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Tom Bates says he’ll run for city mayor

By Matthew Artz, Daily Planet Staff
Monday May 06, 2002

Former Assemblyman wins progressive nomination at Saturday’s convention 


A nominating convention called to consider several possible candidates to run against Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean in November transformed into a giant pep rally on Saturday as roughly 225 people filled the South Berkeley Senior Center to declare support for veteran politician Tom Bates. 

Chants of “Run Tom Run” gave way to optimistic cries of “Win Tom Win” after the former state Assemblyman stepped to the microphone and accepted the mayoral nomination. 

“I want a city government that I can be proud of,” said Bates who presented himself as a conciliator who would reach across factional lines. “I want to take my experience, knowledge and energy and put it together for the people of Berkeley.” 

Bates’ acceptance of the nomination ended weeks of speculation about whether or not he would run. Before his confirmation, progressives had long debated who, if anyone, would be the best candidate to beat the two-term moderate incumbent. 

At the Saturday’s convention, Bates outlined a vision for Berkeley in which neighborhoods are livable and defended from the incursion of chain stores, pedestrians and bicyclists can move about safely, affordable mixed-use developments replace unsightly or abandoned buildings, and the city restores its claim as an innovator in the environmental movement and education. 

Bates represented Berkeley in the state Assembly from 1976 to 1996 until term limits forced him to retire. 

He is married to Loni Hancock, the former two-term Berkeley mayor and current Democratic Party nominee for Bates’ former Assembly seat.  

Bates touted the usefulness of his connections in lobbying for the city. “Berkeley needs a mayor who understands the problems and can go to Sacramento and Washington to make sure our schools are sound and our children get the best possible education,” he said. 

If elected, Bates promised that his first priority would be to enact public campaign finance reform, which was recently defeated by Berkeley’s City Council.  

“It is time to take the corruption out of the system,” said Bates, who will oppose an incumbent in Dean with a hefty campaign war chest. 

In the weeks preceding the convention, it was uncertain whom the progressives would select to face Dean in November.  

Councilmember Kriss Worthington had widespread appeal among progressives, but with his seat up for election this year, he would have had to surrender his council position to run.  

A Worthington loss, coupled with a moderate victory in his district could have catapulted Dean’s faction into a 5-4 majority in council. Currently, the progressives maintain a 5-4 majority on the council. 

Faced with this prospect, the progressives led by Worthington made a full court press to get Bates into the race. 

“Tom’s been deluged with hundreds of people calling him up begging ‘you have to do this for the sake of the city’,” Worthington said.  

After consulting with family and friends, Bates finally decided last week to heed the call. “I love this city very deeply and I want to make a contribution,” said Bates who had worked during his six year retirement from politics to improve children’s nutrition in the Berkeley and Oakland public schools, and to lobby BART to provide discounts for students under 18. 

For the progressives, Bates appears to be an ideal candidate. My not running is a testament to the talent and character of Tom,” said Worthington. 

Bates’ connections and name recognition achieved through more than 20 years in politics should enable him to raise funds to run a competitive campaign, and having previously won his assembly district with as much as 80 percent of the vote, he stands out as someone who can reach out to unaffiliated voters, while maintaining the support of the more ardent progressives. 

Unifying the progressives has never been a simple task. In every mayoral election since 1982 there has been at least one fringe candidate on the left, and in 1994, the participation of three leftist candidates contributed to Dean’s ultimate victory in a runoff.  

“It’s absolutely critical to unseat an incumbent to have a unified group of people,” said Bates. “I’m flattered I’m the person they’ll rally behind.” 

In maintaining his base of support, perhaps Bates’ surest ally is the level of disenchantment for Dean among those on the left.  

The convention was the largest political gathering in Berkeley in over ten years, according to Rob Wren, planning commissioner. Those in attendance enthusiastically applauded when speaker after speaker criticized the current mayor’s policies, and derided her as a divisive force in Berkeley politics. 

“Tom is more moderate than some of the progressives, but people are more ready to embrace that to defeat Shirley Dean,” said Wren. 

The attendees clearly came to embrace Bates. However, when Russ Ellis, vice chancellor emeritus of Undergraduate Affairs at U.C. Berkeley gave Bates’ introductory speech and repeated the refrain “It’s Tom’s time!” many convention-goers had to wonder exactly what time Bates had because he had yet to arrive on the premises. 

After the convention voted to nominate Bates by acclamation, there was a brief moment of confusion about what to do in the nominee’s absence. But Bates then strode into the hall, smiling, wearing a Panama hat, ready to take the progressive mantle against Dean in November. 

The mayor, after hearing the news of Bates’ candidacy, appeared unaffected, noting that in her estimation, the progressives have always been united. “It doesn’t matter who my opponent is,” Dean said. “I’m going to run hard on what I’ve done and what I plan to do.”