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By John Curl
Friday July 27, 2012 - 04:32:00 PM

Copyright © 2012 by John Curl. All rights reserved. 

This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from John Curl’s long article about Mayor Bates and his effects on the city. The article follows Bates and the progressive movement in city government from its beginnings to today, based on extensive quotes from Bates’ own oral history and interviews with other players in the political events. This excerpt consists of Assemblyman Kenneth A. Meade hiring Bates as his aide at the beginning of his career, how they had a falling out, and Meade’s account of why he fired Bates. You can download a pdf file of the entire article. 

The two friends had worked almost seamlessly during two electoral campaigns, so Assemblyman-elect Meade offered Bates the job of running the district office in Berkeley-Oakland as his administrative assistant, while he would work primarily in Sacramento. But almost immediately conflict arose, revealing aspects of Bates’ character and ambitions. According to Meade, “The morning after, Tom and I met in the campaign headquarters. I said, ‘All I have to offer, Tom, is the administrative assistant’s job, and of course it’s yours.’ Tom said he would take the job under one condition, that I would go to Sacramento, that I vote, introduce laws, and do that, but that he have complete control over everything that we did politically in the district. Who we endorsed, what contributors we solicited. I didn’t go for that. I said, ‘Why do we have to delineate this like this? Why can’t we go on as we worked together before?’... He wanted this delineation and I did not go for it. I said, ‘Take the job, we’ll work it out.’ So he did.” 

Bates described the same awkward interchange differently. According to Bates, “Then I went to work for Kenny as his assistant, and the idea was, it was romanticized in my mind, that I would run his office in the district, and we would be co-partners. That even though he was elected, it had been that way in the campaign where we really shared everything, we were sort of equals. Even though he was the member of the legislature.” Bates was now sorely disappointed and they were on their way to a painful falling out. 

* * * 


Ken Meade and Tom Bates tell diametrically opposed stories of how they parted ways. 

According to Meade, a number of incidents led him to conclude that Bates was double dealing him against some of his constituents and supporters. So Meade fired him. The most salient incident that led to the break, according to Meade, went like this: 

“At the state Democratic convention Eleanor Fowl, the sister of Alan Cranston, was running for Northern California chairman. Progressive, great lady. I should be for her, I want to be for her. Her opponent was Jack Brooks, investor with the Oakland Raiders football team. Cigar smoking, businessman money. I’m saying I’m voting for Eleanor Fowl. Tommy tells me, ‘You can’t. You’ve got to vote for Brooks. He’s in your district, he’s got money, you’ll alienate somebody we’re going to need down the line.’… It took some doing to get me to switch, and I did under that influence. So I went around the convention giving these speeches for Brooks, and I didn’t even know this guy. And he wins, I think. There had been an elderly lady in my campaigns named Martha. I encountered her and a few of her friends at the convention. She came up to me and said, ‘Kenneth, how could you do that?’ I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘I’m so disappointed in you for having supported this guy Brooks over Fowl.’ I said, ‘Martha, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to but Tommy thought it was really important, and he is from my district.’ I gave all the reasons. She said, ‘That’s not true at all… I was in the voting line with Tom, and he told me how disappointed he was in you.’ So we had a meeting in the district office a few days later. I said, ‘Tommy, tell me this is not true.’ He didn’t deny it; he didn’t say he did it. I was so wounded. I told him, I said, ‘Tom, you’re going to have to find another place to go.’” 

Why would Bates manipulate his boss like that? The explanation probably lies in Tom’s own political ambitions and methods of operation. But Mr. Bates tells a different story, which includes an angry denunciation of Meade. 

Bates claims that Meade did not fire him, but that he quit in December, 1971 because Meade “had betrayed all the things that we were fighting for… my best friend turned out to be bad…” 

* * *  

Meade actually had a very respectable and generally progressive career for three terms in Sacramento… By 1975 he was badly burned out and disgusted with politics. He decided not to run again in 1976. 

At that time Meade heard that Bates—who had become an Alameda County supervisor—might be interested in running for his seat and, despite their falling out a few years previously, Meade put it behind him and told Bates, “If you do run, you can use my name.” Meade would not hear Bates’ harsh words about him until this year. 


John Curl is the author of For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, with a foreword by Ishmael Reed.