With only four nominees, the entire slate was ratified by acclamation without any votes even being counted. In a major show of unity, the center/right was following its less democratic pattern of l973 (slate picked in a closed living room meeting) and l977 (pre-selected slate endorsed on a single vote), rather than the more competitive, multi-ballot nomination contests of l975 and l979. Note that the center/right’s two greatest election triumphs, (l973 & l977, 7 out of 8 seats), both followed a tightly controlled candidate selection process. Whenever several ballots were necessary to pick the conservative coalition’s candidates, such a democratic exercise was intrinsic evidence of disunity that foretold electoral weakness.
In BCA and the April Coalition, the democratic tradition has routinely led to prolongated, chaotic conventions. However, there is no clear correlation between the level of discord at a BCA convention and electoral success. Both BCA’s greatest victory (l979) and worst defeat (l977) followed multi-ballot, deadlocked conventions that threatened the organization’s continued survival.
While ABC’s l98l endorsement meeting had been very quiet, the dissenters spoke up elsewhere. Grassroots’ January 28, l98l issue quoted Pat Devaney’s charge “that neighborhoods were excluded from the ABC slate.” But Devaney and his centrist allies were even more helpless than usual against the new BDC/ABC center/right juggernaut.
The Berkeley Democratic Club met on January 29, l98l and ratified the All Berkeley Coalition slate. The conservative coalition’s candidate selection gameplan had worked perfectly. The united ABC/BDC ticket for l98l consisted of:
Berkeley Citizens Action
BCA made no structural changes following the titanic April l979 victory. Breaking with precedent, a professional campaign manager from outside Berkeley would be hired in l98l for the first (and thus far only) time.
Until late in l980 most observers thought Carole Davis would both seek and receive the BCA nomination to run for re-election. But her drift away from the BCA Councilmembers coincided with Davis’ decision not to seek another term. During her six years in office, Davis had often complained that, as a single parent who worked for a living, being a Councilmember demanded too much time while offering too little pay (only $300 per month). Now Carole Davis would be free to spend more time with her son.
As Carole Davis quietly faded away, the BCA Candidate Search Committee began meeting in December l980. The four Council and two School Board slots were all wide open to new candidates. Unlike l979 and most previous years, there were enough willing competitors so that no one had to be dragooned into running.
The Search Committee interviewed and evaluated thirteen prospective Council candidates, including:
Ann Chandler was a public health specialist and tireless BCA campaign worker/fundraising organizer over many years. Ann’s service included the Commission on Aging, the Citizens Budget Review Committee, countless BCA committees, and various stints as Council staff. Associated with the Loni Hancock/Anna Rabkin wing of BCA, Ann’s greatest political strength was her vast network of friends within the organization. As a team player who avoided controversy, Ann had few political enemies.
Walter Edwards was a former Widener appointee to the Police Review Commission. As a recent defector from BDC in l977, his BCA Council candidacy had wilted. During the subsequent four years, Walter became very well respected in the BCA organization, serving as chair of the Steering Committee. A political pragmatist, he got along with everyone, and had already been endorsed by BCA for Democratic County Central Committee in June l980, an election he lost. Walter began the l98l season as BCA’s leading black candidate, a sure bet for endorsement. Edwards worked in Sacramento as property manager for a government housing agency.
Carole Selter Norris was a l5-year veteran of Berkeley progressive politics, specializing in housing and tenants rights. A Berkeley Tenants Union founder, by l98l Carole was President of CHAIN, (the statewide tenants’ coalition), and a member of the board of the National Tenants Union.
When she participated in the l97l April Coalition, Carole was associated with the counter-culture community. But a decade later she had become a very experienced housing/planning professional, having worked for numerous governmental agencies and the Bay Area Urban League, plus serving as a consultant and lecturer. She was currently employed by a low-income housing property management firm. Since this job affiliated her with landlords, the Berkeley Tenants Union considered Carole to be a traitor. But among BCA people her housing/rent control expertise was valued and she was universally popular.
