Chapter 7 – 1975 and the Two Party System: Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) vs. the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC)
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 http://www.berkeleyinthe70s.homestead.com.
The April l975 Election – Tranquility and Limited Campaign Spending
April l975 was the only City Council race ever conducted under the strict campaign contribution and spending limitations of the Election Reform Act. Combined spending by the two major slates in l975 was only l/3 the level of April l973. The Council majority’s slate spent almost $60,000 less in l975 than it had two years earlier.
For once, both sides were evenly matched and the atmosphere almost pleasant. After the frenzied l97l and l973 confrontations, April l975’s relative calmness made it a much happier, saner experience for those of us who were involved.
The regularly scheduled contests in April l975 (and the incumbents) were: Mayor (Warren Widener), 4 Council seats (Loni Hancock, Ed Kallgren, Bill Rumford, Ira Simmons), Auditor (Myrna Ashley), and School Board (Louise Stoll, Mary Jane Johnson).
After over l3 years as a Berkeley City Councilmember, Vice-Mayor Wilmont Sweeney resigned on November l5, l974 to become a Municipal Court Judge appointed by Governor Reagan. Under Charter Amendment “T”, his vacancy of more than one year would automatically be filled at the April l975 election, creating a separate race for a short 2-year Council seat. (Governor Jerry Brown later appointed Judge Sweeney to the Alameda County Superior Court.) The Council majority chose Sue Hone to be the new Vice-Mayor.
Berkeley Citizens Action
BCA itself was the major change. Little of the April Coalition’s madness and factionalism remained to haunt BCA’s city election debut. Due in large part to low expectations for success, candidate selection was conducted in a civilized manner. The Election Reform Act had little effect on BCA whose l975 campaign under the act’s limitations spent only $2,670 less than the April Coalition’s l973 effort ($l3,904 compared to $l6,570.)
Ying Kelley for Mayor
Warren Widener was running for re-election as the candidate of the Conservative Coalition which had backed the Mayor’s defeated l97l opponent, Wilmont Sweeney. The progressive and campus communities, the areas which elected Widener in l97l, now had to find a candidate to challenge him. It was a moral obligation to confront this man who had so cynically betrayed the constituency that voted for him.
BCA had two possible candidates for Mayor, Councilmembers Loni Hancock, 34, and Ying Lee Kelley, 43. Loni was up for re-election, while Ying’s term had two years left. Both of them initially declined to run for Mayor, suggesting that the other one should be the candidate instead.
Loni’s “NO” to the Mayor’s race was definitive, stubborn, and final. She wanted to run for re-election to the Council and that was the end of it.
Ying’s “no” on running for Mayor seemed less absolute, resembling her initial reluctance to be a City Council candidate in l973. She had changed her mind then and a similar reversal now seemed possible for Mayor. I joined the growing “Ying for Mayor” chorus. It had to be her, and Ying ultimately let herself be persuaded by a combination of forces including Loni, other BCA people, and Ying’s friends in the Asian community.
Mark Allen and the Communist Party
BCA had one new participant group that had not been active in the April Coalition – the Communist Party (CP or CPUSA). I knew about CP in the abstract, never anticipating the depth of their involvement in Berkeley politics from l975 on.
The American Communist Party’s foreign policy has long been derogatorily labeled by its enemies on the left as “slavish devotion to the Moscow line.” This is still true today after many decades. CP agrees with all of the Soviet Union’s criticisms of the United States (Vietnam, Chile, Central America), but CP will never attack similar imperialistic actions by the Soviet Union (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Afghanistan). It’s an intrinsic double standard, endlessly attacked by everyone else on the left who cares about an even-handed, morally justifiable approach.
On domestic policy, CP supports the oppressed classes, which historically put the party on the forefront of civil rights work on behalf of black people. In the l970’s, with civil rights laws on the books, CP’s pro-black domestic policy became capricious and unpredictable. There was a definite black nationalist tendency, quite compatible with the positions D’Army Bailey espoused on the Berkeley City Council.
CP is also famous for its organizational discipline under which orders come from the top down (democratic centralism). In its internal authoritarianism, CP resembles the military and the Black Panther Party.
Although the Communist Party was dismissed by the new left of the l960’s as hopelessly old-fashioned, in Berkeley CP encompassed the spirit of both D’Army Bailey and the April Coalition’s l973 Ideological Caucus. Add the fact that Berkeley is a good place to be a Communist, with a great many red diaper babies (children of CP parents) and numerous ex-party members who constitute a kind of informal alumni association, and CP gained the potential to become a serious political force, at least inside BCA.
