Election Section

Berkeley can eliminate its budget deficit and provide better governance by shifting some of the government functions to community associations. A voluntary civic association would be formed in each council district. The association would be able to rais

Friday July 02, 2004

For three hours on midday Tuesday, a seemingly endless chain of book-clutching fans threaded their way up Haste Street toward Telegraph Avenue in hopes of receiving an ink scrawl and a handshake from the man on the second floor of Cody’s Books. 

William Jefferson Clinton had come once more to Berkeley, this time to promote the sale of My Life, the autobiography that’s already set a slew of records in its first week of release. 

Clinton’s first-day sales of 400,000 set an all-time record for a non-fiction hardback—though the numbers still pale in comparison with the five million first-day sales of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. 

David and April Dumas came from Pinole—David in a wheelchair. “We came because we missed his presidency,” he said. “We’re kind of fond of peace and prosperity.” 

They were among the lucky ones who’d received a ticket guaranteeing them a good chance and an autograph, a handshake and the famed Clinton smile. 

But those in the second, parallel line of non-ticketholders we re less fortunate, even though scores had camped out overnight—making for that rare occasion when people with homes outnumbered the homeless in the Telegraph Avenue sleeping bag count. 

Michael Bono, a semi-retired San Francisco cabbie, arrived by BART Tu esday morning and joined the line at 6:45 am. “I was thinking of camping out, but I didn’t,” he said. “I’d already tried to get an autograph in the city, where he was doing a signing at Book Passage, but they were already sold out.”  

Berkeley native Alaina Slothers had staked out her spot on the sidewalk Monday night, and 16 hours later she was still unsure about whether she was going to get in. 

“I’m going to be a little bitter if I don’t,” she said, adding that if she did make into the store, she’d be fine and forget all about her grogginess and general discomfort. 

Darnette Sheard-Collins and her 6-year-old son Dunavin brought along a chair from their home in San Ramon. They sat and waited, Dunavin slumped in his mother’s lap, exhausted and somber.  

They’d found their spot at 1 a.m., hoping to get an autographed volume for Sheard-Collins’ husband, who’d been deployed to Iraq earlier this month. 

Others came to protest—though from the left, unlike so many of Clinton’s more familiar adversaries. Some, like Dan Ashby, Jennifer Kidder and Herb Behrstock, had come to recruit phone bank workers for the Kerry campaign. 

“We’ve never seen anything like this, nothing of this magnitude,” said Andy Ross, the owner of Cody’s. “It’s been the biggest challenge and largest event in the history of the store.” 

After arriving in a motorcade, surrounded by Secret Service, Clinton’s first sight as he stepped out of his limousine to the cheers of the throng was a Nader For President sign.  

The ex-president signed 1,200-1,300 books, Ross said. The store recorded sales almost as large when Jimmy Carter and Muhammad Ali came to sign their autobiographies, but with Clinton, “we could have sold 5,000 if he’d stayed longer.” 

Ross said his two stores fielded about 20,000 pho ne calls concerning the event in the days before Clinton’s appearance. 

Because the Secret Service refused to allow the ubiquitous Berkeley backpacks inside the store, Ross rented a Hertz truck and equipped it with shelves so his staff could check bags, p acks and parcels.  

Inside the store, the signings went down with assemblyline efficiency. Bookholders were subjected to an intimate sweep by metal-detecting wands in the hands of gimlet-eyed Secret Service agents. 

Store employees then escorted the lucky ticket-holders upstairs, where one staffer took the customer’s book and opened it to the title page, then passed it on to a second staffer, who handed the book on to a third, who slid the book onto the table in front of the former president—where a man held the front cover down while a smiling Clinton deftly scrawled out his signature, then offered the grin-and-grip—a radiant smile and a genteel handshake—before the cover-holder slid the now-signed book to yet another staffer who passed it back to the n ow-beaming buyer. 

“The Secret Service told us that ours was the most successful signing they’d ever seen,” Ross said. “They told us we’d set a new standard.” 

Those who left with autographed books could immediately turn a handsome profit, with buyers ou tside willing to fork over $300 a copy for resale over the Internet. 

Petra Creer, who usually sells the Street Spirit newspaper, had been hired by Darryl Randol, who runs SwissLuxury.com, to buy signed books so Randol could turn around and sell them on h is website for $600. Randol was going to give Petra $40 for every book that she convinced someone to sell. 

When last seen, Randol was trying to entice a pre-teen boy into selling him his book. 

It was when the Secret Service finally told Clinton it was t ime to depart that he proved himself a real mensch, said Ross. 

“He insisted on going outside to see all the people who hadn’t been able to get in, and for about a half hour he was out there, shaking hands,” Ross said. 

One of those he greeted, the friend of a Daily Planet reporter, had been camped out all night. Her adventure ended up not being in vain. The former president signed her book.