Reverend Gus Schultz, pastor of the University Lutheran Chapel, was one of Berkeley’s most activist ministers. Schultz and his congregation sponsored the Berkeley Emergency Food Project, which provided one free meal a day to people in need. Previously, Schultz had organized a sanctuary coalition of churches to help American soldiers and sailors who opposed serving in Vietnam, and he made his church available as a base of operations for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers. Gus worked with numerous community agencies and neighborhood groups.
Over the years many BCA people such as former Councilwoman Loni Hancock had wanted Gus Schultz to be a candidate. He was viewed as a very popular vote getter who could appeal to all parts of Berkeley. After being mildly available in l977 (when Mark Allen’s candidacy precluded all white men from having a chance), Gus Schultz somewhat reluctantly agreed to seek the BCA nomination in l98l.
Nancy Skinner presented herself as the student candidate, following the tradition dating back to Rick Brown’s l97l effort. A graduate student in the U.C. School of Education, and student body Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Nancy had long been one of the leading campus environmentalists. Co-founder of the Conservation of Natural Resources Student Organization, she had coordinated the l980 Berkeley Earth Day celebration and currently served on the Berkeley Energy Commission, the BCA Steering Committee, and Congressman Dellums’ Executive Committee. A strong feminist who was used to harsh political in-fighting, Nancy’s aggressiveness won her many enthusiastic supporters but also created enemies.
Leland Traiman, 29, had been Berkeley’s first openly gay commissioner and wanted to be the city’s first gay Councilmember, emulating his hero, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. Author of June l980’s Measure E to fund the city library, Leland had already run unsuccessfully for the Peralta Community College Board and then been elected to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, both times helping to organize his own slate. He worked as an administrator for the Gay Men’s Health Collective while studying to be a nurse. Leland’s passion to be a candidate, plus his often tactless style, tended to antagonize many BCA people. Others felt that young white males such as Leland were simply unelectable, regardless of sexual orientation.
Ron Washington, although unknown within BCA, and inexperienced with city issues, attracted attention at the convention as the ultimate affirmative action candidate. Black, gay, and disabled, he worked as an equal opportunity specialist for the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. Only two Search Committee members were impressed enough to recommend him.
In the welcome absence of any divisive candidates, the Search Committee report was a simple popularity contest between the six leading BCA veterans:
Total Recomending / Total Not recomending / Abstain
Carole Norris 32 / 0 / l
Gus Schultz 32 / l / 0
Walter Edwards 23 / 0 / l
Nancy Skinner 29 / l / 5
Ann Chandler 24 / 5 / 5
Leland Traiman l5 / l0 / 8
Norris, Schultz, and Edwards had so little opposition that they were nearly certain to be nominated. Nancy Skinner seemed to have an edge over Ann Chandler for the final slot, although both women enjoyed wide but non-unanimous acceptance. For Leland Traiman, the Search Committee’s message was distinctly unfavorable.
As the first real BCA School Board member, Anna de Leon’s popularity had grown since her election in l979. Often joined by Jeannie Rucker, Anna had offered an alternative to the unresponsive Carrol Williams-Melinda Robinson-James Guthrie majority.
In considering the four School Board candidates who presented themselves, the Search Committee was seeking a two-person slate that would be most compatible with Anna de Leon.
De Leon’s own choice was Steve Lustig, an educational consultant and instructor who had been participating on Berkeley school committees for eight years. An excellent speaker, Lustig knew so much about the schools that he already sounded like an incumbent.
Jackie Foster, a former PTA President, was the only non-white candidate to seek BCA’s School Board endorsement. She would be a black community representative in the non-partisan Mary Jane Johnson, Jeanie Rucker tradition. BCA people knew Jackie as an administrative analyst with the Berkeley Rent Board and felt comfortable with her.
Search Committee members had to listen very carefully in order to understand candidate Steve Hoffman, a disabled man in a wheel chair whose articulate thoughts seemed imprisoned by his body. Steve impressed people with his knowledge of School Board issues.
On the other hand, incumbent Melinda Robinson’s glib recitation of generalities in front of the Search Committee only confirmed the universal BCA opinion that she should be defeated for re-election. Robinson could not match Steve Lustig’s authoritative discussion of school issues.