Most importantly, CP had a personally popular candidate for City Council, Mark Allen, 27, a black draft resister who worked as a reporter for the Peoples World (a CP paper based in Berkeley) and had been active in opposing the Bailey recall. Mark has always been well liked in the progressive community as an individual. People who disapprove of CP invariably felt positive about Mark Allen as a leader and potential candidate. An often heard comment was “If only Mark didn’t belong to CP.”
Back in the real world, people who thought electorally knew that a Communist Party candidate for Berkeley City Council would be overwhelmingly defeated. This was especially true for a young, black, male Communist such as Mark who would inevitably (and with justification) remind hill voters of D’Army Bailey.
CP wanted to run Mark Allen for the Berkeley City Council for essentially one basic reason: To gain respectability, proving that the cold war period of virulent anti-Communism was finally over.
CP was thus on a collision course with both its enemies in the progressive community who opposed the party on the basis of political principles and the BCA electoral people to whom Mark Allen’s candidacy spelled doom at the polls.
The Black Boycott
At an early point in the l975 season, we knew that the BCA slate would be headed by Ying running for Mayor with Loni as a candidate for re-election to the Council. In seeking to round out and balance the slate, we discovered an unexpected problem resulting from Ying taking on Widener – BCA was being boycotted by black progressives who declined to be candidates and would not participate in the organization.
This boycott was a fact, yet it had no public organizers. In challenging Widener, we were violating an unwritten electoral rule that you don’t seek to replace an incumbent black official with a non-black. Widener’s record of betrayal and Ying’s status as an Asian woman made no difference. BCA was still breaking the rule by seeking to reverse black electoral gains. The boycott was both a punishment and a warning about Ying’s chances in the black community.
The Black Caucus, still a small organization under the continued leadership of Matt Crawford and Maudelle Shirek, participated in the boycott and might have helped originate it. Margot Dashiell’s reluctance to run for City Council was always so genuine that ideal conditions were necessary before she could possibly become a candidate. As a Black Caucus member, the boycott conclusively eliminated any chance of a Margot Dashiell candidacy in l975.
The boycott ultimately destroyed all of CP’s work preparing for Mark Allen to seek the BCA nomination. Mark was definitely running for City Council, but after some indecision, CP belatedly joined the black boycott of BCA. Mark came to the BCA candidates convention but did not seek endorsement. He publicly refused to support Ying Kelley for Mayor at this time, a position Mark later reversed. Thus the l975 black boycott delayed a major confrontation in BCA over Mark Allen’s City Council candidacy until l977.
The hunt for coalition-minded, progressive black candidates who would ignore the boycott was on.
The BCA Search Committee
Background and Purpose
At the January 8, l975 BCA general membership meeting, Loni suggested creating a committee to interview, evaluate, and make recommendations concerning potential candidates who would seek our nomination. She had in mind the Berkeley Coalition committee in l969 that ultimately recommended her and Charlie Sellers after interviewing many hopefuls.
Loni’s proposal was adopted and BCA now attempted something that was totally alien to the April Coalition: a formal and civilized evaluation of potential candidates by the organization in advance of the convention.
Officially called the Candidate Search Committee (later the Candidate Search and Screening Committee), this body became institutionalized in the BCA bylaws, and it has functioned in advance of all general municipal elections from l975 on. I call it the Search Committee, although some people think Search and Seizure is more descriptive.
The Search Committee is an evolving process, changing in every election depending on bylaw provisions, the political situation, and the wishes of its membership. Some people want a strong Search Committee that actually recommends consensus candidates. The first Search Committee in l975 was the strongest, making specific recommendations that were promptly followed.
Other people fear a powerful Search Committee as a threat to BCA democracy. The dominant trend has been towards evaluation of candidates, rather than recommendation. The Search Committee has become less open to candid political discussions and more mechanical in rating candidates like civil service examiners. Recently the positive and negative ratings of each candidate are not even added up, leaving a Search Committee report in the form of a nearly incomprehensible ratings grid that is of little help to the ordinary BCA member at the convention.
Meanwhile, our opponents have ended up using a small committee to actually select candidates. Their committee invariably recommends an entire slate which the larger body nearly always rubber stamps. While very efficient at reducing lengthy conventions with several rounds of balloting, this intrinsically undemocratic approach is impossible for BCA.
