There was nothing moderate about Mayor Shirley Dean’s re-election campaign kickoff Sunday.
The two-term incumbent basked in the enthusiastic support of approximately 150 supporters as she geared up for what her backers admit will be a tight race against Tom Bates.
“We are going to win this but we are up against an incredible machine,” Dean told supporters at her still unfurnished campaign headquarters at 2200 Shattuck Ave.
Bates, who represented Berkeley in the State Assembly for 20 years and is married to former Berkeley mayor and Assemblywoman-elect Loni Hancock, has the backing of the progressive majority of city counsel.
Considered a moderate in Berkeley politics, Dean listed among her accomplishments: downtown renewal, improved cooperation between the city and the school board, new housing development and construction of the Interstate 80 pedestrian overpass and sports fields at Harrison Park.
“This place [downtown] was a dead zone eight years ago,” she said.
Dean noted that when she took office in 1994, Shattuck Avenue storefronts were empty and sidewalks were littered with trash and spare bicycle parts. Under her leadership, Dean said downtown has been transformed into a bustling commercial and arts district.
Dean said that her administration has helped alleviate the city’s housing crunch by working with developers and neighborhood groups to build new units that do not detract from the character of neighborhoods.
She also noted that city efforts to reach out to the school board were starting to bear fruit. Dean credited the city-sponsored school health clinic for a recent California study showing that Berkeley has the lowest teen pregnancy rate in the state.
Dean, however, said Berkeley still has issues to tackle. She bemoaned the city’s playing field shortage and called for the inclusion of fields at Eastshore State Park.
“We turn away 500 kids every year for sports teams because the council majority refuses to face up to the issue. That’s a disgrace,” Dean said. She also voiced support for additional downtown parking spaces and transportation improvements to help commuters who work in the city center.
Dean’s election eight years ago ended 16 years of progressive rule. She said that with the progressives already enjoying a 5-4 City Council majority, a Bates victory would leave the progressive faction unchecked to pursue its agenda.
“I’m the person with the finger in the dyke holding back the big machine from rolling over everybody,” Dean said.
Dean successfully held back challenges from progressive Don Jelinik in 1994 and 1998, but Bates is seen as a tougher challenger. Whereas Jelinik had difficulty raising campaign funds and was considered by some as too far to the left, Bates has built a strong campaign war chest and is viewed as a moderate who can appeal to different segments of the electorate.
According to the candidates Bates has raised $90,000 to date and Dean has garnered $65,000. Berkeley campaigning finance law forbids donations from businesses and limits personal donations to $250.
Bates, who began campaigning in July, said he would use his contacts with state lawmakers to lobby on the city’s behalf.
“I’m working to get people to work together to improve schools, increase affordable housing and make the Berkeley an environmental center again,” he said.