When they first ran against each other in 2002, it was Berkeley’s epic political battle. Shirley Dean was the lightning-rod mayor and leader of the moderate-progressive political faction in a City Council and a city that were deeply divided along factional lines. Looking for a way to oust a political powerhouse, members of the opposing left-progressive faction recruited former state Assemblymember Tom Bates to run against Dean.
In the factional struggles of that time, Dean represented the moderate-progressive Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC), while Bates was the choice of the left-progressive Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA), with the BDC and the BCA opposing each other along largely ideological lines over a myriad of city issues.
The 2002 mayoral campaign was a bruising, raucous, rousing affair befitting a city known as the home of political activism. A November 2002 article by reporters from the UC Berkeley School of Journalism summed up some of the differences of those times.
“The real differences between the two candidates went beyond the election issues, said long-time political observers,” the 2002 article went on, quoting Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Government Studies at UC Berkeley, as saying, “What makes a difference is the networks they’re tied in to. Bates is with Loni Hancock and some of the progressive circles that were in charge of the city before Dean came. Shirley Dean is tied to the police and fire departments, and the more conservative circles. … Dean has traditionally been more balanced between business and the environment. For Bates, it may be hard to convince long-time Berkeley residents that he is more to the middle, even if it is true.”
People have pointed to the best example of the bitterness and intensity of the 2002 campaign as the now-infamous incident when Bates stole and trashed a bundle of Daily Cal newspapers after the paper endorsed Dean. But perhaps a better example was summed up in one of the 2002 J-School article’s quotations. After Bates unexpectedly swamped Dean 55 percent to 43 percent—the race had been considered close until election day—the article quoted a crowing Bates campaign treasurer, Mal Burnstein, as saying, “it’s a blowout. It’s over. She lost. We won. Goodbye, Shirley.”
But while the candidates in the Bates-Dean rematch of 2008 are the same, Berkeley’s political landscape has changed considerably from 2002. For one thing, once elected, Bates moved to govern from the center, angering some of the more left-progressive people who had originally solicited him to run against Dean, but gaining new allies in the moderate-progressive camp who had been the previous mayor’s supporters.
For another, the old BCA-BDC rivalry has withered at the same time as the two organizations lost their once-considerable influence over Berkeley politics. The result is that the 2008 mayoral race is much more of a traditional city campaign than the previous ideological one, with challenger Dean attacking the incumbent Bates from either the left or the right, depending on the opening provided, while Bates attempts to occupy and defend the political center.
Those differences were evident during an Oct. 13 breakfast debate between the two candidates sponsored by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce.
“Berkeley had a $21 million structural deficit when Dean left office,” Bates told the assembled business representatives. “It was painful and difficult, but we solved that. We’re in better shape than surrounding cities such as Oakland and San Jose, which are facing severe budget deficits.”
The mayor argued that he has moved forward towards a traditionally progressive Berkeley goal—advancing a green economy—while at the same time satisfying business demands for development.
Noting that the city has already reduced greenhouse gases by 9 percent—2 percent more than the 7 percent goal called for in the 2007 U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement—Bates said he hoped Berkeley “is going to be one of the greenest cities in the U.S.”
But he touted his administration’s efforts to revitalize the city’s downtown business core. “We have less than a 5 percent vacancy rate downtown,” the mayor said, adding that with the addition of UC Berkeley’s proposed downtown hotel, conference center, and museum complex, “We will see the kind of downtown renaissance we’ve never seen before.”
Predictably—given their past positions on the issue—the relationship between the City of Berkeley and UC Berkeley drew the sharpest distinctions between the two candidates.
Arguing against the controversial 2005 agreement between the university and the city over UC Berkeley’s downtown development plans, Dean called the university “the big bear in the living room. We cherish that bear. We love that bear. But the bear tends to break the crockery and not pay for it.”
Arguing that Berkeley could have gotten more money out of the university, Dean added, “We need to renegotiate the deal with UC.”
That position puts Dean squarely on the side of Berkeley’s left-progressive wing, which actively opposed the UC deal. The deal also drew the opposition of many of the city’s more moderate neighborhood activists.
But Bates defended the UC deal, saying, “We got the best deal with UC than any other city in the state. It’s folly to think we could have gotten anything more.” Bates said that Berkeley provides $14 million in services to the university, while the university “did a study that says they generate $16 million in revenue back to us” through retail revenue and hotel receipts. “So we actually owe them $2 million,” Bates said, most likely as a joke.
For her part, Dean spoke briefly about her accomplishments during her years as mayor—she noted that one of her proudest achievements was the establishment of the city’s arts and theater district—but spent most of her time criticizing Bates for what she said were failures during his.
Some of the criticisms were general, such as saying that “people throughout the city believe noone at City Hall is listening,” but some were more specific.
“Downtown is dirty and unsanitary,” Dean said. “It needs a thorough cleanup.” She said that the city needs to “address the issue of street behavior and cleanliness” as well as “aggressively recruit retail for downtown. Berkeley can have more retail. I’ve done it. We need to reverse the image that Berkeley is anti-business.”
Bates denied that the city is in as bad shape as Dean alleged, both in economic and sanitary terms, and took a shot of his own at Dean’s conduct while she was mayor.
“When I came on the council [following his defeat of Dean in 2002], it was in chaos,” Bates said. “Civility was at an all-time low. We’ve changed that. Now we no longer have any ‘sides.’”
Bates has certainly won the support of his fellow members of City Council. Councilmembers Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Max Anderson, Laurie Capitelli, and Gordon Wozniak have all endorsed the mayor. Councilmember Betty Olds, who is retiring from the Council at the end of this year, has dual-endorsed both Bates and Dean.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who had bitter clashes with Dean during her tenure as mayor and was one of the leaders of the left-progressive group that urged Bates to run against her, has also differed with Bates during the last six years—though not quite so bitterly—and has endorsed no one in the current race. The late councilmember Dona Spring, another left-progressive, was frequently at odds with Bates during council meetings.
But what has most changed in the six years between Dean-Bates 2002 and Bates-Dean 2008 is the tone of the campaign. Bates, the former UC Berkeley football player, has always been soft-spoken and low-key in demeanor, and the diminutive Dean (she jokes that she doesn’t have to stand up when she talks because it makes little difference in her height) remains as feisty as ever. In their public presentations during this year’s campaign, both claimed a passion for Berkeley, its traditions and its people, and a commitment to its future.
What is missing this year so far is the angry, partisan edge between the candidates that marked their first contest, fueled by that earlier partisan divide. Though the two candidates still do not appear to like each other very much, each has refrained from the kind of personal attacks we have seen in other races, such as this year’s presidential campaign.