Members of the BCA Search Committee must be representatives of organizations or progressive elected officials, a list of whom are normally invited to participate. Elected officials can either come themselves or send a representative. Thanks to a bylaw amendment I didn’t vote for, the entire BCA Steering Committee is now a part of the group.
Invitations to join the Search Committee are not required, allowing a limited amount of packing as legitimate organizations sometimes creatively multiply themselves to increase their voting strength. The goal has always been a broadly-based cross section of the progressive community. The ideal Search Committee would include many people and organizations that are not a part of the BCA establishment, while simultaneously approximating the political make-up of the much larger Candidates Convention. Search Committee meetings are open to spectators, but press coverage is actively discouraged.
To be effective, the Search Committee has to provide a forum for all points of view within the progressive community to come together and seek consensus. The Search Committee is therefore the antithesis of l973’s rival caucuses which always fought and never talked to each other. The Search Committee’s current trend away from any open discussions of candidates is therefore totally counterproductive. Simply having each individual member of the committee rate all the candidates “Recommended” or “Not Recommended” may not lead towards a consensus, especially when many members recommend far more candidates than there are available slots.
Traditionally, by clearly identifying qualified candidates with widespread support, consensus candidates who unite rather than divide BCA, the Search Committee signals to the people attending the convention that it is safe to vote for such candidates, even if they are relatively unknown.
Since many potential candidates (including highly qualified people with extremely broad support) always say they will not run, the Search Committee normally invites them for an interview, solicits their intentions, and may attempt to pressure or draft them into running. (That’s where the “seizure” comes in.) A potential candidate who refuses to even appear before the Search Committee is delivering a message that he or she absolutely, positively will not run and the decision is final. Conversely, the appearance of a desired but reluctant candidate before the Search Committee can officially signal the triumph of persuasion as that person finally enters the race.
The Search Committee can also identify controversial, divisive candidates and those people who have little or no support. Lack of support at the Search Committee is generally predictive of the convention, and some weak candidates drop out. In a close race between two or more strong candidates for a given seat, the Search Committee is generally of little use. It cannot create consensus where none is possible. However, it is a vital job of the Search Committee to try and prevent a contested race for one seat from interfering with the nomination of consensus candidates for other positions on the slate. The Search Committee has definitely failed if a l973 type rival slate situation develops where multiple candidacies are created and/or linked together for the sole purpose of blocking nominations in order to obtain political leverage.
The Search Committee invites all candidates and potential candidates who its members wish to hear. With very few exceptions, the committee will also listen to any uninvited candidates who desire to appear. All candidates will generally be asked written and oral questions. Questionnaires covering one’s political background, such as support or opposition to recent major ballot measures, are often used.
BCA has never employed the April Coalition’s written pledge, under which candidates promised to drop out if not nominated as the price for being allowed to seek our endorsement. Instead of the pledge, the Search Committee always asks each candidate whether he or she will run should BCA decline to nominate them. Candidates who state that they intend to run regardless of BCA, or fudge by claiming not to have decided yet, normally destroy whatever chance they had of being nominated. Nothing is more offensive to the Search Committee and BCA members in general than a candidate who puts personal ambition ahead of the need for a unified progressive slate.
The First Search Committee, l975
BCA’s l975 Search Committee interviewed l8 potential candidates. Eve Bach (no relation to Leo) chaired the committee whose numbers ranged from 25-35 people. I served on this Search Committee as Loni Hancock’s representative.
The major problem facing the committee was the absence of coalition-oriented black candidates. The black boycott was having an impact. Eve Bach felt that Carole Davis, 34, Chair of the Community Health Advisory Committee, was a real possibility. Eve tried to recruit her for BCA.
Davis was simultaneously being offered a spot as Mayor Widener’s running mate, making her the first and last potential candidate actively pursued by both sides. Carole Davis chose to go with Widener.
Finally, Vivian Gales, 28, appeared out of nowhere. She had been active in south Berkeley community programs, primarily working with senior citizens. Vivian had a city planning degree from U.C. Berkeley, plus civil rights movement and voter registration experience. Her uncle was Ralph Abernathy, successor to Martin Luther King as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. With strong recommendations as a coalition person from the people who knew her, Vivian immediately became a serious candidate.
