Editorial: The Anti-Boxer Rebellion

Becky O'Malley
Tuesday May 11, 2004

Sunday afternoon was lovely, as Berkeley afternoons in the spring often are, and like another 200 or so lovely Berkeley residents we attended a lovely garden party at a lovely home in one of Berkeley’s loveliest (and most expensive) neighborhoods. The purpose of the event was to raise money for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, and since all of us in Berkeley are pretty smart and know that we’re really at the water’s edge this time, we were all on our very best behavior. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who’s been wintering in Berkeley, gave a stirring speech, complete with convincing pragmatic answers to a few challenging questions about Kerry’s somewhat pallid campaign to date. A pitch was made, with the comment that Marin Republicans has already raised, was it $80k, for Kerry at one party, and couldn’t Berkeley Democrats do as well? Eyeballing the crowd, with some knowledge of the net worth of some attendees from Piedmont, the goal seemed possible. Checks and credit cards were accepted. Everyone went home smiling: a lovely event.  

As Berkeley completes its transition from the bastion of rent control to a lovely city of million dollar homes for those who are both politically correct and comfortably fixed, such events are becoming a staple of the social calendar. Which is as it should be, and no complaints. Professor Reich assumed that many attendees might have some, as we say in California, issues with some of Kerry’s record, but that we’d donate now and ask questions later. As we will, by and large. But some partygoers seemed to hope that if they “maxed out” as requested ($2k) they might have some influence on the policies of the longed-for Kerry administration. And they might. Or might not. 

Case in point: The next lovely Berkeley garden fundraiser. Sponsors were handing out invitations at the Kerry event to a garden party next Sunday to raise money for Senator Barbara Boxer’s re-election campaign, with the senator herself in attendance. Berkeley has always given, and generously, to Boxer’s campaigns, and until recently Berkeleyans probably felt that they’ve gotten their money’s worth in her public stances on issues they cared about. But when I asked the woman who handed me the invitation flyer what she thought about Boxer’s recent endorsement of the death penalty, she blanched. She’s a good-hearted soul from one of my favorite Berkeley categories, a red diaper baby who made some money in real estate which she cheerfully contributes to worthy causes. I know at least three of them, and they are pillars of local political fundraising.  

She hadn’t heard that Boxer is in full-throated cry against district attorney Kamala Harris’s decision not to seek the death penalty against the accused killer of a San Francisco police officer. Like most good Berkeley liberals, she thinks the death penalty is unnecessary and therefore immoral.  

The hostesses for the Boxer fundraiser are listed as Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, neither one likely to be a supporter of the death penalty. Their invitation to contribute money to Boxer creates a real dilemma for anti-death Democrats. Should they contribute the requested $250-$1000, go to the event and tell Boxer that they’re shocked? Or should they perhaps boycott the event, and stand outside with tasteful signs saying why they’re not attending? My friend was so conflicted that she stopped handing out invitations while she thought about it, even though she’s already put her name on the sponsor list. I don’t know what she finally decided to do. 

We got a phone message from the Boxer campaign last week, asking for a repeat contribution. I returned the call and left an anti-death-penalty diatribe in the caller’s voice mailbox, asking to be taken off the contributor’s list, though I doubt that it will derail the Boxer campaign. On the other hand, it’s better than doing nothing. Those of you who have opinions on this matter might like to have the RSVP information for the Boxer campaign event. The campaign phone number is (415) 734-9040. Tell them, if you want, why you will or won’t be attending. 

—Becky O’Malley