Flying in the face of his hosts’ concerns regarding demonstrations at the Marine Recruiting Center, Mayor Tom Bates spoke out about his opposition to the war in Iraq and support for peaceful demonstrations. The speech was delivered Tuesday at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon where the mayor was the featured speaker.
Bates also painted a rosy picture of the city’s economy, with flourishing hotels and restaurants, lauded city efforts to build downtown (perhaps up to 18 stories), laid out plans to build green and more.
Toward the end of his talk, the mayor introduced the topic of ongoing Marine Recruiting Center demonstrations on a lighthearted note: “Let me conclude with the topic of the day,” he said, “the battle of Code Pink vs. the United States Marine Corps. That’s not a fair fight!”
Bates went on to say that beyond what people think “of this Code Pink stuff”—a recent photo on the Chamber of Commerce website portrayed CEO Ted Garrett bringing donuts to a Marine recruiter—the war, whose fifth anniversary was the next day, had caused the deaths of some 4,000 U.S. military personnel and the injury of about 28,000 Americans. Some 1 million Iraqis have been killed and 4 million displaced, he said.
Trillions of dollars have been spent on the war. “Can you imagine what that would mean if we had that for education? If we had that for housing?” he asked. “What a waste. We were lied to, to begin with.”
Bates placed the current demonstrations in a historical context. “First of all, this city has protested wars and recruiting stations since I was in grammar school. People lay on the railroad tracks. People tied themselves to the recruiting station door,” he said.
Since 2003 there have been protests at recruiting stations all over the country. “It’s not like Berkeley is unique in this regard,” said Bates, a former Army captain.
Bates said he does not support young people going into the military and noted that those who sign up have few options.
The mayor spoke to the Jan. 29 council item calling Marine recruiters “unwelcome intruders,” which sparked a nationwide, mostly right-wing, reaction.
The council was wrong to pass an item with inflammatory language that had not been properly vetted, he said. “It passed and I’m sorry. I’ve apologized at every forum I can think of, but I’m not prepared to apologize to the Marines who are recruiting our kids to go to this war.”
He pointed out that Code Pink has been demonstrating in many venues other than Berkeley, including in front of Nancy Pelosi’s house and at Congress. At the same time there are counter-demonstrations by Move America Forward, billed as a grassroots organization, but which actually is “a bunch of right-wing shock jocks,” Bates said.
Move America Forward wants to move the U.N. out of the United States and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to keep immigrants out, he added. (Move America Forward is headed by talk-show host Melanie Morgan, recently laid off by KSFO.)
Bates said that there have been boycotts of Berkeley in the past and that the current one will pass as they have before.
“We need to take the high road. We need to talk about what is great about this community,” he said.
No one in the audience criticized Bates overtly, but during the question and answer session, when Bates addressed anonymous written questions, the issue was raised. One person asked about the high cost of overtime police for demonstrations, which Bates said he couldn’t answer, and another made a statement asserting that middle-class youth sign up voluntarily for military service, countering Bates’ view that people without resources join the service.
After the luncheon, the Planet asked Chamber Executive Director Ted Garrett whether he was disappointed in Bates’ anti-war remarks, but Garrett said his primary concern was the protests’ harm to local business, especially the businesses adjacent to the Marine Recruiting Center.
He pointed to hotels and restaurants that received cancellations recently, but conceded that it’s hard to know whether that was because of a boycott or because of the economy. Responding to a question, Garrett said he had not asked other businesses near the recruiting center whether their receipts have increased because of the increased numbers of people flocking downtown for protests.
In response to another question, Garrett said it was too early to know whether the chamber would be making political endorsements and if so, whether it would endorse Bates, though Garrett said he works closely with the mayor to make sure the chamber voice is heard in the decision-making process.
Other questions addressed
Economic development was a key component of Bates’ talk. Speaking of business attraction, he said the city should take advantage of the $500 million UC Berkeley-BP partnership, which would create other opportunities in the city.
“I know BP is controversial,” he said. “We have to capitalize on it.”
Reached by phone for comment, Councilmember Dona Spring took exception to the remark. “He’s a laissez-faire capitalist,” Spring said of the mayor, noting BP’s “terrible environmental record.
And, she said, “There’re a lot of problems with biofuels,” notably use of produce for fuel rather than for food.
With pride, Bates told the Chamber: “Good old flaky Berzerkeley has the highest bond rating in the nation.” He thanked City Manager Phil Kamlarz, seated in the audience, and said, “I’m trying to get him to agree to a lifetime contract.”
Any salary increase under consideration for a new contract for Kamlarz has been kept behind closed doors, with a council subcommittee reviewing the manager’s job performance. City insiders say a new contract could lead to a hefty raise for the manager. City employee unions, on the other hand, have said they’re looking at city reserves—to which the bond rating is tied—as funding for worker raises.
Bates said the closure of downtown Ross Dress for Less shouldn’t be seen as a loss for the city, as it could be a “great opportunity.”
“That is the perfect site for a high-rise building,” Bates said. He also mentioned the possibility of turning the long-empty UC Theater into a live-music venue.
The best-performing sector is hospitality, Bates said, noting there is increasing revenue from hotel taxes and the mostly booked-up Double Tree Hotel, where the luncheon was held.