The Search Committee’s box score left no doubt concerning BCA’s School Board ticket:
Total Recomending / Total Not recomending / Abstain
Steve Lustig 33 / 0 / l
Jackie Foster 32 / l / 2
Steve Hoffman 9 / l / 7
Melinda Robinson 0 / 32 / 2
BCA’s Quietest Convention
The January 3l, l98l BCA Convention featured a greater spirit of internal unity and confidence than any gathering before or since. With a surplus of acceptable candidates, people knew that for once the organization’s self-destructive tendencies would be held in check.
The just nominated ABC slate was viewed as extremely weak, primarily because of Leo Bach’s unpopularity and James Sweeney’s terrible showing against Helen Burke in November l978. The Search Committee had cheered wildly when first informed of Leo’s selection. It seemed that nothing could stop BCA from winning the magic fifth vote and probably more.
For an even greater sense of electoral security, the Steering Committee recommended that BCA hire its first ever outside professional campaign manager – Richard Schlockman. Schlockman, a CED ally and direct mail specialist, had helped run numerous progressive campaigns in San Francisco, but was a stranger to Berkeley. However, in the absence of Mal Warwick (who would head the fundraising mail drive), the BCA leadership felt Schlockman was the most experienced campaign coordinator available.
The Steering Committee’s recommendation to hire Rich Schlockman was approved by the convention on a nearly unanimous vote early in the day. BCA thus picked its l98l campaign manager prior to selecting any candidates.
The nominations soon followed very smoothly. School Board was no contest, with the two-person slate picked on a single ballot:
288 Ballots cast – l92 (2/3) Needed to Win
Jackie Foster 280 Nominated
Steve Lustig 255 Nominated
Steve Hoffman 37
Melinda Robinson 5
For City Council the Search Committee tally also predicted the convention results fairly accurately.
City Council First Ballot
297 Votes Cast – l98 (2/3) Needed to Win
Carole Norris 233 Nominated
Walter Edwards 230 Nominated
Gus Schultz 2l2 Nominated
Nancy Skinner l72
Ann Chandler l36
Ron Washington 69
Leland Traiman 54
The convention now faced its single political showdown: Nancy Skinner vs. Ann Chandler in a two-candidate run-off for the final slot. Skinner was the leader, with a 36 vote advantage on the first ballot. Caucuses preceded the second ballot.
Unlike the intensely polarized Newport-Denton fight for Mayor at the l979 convention, Skinner vs. Chandler offered a far more subtle choice between two women occupying relatively similar locations on the BCA spectrum.
Both Nancy Skinner and Ann Chandler had their roots in the pragmatic/electoral wing of BCA. Nancy had worked on Jeff Rudolph’s l975 Council campaign when he ran as the student candidate. Her experience included many subsequent campus campaigns. Ann entered Berkeley politics through Loni Hancock’s staff in l974. Ann and Nancy each became part of the BCA organizational leadership that emerged in the l977 revival. As Steering Committee members in l979, Ann and Nancy both played a role in helping nominate fellow Steering Committee member Gus Newport for Mayor.
Of the leading candidates for BCA’s l98l nomination, only Leland Traiman had been a supporter of John Denton for Mayor in l979. Compared to the previous convention’s political lineup, Denton’s forces had nearly dissipated, while Newport’s were now split over Chandler vs. Skinner.
Mayor Newport was backing Nancy Skinner, primarily because of his strong commitment to student representation. To Newport, the case for nominating a student was very similar to his l979 argument that BCA had to run a black mayoral candidate. Concepts of both fairness and electoral strategy thus required Nancy Skinner’s nomination. Most of the factions that had supported Newport at the l979 convention now joined him in the Nancy Skinner caucus. The major exception was the powerful Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED) and its campus arm, Students for Economic Democracy (SED).
CED/SED leaders such as Barbara Buswell, Jody Lerner, Kume Nietfeld, and Karen Westmont broke with the Mayor and helped spearhead the drive to nominate Ann Chandler. They seemed motivated primarily by a desire to stop Nancy Skinner, herself a CED/SED member.
