Introduction to Berkeley politics

Note: This history was written by David Mundstock and republished here with his permission. The opinions in this piece are his and do not necessarily reflect the positions of BCA members. For original link go to

Berkeley politics is an endless roller coaster thrill ride along a twisting track of competing programs, passions, egos, and ideologies. Anyone may climb on board. The admission charge is your time and your energy in whatever quantities you wish to pay. Like heroin, the ride can be addictive.

Aggressive, ambitious, idealistic, or angry people board the lead cars to fight each other for the controls. Eventually they burn-out, tire of the struggle and jump off the lead cars, although some are pushed. There are always eager new replacements. The roller coaster also carries many passengers in the middle and the rear cars, those who prefer a less frantic pace. Thousands of others, including the great preponderance of Berkeley voters, are content to be part-time spectators, periodically trying to catch a clear glimpse of the roller coaster as it hurtles by.

Although many try, no one can predict exactly where the roller coaster is going. The track ahead is always being contested. This uncertainty and mystery is a significant part of the ride’s appeal. Unfortunately, because of the high passenger turnover, even the most fervent competitors in the lead cars often seem to possess only a hazy recollection of where the roller coaster has been. Such a historical vacuum fundamentally interferes with the political efforts of all roller coaster riders and with the spectators’ enjoyment as well. The past often appears lost even though the coaster has left a record in very deep and structured tracks. Only by understanding this record can passengers and spectators alike fully appreciate the ride they are experiencing or witnessing.

I have lived in Berkeley since my l966 arrival as a University of California freshman. I have ridden on all parts of the Berkeley political roller coaster. During the l970-l977 period, I was a fixture in the lead car on behalf of several progressive organizations including the April 6th Movement, the April Coalition, Berkeley Citizens Action, and the offices of City Councilmembers Loni Hancock, Ying Lee Kelley, and John Denton. I chose to attend law school at U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall for the express purpose of staying on the roller coaster, and my first job after passing the bar in l973 was as an administrative/legal assistant to City Councilmembers.For nearly six years I never missed a Berkeley City Council meeting. Very few people paid more to ride the roller coaster than I did, becoming a Berkeley political junkie in the process.

Following the April l977 Berkeley election, I retired from the

lead car as a burn-out victim at the age of 28. I then retreated to the emeritus lounge at the rear of the roller coaster, a far more comfortable place from which to follow the continuing action. Berkeley politics has never lost its fascination for me, even though as a retiree, I pay almost nothing to ride and spend my time elsewhere as an attorney for the California Energy Commission.

From memory and from my archives including an extensive collection of City Council minutes, reports, ordinances and resolutions, campaign literature, local newspapers, election statistics, and legal files, I have compiled this record covering the last thirty years of Berkeley’s municipal affairs.

I hope that it will benefit and enlighten Berkeley political roller coaster passengers, fans, voters and spectators everywhere, past, present and future.