Those who work and know her are saying if anyone can promote civil discourse on Berkeley’s City Council, it’s District 5 Councilmember elect Miriam “Mim” Hawley.
Having morning coffee in a popular District 5 cafe, Hawley said she is concerned about the expectation that she will be able to create civil discourse on Berkeley’s sometimes contentious City Council. She said if she doesn’t have a mellowing effect on the council her election might be considered a failure.
Co-workers and friends said she has a reputation for being level headed and fair minded and her presence on the council can only help.
“She will bring an open mind to issues” said Anne Henderson, who has worked with Hawley at the League of Women Voters. “She really listens to people and after debates and disagreements people come away feeling as though they’ve at least been listened to and that’s important.”
The only new addition to the council, Hawley faced four other candidates in the Nov. 7 election and took her district with 57 percent of the vote. She is considered a moderate and will be replacing Diane Woolley, a moderate who did not run for re-election.
“District 5 is a moderate district and I will be a good representative,” Hawley said. “But I intend to work with each member of the council and vote issue by issue.”
Hawley moved to Berkeley from Iowa in 1957 with her husband, Robert. They soon purchased a home on Hopkins Street where they continue to live. They had four children and while Hawley was primarily a stay-at-home mom she slowly worked toward her masters degree in history at San Francisco State University, which she received in 1972.
Hawley worked part time, teaching a variety of university extension courses over a few years. Then at age 47 she plunged back into the work force by taking a job with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland.
She worked on a five-year project that culminated in the publication “BART and the Bay Area,” of which she was the principal author. The publication was a wide-ranging document that studied regional effects BART had on travel and commute patterns, environmental impacts and development.
“It was a very interesting five years, I learned a lot about BART and transportation,” Hawley said.
She then worked as a transportation consultant for several years and at 59 considered retirement. “My life is a story of retiring and then changing my mind,” she said.
Instead of retiring, Hawley just made a career change. She began working for the Contra Costa Suicide Intervention Service as a public relations representative.
Three years later she did retire, or seemingly so.
She became involved with the League of Women Voters and by 1993 became the president of the Berkeley-Albany-Emeryville chapter.
In 1996 at the age of 68, Hawley ran for public office for the first time. She was elected to the AC Transit Board as a director. She will continue to serve at that post through Dec. 1.
Now at 72, Hawley has just been elected to the Berkeley City Council and said with a smile that she doesn’t want to make any predictions about when she will retire next.
Hawley said one of the issues she will be concerned with is traffic and parking. She said Berkeley needs a strategic parking plan and should first determine the best use of its existing garages before creating new parking. She added it’s important to have as much short-term parking as possible for shoppers.
She is also concerned with development. South Berkeley is in need of revitalization that should include housing as well as shopping areas, she said.
As an AC Transit director, Hawley worked on the 376 bus line in north Richmond. The bus line was designed to complement the welfare to work program in the mid 1990s which anticipated a greater need for access to job locations, education and medical facilities and shopping areas.
She also worked with the City Council to develop the Class Pass Program, which allows all UC Berkeley students to ride AC Transit without cost, having paid a nominal fee as part of their registration fees. Some 22,000 students have taken advantage of the class pass, she said.
Both moderate and progressive councilmembers say they are looking forward to Hawley’s arrival on board. Mayor Shirley Dean, who has worked with Hawley on transportation issues, said she expects her new council colleague to be a reasonable voice on the council. “She’s a very hard worker and a sensible individual who wants to get something accomplished,” she said.
Progressive Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has known and worked with Hawley for 10 years, said he has a great deal of respect for her and expects she will have a calming effect on the council. “She will attempt to be a bridge builder and that will be a dramatic improvement,” he said.