The local CED leadership viewed Skinner as a threat to their own power, accusing her of arrogant behavior over internal disputes involving both campus and non-campus issues. Inside CED, Skinner represented an independent faction whose primary loyalty was to BCA. Her opponents believed in the primacy of CED with its hierarchical leadership structure, and wanted CED to control BCA.
In addition to CED members, the Chandler caucus included Leland Traiman’s forces, and Ann’s large number of personal friends, especially many BCA veterans such as Anna Rabkin. A major segment of electoral people backed Chandler because of the historical fact that student candidates always lost.
Thus, the sides were fairly even. Many of Nancy Skinner’s student supporters at the convention could not even vote because they had failed to join BCA 30 days earlier as required by the l977 by-law amendments. This contributed to the real possibility that, for the first time in April Coalition/BCA history, a viable student candidate would be defeated for the nomination.
When the convention reconvened, there were two speakers on behalf of each candidate prior to voting. Mayor Newport and Carole Norris made the case for Nancy Skinner, reminding the audience that BCA suffered its worst defeat in l977 when there was no student on the ticket. Newport asserted that it therefore was “essential to have a student candidate.”
Ann Chandler’s speakers were Anna Rabkin and former ASUC President Karen Westmont. Westmont, on behalf of SED, sought to undermine Skinner’s main argument by declaring that students wanted Ann as their representative.
The second ballot thus became a referendum on whether or not to have a student candidate.
City Council Second Ballot
265 Votes Cast – l77 (2/3) Needed to Win
Nancy Skinner l47
Ann Chandler ll8
Although Skinner’s advantage had dropped from 36 to 29 votes, Ann Chandler had no interest in prolonging the contest. Chandler immediately called for Nancy Skinner to be nominated by acclamation, as the convention climaxed in a joyful show of unity.
Only a few discouraging words were spoken on behalf of the convention’s losers. Judy Heumann of the Center for Independent Living publicly complained that the lopsided defeat of Ron Washington for Council and Steve Hoffman for School Board demonstrated BCA’s lack of commitment to the disabled community. Leland Traiman expressed similar thoughts that his rejection was a slap at the gay community. Yet the biggest casualty was CED, who by the time of the next convention had evaporated as a major BCA faction.
Grassroots’ story best captured the general sentiment under the heading “CLOSE RANKS!!”, calling the January 3l, l98l gathering “the most unified convention ever held by Berkeley’s progressive coalition”. For the first time BCA had actually managed to nominate a full slate in a single day.
BCA also endorsed a pair of non-controversial measures placed on the ballot by the City Council.
Measure A authorized the construction of 300 units of low and moderate income housing. Voter approval of such public housing was required under Article XXXIV of the California Constitution. The measure involved no consideration of specific housing sites.
Measure B, an advisory policy statement, asked the city’s voters to oppose ColgatePalmolive’s plans to close it West Berkeley plant. The company’s intended shutdown of the 65 year old factory jeopardized 400 jobs, and pro-labor activists had been working to try and save them. No ballot argument was submitted against either measure.
BCA’s April l97l municipal election slate thus consisted of:
Carole Selter Norris
Yes on A (low-income housing)
Yes on B (oppose closure of the Colgate plant)
The l98l race included a slate of three counter-culture candidates running to BCA’s left. Bob Sparks, Katy Gray, and Vincent Johnson represented the Berkeley Opposition Resistance Network (BORN), a very loose grouping that included street people, mobile-home dwellers, and Peoples Park activists, among others. BORN accused BCA of ignoring its constituency, the dispossessed. BORN’s candidates were generally ignored during the campaign, although BCA did consider them a minor irritant.
Tom Goetzl, a law professor, was a more traditional independent centrist in the Fred Collignon mold. Goetzl called for election of responsible representatives “unhampered by prior obligations to elite committees sponsoring slates.” But the organized center had faded away in the wake of Collignon’s defeat in l979, and Goetzl’s impact would be only marginally greater than BORN’s. April l98l was an exclusive showdown between the BCA and ABC slates. Compared to previous elections, both the left and right coalitions were remarkably unified and no one else counted.
