Blogbeat: What?! Those are the Leftists?!?

By Thomas Lord
Monday July 26, 2010 - 05:34:00 PM
Tom Bates strolling down the streets of Oakland with John George, Ron Dellums, and Cesar Chavez  as they campaign door to door.
Tom Bates strolling down the streets of Oakland with John George, Ron Dellums, and Cesar Chavez as they campaign door to door.
Mr. Gravy’s  1990 campaign slogan, “Let’s elect a real clown for a change.”   Sage advice.
Mr. Gravy’s 1990 campaign slogan, “Let’s elect a real clown for a change.” Sage advice.

Today’s items from the Wild Wild Web: Valuable histories of Berkeley politics, and wallflower Mayor Bates speaks out. 

How Did I Get Here? 

I’m new in town. I didn’t set foot in Berkeley until 1987 and didn’t move here until the early 1990s. Even then I spent some subsequent years not living here. When I talk with the old salts of Berkeley politics, from any particular “side” you care to name, I have to endure a certain amount of knowing chuckles at my ignorance about who’s who and what’s what. There are plenty of folks around with longer histories in Berkeley and plenty of stories to tell. 

If you listen to contemporary accounts from “the left”, Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley is “The Man” with all the attendant evils: pro-developer, against poor people, working in secret collusion with UC , harming the electorate and enriching the cronies. Widespread agreement from many political perspectives has it that Mayor Ron Dellums of Oakland is the ineffectual and all too absent career politician about whom the word dotage is rarely used but often implied. It could all be true! Or false! I’ll leave those burning questions to my readers – plenty enough has been said about them already. 

Imagine my surprise – as someone new in town – at seeing for the first time an image from an old campaign poster: Tom Bates strolling down the streets of Oakland with John George, Ron Dellums, and Cesar Chavez as they campaign door to door. Bates was seeking his first term in the California State Assembly. Who’d a thunk it? 

Imagine my further surprise on discovering that Loni Hancock had not merely been Mayor of Berkeley but was widely referred to as “the radical Berkeley mayor, Loni Hancock” - infamous for many reasons including arranging, with then assemblyman Bates, a hero’s welcome for Huey Newton as he returned from self-imposed exile to face murder charges. (Newton was ultimately acquitted of the charges.) 

There are many sources of Berkeley history to be found on the net. I would be remiss to not mention the Berkeley Historical Society’s curated collection of links, found on the City’s own website. There you can find links to histories of famous things like People’s Park, the Free Speech Movement, and Peet’s Coffee. You’ll also find the fascinating link I most wanted to tell you about. 

David Mundstock was a prominent actor in 1970s Berkeley politics. He describes himself as a “fixture in the lead car” of the political roller coaster from 1970 to 1977. And he’s written the book on that period. Well, a book. And, well, mostly written. As he himself remarks, “I [...] never really finished it.” The formatting is crude but the wealth of material and carefully collected facts is fascinating stuff. I’ll give you a taste of his work, “Berkeley in the 70s”: 

“Being a media star didn’t solve Dellums’ personal problems. Council work paid very little while conflicting with his various jobs as a social worker and traveling consultant. Meanwhile, he was becoming increasingly politically isolated from the rest of his Council colleagues. Angry and frustrated, towards the end of 1969, he announced on Channel 9’s Newsroom that he was thinking about quitting politics altogether. This produced an outpouring of support for Dellums from the leadership and rank and file of the Berkeley Coalition, black community, campus, counter-culture, and anti-war movement, among many other groups. At meetings, people pleaded with Dellums to stay in politics. The community’s response to Ron caused him to completely change his mind. Dellums announced that he would challenge Jeffrey Cohelan in the Democratic Party’s June 1970 Congressional Primary.” 

Or, how about this gem from list of Loni Hancock’s unsuccessful motions before council in 1972: 

“* Contributing $1,000 of city funds to help rebuild the North Vietnam’s Bach Mai Hospital which had been destroyed by American bombers. [....] Before the roll call even finished, ‘Super Joel’ Tornabene, a counter-culture leader, grabbed a microphone and started yelling: ‘The City Council is inciting to riot!! The City Council is inciting to riot!!!’ This caused the crowd to charge the Council, overturning the tables and ending the meeting. The crowd then rampaged into downtown Berkeley breaking windows, finally ending up at the unguarded People’s Park fence, which it knocked over and destroyed by sheer force of numbers, nearly three years to the day after the hated fence was built.” 

Fascinating, no? And be sure not to miss Mundstock’s visual treat, a collection of Berkeley campaign art from the 1970s through 2008. 

You may ask yourself, how do I work this? 

Back to the present – by which I perversely mean recent blog posts – the blog recently published an interview they conducted with Mayor Tom Bates. Comments to the blog largely panned the interview as consisting only of softball questions, of failing to corner Bates on the tough issues, and of giving him too much leave to self promote. I suppose the criticisms have some merit but hardball isn’t exactly Berkeleyside’s style. Their main focuses seem to be lifestyle and culture pieces, with just a smattering of hard news here and there. One hardly imagines them bursting through the doors of Chez Panisse, 60 Minutes style, saying “Ms. Waters, we have you on tape very clearly devouring with relish and entire bag of sour cream and onion flavored potato chips not more than 70 feet from a farmer’s market. How do you explain this to your fans?” 

Nevertheless, I thought the interview was an interesting read, especially alongside samplings of Mundstock’s history. So have a look

Here’s Bates: “When I came in, I tried to break up the notion of polarized sides that were divided around rent control and other issues. Instead, I thought we should try to deal with problems rather than ideologies. That’s worked pretty well. It’s polarized more in the last couple of years, with councilors [Kriss] Worthington and [Jesse] Arreguin sticking together, but generally we vote all sorts of different ways. It’s not like, ‘If Tom is for it, I’m against it.’” 

That’s all for this week but, with apologies to him, I’ll sign off Jon Carroll style just this once: 


You may ask yourself, where is that large automobile? You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house. You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful . (Do be in touch.)