The April l98l Campaign
ABC on the Offensive
The All Berkeley Coalition brought together so many discordant anti-BCA elements that a tightly centralized campaign was impossible. Seeking to repeat the l973 and l977 triumphs, ABC’s strategy required a diverse effort, with separate campaign mailers by BDC, the Republicans, and ABC itself. In addition, ABC’s l98l effort featured far more door-to-door contact with voters than had been attempted in previous years. This was possible because the conservative coalition was greatly strengthened by the addition of two new groups of foot soldiers: the Berkeley Property Owners Association (BPOA) and the Berkeley Police Association (BPA).
BPOA was the landlords’ organization formed to oppose rent control Measure D in the June l980 election. After “D” passed, BPOA remained in existence to fight the rent board and everything connected with rent control.
BPOA’s political strength primarily came from the active participation of many small landlords who were willing to volunteer their time against Measure D. Since the 9 person rent board was appointed individually by each of the City Councilmembers, the April l98l election gave BPOA the opportunity to eliminate the board’s current 5-4 pro-tenant majority. If, with BPOA’s help, ABC could sweep all four seats, the victors would appoint a pro-landlord majority to the rent board.
The landlords thus became a well organized, highly motivated door-to-door campaign force circulating ABC flyers. However, BPOA was never even listed on ABC literature as an endorser, since it was deemed politically unwise for the slate to be publicly associated with the landlords’ organization.
During its two years in power, the BCA-dominated Council majority galvanized the Berkeley Police Association (BPA) to enter the l98l campaign on behalf of ABC. From the chief on down, the police strongly opposed the Council’s October l979 budget cuts which reduced the number of high ranking officers. Although an outside study had confirmed that Berkeley had more police administrators than most cities, officers bitterly resented what they saw as BCA’s hostility towards law enforcement. In addition to the budget, police objected to the Council’s ban on the use of dogs and helicopters, and the Council’s order that officers testify at Police Review Commission complaint hearings. The Council’s support for affirmative action hiring of minority officers also displeased the primarily white BPA, but not the much smaller association of black officers.
For over a decade, Berkeley police displeasure with city government was normally expressed by on-duty officers casually telling citizens that the Council refused to provide enough funds and manpower to effectively fight crime. Since the vast majority of Berkeley police lived elsewhere and were far more conservative than the city’s electorate, they stayed out of local politics. But now, for the first time in its 30 year history, the Berkeley Police Association actively plunged into a Council campaign.
In contrast to the landlords, whose role was concealed, ABC solicited public expressions of support from the police. BPA not only endorsed the ABC slate, but off-duty cops went door-to-door talking to Berkeley voters and distributing their own special piece of ABC literature:
A BERKELEY CRIME REPORT
HOW SAFE IS YOUR CITY?
BERKELEY POLICE ASSOCIATION
The City of Berkeley has a serious and escalating crime problem. ..
Auto Burglaries Up 77%, Residential Burglaries Up 32%, Major Crimes Up 25% …
During the calendar year l980, due to inadequate police staffing levels, the police department was forced to leave beats “open” (unassigned during the duty shift) on 778 different occasions.
IT IS THE OPINION OF THE BERKELEY POLICE ASSOCIATION THAT ADEQUATE PERSONNEL ARE NOT AVAILABLE WITHIN THE POLICE DEPARTMENT TO ASSURE A MINIMALLY ACCEPTABLE LEVEL OF SERVICE AND PROTECTION TO THE CITIZENS OF BERKELEY.
YOUR VOTE CAN MAKE A CHANGE
To put it simply, we need a new majority on Berkeley’s City Council.
The present radical council majority has proven itself unable to deal with public safety issues. We, therefore strongly urge the voters of our city to support and vote for the ALL BERKELEY COALITION candidates:
GILDA FELLER, LEO BACH, JAMES SWEENEY, and ANDREA WASHBURN.
The police officers may have been ABC’s most effective campaigners in the two weeks just before the election. BCA candidates (Nancy Skinner) and precinct workers encountered voters who were switching their support to ABC solely because they viewed BCA as too soft on crime.
In l98l each slate mailed more campaign literature to Berkeley voters than it had in any previous election. ABC’s mail barrage came from three separate organizations, vilifying BCA to a greater degree than ever before or since.
A new group, the Berkeley Non-Partisan Forum, was the most conservative component of ABC. Primarily Republican, it seemed to encompass the city’s entire right wing. The strong commitment of Berkeley’s conservatives to the ABC ticket was best demonstrated by the Non-Partisan Forum’s role in the l98l campaign.
The Non-Partisan Forum conducted two distinct mailing programs. Under the name “Republicans for Good Government”, “A Division of the Berkeley Non-Partisan Forum”, it sent to all l2,500 registered Republicans a letter explaining why, in contrast to the l979 tactic of withholding votes from BDC, ABC had to be supported this time:
Dear Fellow Republican:
The outcome of the April 2l Municipal Election may in large part be determined by the Republican voters in this town. In one sense, we hold the balance of power in our hands. Most of us have lived here a long time and remember the quality of municipal leadership Berkeley once enjoyed. In recent years our political fortunes have waned. IT IS TIME TO COALESCE AND REASSERT OUR POLITICAL POWER.
No longer can we afford the luxury of indifference. In l979 the radical left seized power. We cannot allow this situation to continue. …
Feller, Bach, Sweeney and Washburn are committed to ending political cronyism and the blatant abuse of political power. With these four candidates we have an opportunity to change things. They must all win. Do not split your vote.
A Republicans for Good Government postcard made the ABC case in purely partisan terms:
“We urge you to vote the Republican endorsed candidates for City Council.”
These mailers were signed by several well known conservative Republican leaders, including former Councilman Tom McLaren and Virginia Donnell. Even Berkeley Citizens United (BCU), traditionally considered to be the city’s most extreme right wing political group, added its name to the Republicans for Good Government literature.
While these specially tailored mailings for Republicans had been a feature of conservative coalition campaigns since l973, the Non-Partisan Forum broke precedent in l98l by also sending vast quantities of mail to non-Republicans. Literature in this second mailing program was unusual in that it carried no individual names as sponsors or endorsers, just “Berkeley Non-Partisan Forum” and the slate list. The Republican leaders who ran the Non-Partisan Forum preferred to remain anonymous when trying to win votes from Democrats and independents. Here is a sample of their message:
WHAT ARE THE RADICALS DOING TO BERKELEY?
The Radicals are making a national stand in Berkeley.
They want to take Berkeley away from us . . .
Their ideology is not from Berkeley.
The radicals opposed the Alternative Olympics because it would offend the Soviets.
Our radical BCA Mayor made several pilgrimages to communist meeting in Vienna and Havana without divulging who paid for the trips.
Their people are not from Berkeley.
BCA has scheduled outsiders to swarm into Berkeley on election day to guarantee a radical victory.
The voters are not from Berkeley.
272 Voters are fraudulently registered at 4 tax supported community agencies located in 2 churches, one office and one transient hotel.
The Programs Planned for Berkeley.
- Expropriation of private property.
- Community ownership of housing.
- Private businesses driven out of Berkeley
- Control of resale of private property.
(Cities’ Wealth programs for community control
in Berkeley, CA, co-authored by current Assistant to Berkeley City Manager)
But we can stop this …
FELLER, BACH, SWEENEY and Washburn must be elected to insure a clear City Council majority for responsible government in Berkeley.
Under its own name, ABC mailed the voters a March l98l publication called “The All Berkeley Citizen”. Next to a front page drawing of two male hippies spray painting a wall, it stated in part:
IS BERKELEY NEXT?
We have read reports of cities almost collapsing under the weight of their debts and turned into social disaster areas where crime, corruption, and fiscal mismanagement are out of control. Can it happen in Berkeley?
Yes, it can, if the Radicals seize full control of Berkeley.
Let’s look at the facts. Political patronage has become the rule rather than the exception. Professional city jobs are being handed out to political cronies and city consulting contracts are awarded to friends. … Fiscal mismanagement has become a way of life. Staff time and resources are used to support deceptive electric cars while basic city services are being cut.
There is no reason why Berkeley’s future should be a blueprint of reckless action and documented failure. … All Berkeley must work together for a change. Let’s elect a representative and open-minded City Council in April.
Facts of Life in Berkeley
- Major crime rate up 24.4% year-to-date.
- No permanent chief of police.
- No housing director
- A city manager with no managerial experience and a $l58,000 plus contract.
- No personnel director.
- Businesses flee the city.
- No planning director.
- Rent Board administrator fined for spray-painting graffiti.
- Fewer police officers on the streets.
All of Berkeley Together .. For A Change
What is the ABC?
The All Berkeley Coalition embraces citizens from all backgrounds and from every part of the city. We share an urgent need to restore responsible and effective government in Berkeley.
Feller, Bach, Sweeney and Washburn are the candidates of the All Berkeley Coalition. They are committed to end the blatant abuse of political power and physical deterioration of our city. …
They will work to restore library services to pre-Prop. l3 levels. The City’s business will be conducted in an open, dignified and democratic way. We will know what is going on. ..
The Choice is Clear
To restore Berkeley’s progressive tradition, we must win all four Council seats.
BDC mailed an election issue of the Berkeley Democrat:
Future of Berkeley at Stake in City Council Election
Who Are The TRUE Progressives?
There are two main slates running in the April 2l City Council election:
BDC-Berkeley Democratic Club – the liberals
BCA-Berkeley Citizens’ Action – the radicals
(There followed a list of a dozen city accomplishments, including Savo Island housing, credited to “the progressive moderates of Berkeley who held the Council majority until l979.”)
What Has the Radical-Controlled BCA Council Accomplished in 2 Short Years?
The great Olympic Games debacle.
The electric car fiasco.
Not one unit of new housing, no new business,
A LOT OF TALK AND NO ACTION.
A filthy downtown.
A demoralized police force.
Political patronage – jobs in City Hall go to BCA organizers and hacks while experienced professionals, including many minorities and women, leave en masse.
Meanwhile, BCA hires as Assistant to the City Manager, Eve Bach, chief radical theorist of BCA.
Now ask yourself again: “Who are the TRUE progressives?”
Not the self-righteous, blustering BCA, whose pious slogans are translated into venal politics. No! It is the BDC/ABC slate which follows a tradition of both performance and progress. They are the TRUE progressives.
We need all four Council seats to win back our majority.
(The above references to winning back BDC’s former Council majority are highly ironic because in nearly every previous campaign, BDC refused to admit that it ever had a majority.)
BDC also sent Democrats a postcard in which their slate was labeled “the OFFICIAL Democratic Club ticket”. Thus, the conservative coalition’s candidates were once again offered as both official Republicans and Democrats.
BDC/ABC established a campaign presence at U.C. under the names Berkeley Student Action Committee and University Committee for Berkeley. These groups primarily attacked BCA for its alleged anti-student housing policies in the dispute over the School for the Deaf and Blind site:
Student Stake in Election
Students have a lot at stake in the upcoming election. Despite an extremely tight rental housing market, the current Council majority has refused to negotiate with the University to permit construction of student housing on the Deaf and Blind School site.
Ignoring strong protests by ASUC officers and hundreds of students, the BCA council has developed a housing plan which the ASUC Municipal lobby predicts will “effectively exclude students from the site”. Now BCA candidates say they support 50% student housing, even though this position has been officially rejected by the BCA membership.
The BDC-endorsed candidates believe that both city and university plans for the Deaf and Blind Schools site should be thoroughly reviewed by qualified experts and affected neighborhood groups. Hopefully, at least 75% of any new housing units will be reserved for students.
Berkeley Students Action Committee
On this subject, the ABC position had changed since l979 when only Gilda Feller supported University acquisition of the site. Now, the School for the Deaf became a partisan issue as BDC/ABC moved closer to the University’s position while seeking votes in BCA’s student constituency.
ABC thus increased its campus support and placed BCA on the defensive among students to a greater degree than ever before. The Council’s plan for the site, primarily reflecting John Denton’s position, was a BCA campaign liability on campus, especially for student candidate Nancy Skinner. She publicly favored more student housing.than the Council had provided. The dispute helped produce very poor relations between Denton and Skinner who ended up on opposite sides.
Besides supporting student housing and increased funding for the police, there were few issues facing the Council on which ABC actually seemed to have a position. On balance their candidates simply made the traditional promises to be fair and open-minded on all subjects. Even more so than in the comparable elections of l973 and l977, nearly the entire ABC campaign was aimed at radical-baiting BCA with a fear-smear.
In contrast with l977, when BCA incumbent Ying Kelley was attacked by name in BDC literature, ABC’s l98l mailings never even identified the members of BCA’s slate. This time ABC was aiming its fire exclusively at “radical BCA” and the BCA-dominated Council, not Norris, Edwards, Schultz, and Skinner.
l977 had been the bitterest campaign within memory, an election in which nearly all the attack pieces came from BDC. In l98l mailings from ABC, the Non-Partisan Forum and BDC raised the level of vilification much higher than even the l977 levels. Now, in another break with precedent, BCA launched a negative campaign against ABC.
BCA Assaults “The Feller Slate”
Not known for its political humor, BCA nevertheless launched its l98l campaign with the Mal Warwick Roast, a fundraising dinner of comedy insults in the finest TV tradition. A spirit of optimism and fun still prevailed in this first major event since the convention.
Meanwhile the BCA campaign itself adopted a mean spirited tone that was hard to distinguish from ABC’s. While Rich Schlackman prepared literature for the voters, Mal Warwick began a national direct mail fundraising effort. As in previous campaigns, BCA expected to be vastly outspent.
But for the first time BCA tried to narrow the gap by soliciting contributions from progressives around the country. The fundraising letter, sent to thousands of people, had this message on the envelope:
“How you can help fight back against the Radical Right.
Inside, over Congressman Dellums’ signature, was the following
In Berkeley, we have a unique opportunity to nurture our own truly progressive vision of a society in which we all care for each other and for the earth on which we live.
Because progressives have held the Mayor’s office and had substantial minorities on the Berkeley City Council and School Board since April l979, we have been able to enunciate policies and enact programs which respond to this more sensitive conception of our responsibility as human beings.
This unique opportunity, and all our work to conduct Berkeley’s affairs in a humane and responsible fashion, are in grave danger from a new coalition of Reagan Republicans, corporate landlords and conservative Democrats, who are threatening to sweep the April 2lst elections and seize control of the Berkeley City Council. This new local coalition, emboldened by Right Wing successes around the nation, is determined to undo much of the path-finding work which Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) has undertaken these last two exciting years.
Just imagine the glee of conservatives all across the nation if they succeed in defeating the progressive coalition in Berkeley, California.”
The mailings brought results and encouraged BCA to spend more money. However, much of the BCA campaign seemed to be an imitation of prior races.
As in the previous three elections dating back to November l978, BCA emphasized rent control above all other issues. A newspaper ad repeated language from the successful Measure D campaign in June l980:
RENT AND EVICTION CONTROLS ARE IN DANGER
Big landlords and statewide real estate interests are pouring tens of thousands of dollars into Berkeley to elect anti-rent control City Council members who will cripple our rent and eviction law by appointing a pro-landlord Rent Stabilization Board. On April 2l, vote for City Council candidates who will uphold rent and eviction controls.
BCA blatantly duplicated the campaign style and literature format BDC had used in the April l977 sweep, when they continually maligned Ying Kelley, BCA’s sole incumbent and strongest candidate. Now BCA tried to turn the tables by focusing on BDC’s only incumbent and presumed front-runner, Gilda Feller.
By singling out Feller, BCA’s ambitious strategists were aiming at their own sweep. Needing just one seat for a majority, no attempt was made to target Leo Bach, ABC’s weakest candidate. He was deemed unelectable. Yet the goal of a Council majority could have been achieved merely by beating Leo.
This is where I stopped writing in 1985. No longer an insider and working five days a week in Sacramento, I had no important insights to offer about April 1981. And the election results were just too painful.
Now I wish to include a short summary taken from my other website, “Berkeley Campaign Art”:
“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.” http://berkeleycampaignart.homestead.com/1981Slate.html