Until her arrival, the only black candidates seeking BCA’s endorsement were Mark Allen and people with no progressive or coalition credentials who openly intended to run on their own as minor contenders. With Vivian Gales, we finally had a chance to run a balanced slate.
Veronika Fukson came before the committee as a future candidate, letting us know that she would not run in l975 because there was no room for her on the slate, but she stated her intent to enter the City Council race in l977.
Fresh from carrying Berkeley against Dick Clark in the November BART Board race, John Denton, 6l, wished to keep on running for office, this time as a City Council candidate. He brought us proven vote-getting power, plus vast experience and respectability.
Jeff Rudolph and I worked together on the problem of a student candidate. We both felt it was essential to continue trying to elect a student, since heavily student precincts remained our strongest base of support. It would have been a breach of faith with the campus community to give up now, even though previous student candidates Rick Brown (l97l, 5th place), Peter Birdsall & Lenny Goldberg (l973, 7th & 8th places), had all lost. We looked for an alternative to Jeff running himself, but failed to find anyone. Even though he was too young at l9, Jeff would have to do it, hopefully using his candidacy to re-establish a strong student electoral organization.
My intense personal commitment to nominating and trying to elect a student has always been unchanged from l97l. Jeff Rudolph had my full support to fill the student slot on the ticket, even though many BCA electoral people wished to stop running students because they always lost. Opposition to maintaining a student slot also came from those who felt students were too privileged and middle class to deserve representation.
This ideological class bias became the philosophical source for anti-student sentiment as well as opposition to any candidates that appeared “too middle class”. The existence of such bias within BCA became one of those unpleasant realities electoral people had to continuously fight.
Mark Allen of the Communist Party came before the Search Committee as a Council candidate just before the CP decision to join the anti-BCA black boycott. When asked the standard question if he would run despite not receiving the BCA endorsement, Mark responded: “I can’t answer that.” He received a Search Committee vote of 7 in favor, 7 opposed, with about l0 abstentions. This vote demonstrated the divisive nature of Mark’s candidacy from the outset. Every other candidate received a definite pro or con vote. But Mark Allen split the Search Committee and BCA down the middle.
Florence McDonald, 58, appeared before the Search Committee seeking a City Council nomination. While associated with the April Coalition’s left wing, Florence’s brand of personal, independent radicalism, defied labels and caucuses. She was for the underdog and wanted to restructure society so it served the interests of ordinary people instead of the rich and powerful.
To accomplish her goals, Florence could be very pragmatic or very ideological, depending on the situation. A committed, tireless political worker for several decades, Florence enjoyed great popularity in BCA.
Other candidates coming before the Search Committee included Dick Santos, Martha Nicoloff, Victor James, Bob Feinbaum, Ray Dobard, and Al Jackson. As a representative of the disabled community, Santos impressed the Search Committee and received a favorable rating. None of the rest could get more than a handful of affirmative votes.
My crystal ball now showed the certain nomination of Ying for Mayor, Loni and Vivian Gales for Council. That was the easy part. Florence McDonald, John Denton, and Jeff Rudolph would then be competing for the remaining pair of four-year Council seats. I wanted to avoid this divisive conflict between three qualified people who all needed to be on the ticket.
The answer was to nominate a candidate for City Auditor, the elected department head who received a salary of $22,500 a year to act as a full-time fiscal watchdog over the rest of city government.
The Auditor played a central role in the Charter’s system of checks and balances, because the Auditor could block any illegal or questionable expenditure of funds. The position was too important for BCA to ignore if we were serious about running the city. A politically hostile, partisan Auditor could sabotage a progressive Council majority. Most importantly, our opponents were presenting us with a vote-split between two-term incumbent Myrna Ashley, a conservative running for re-election, and challenger Margaret Ann Watson, a defeated Democratic Caucus School Board candidate in l97l who had recently worked in the City Manager’s Office. With Ashley and Watson dividing the center/right vote, BCA’s Auditor candidate was certain to win, except for the fact that we had no candidate.
Either Florence McDonald, John Denton, or Jeff Rudolph needed to run for Auditor, thus solving two problems and leading to a relatively smooth convention. Jeff was out of the question because of the perceived requirement for a student Council candidate. John Denton probably lacked the patience to administer the Auditor’s office staff, since he tended towards a lonewolf style. At her Search Committee interview, when I asked Florence about the possibility of running for Auditor, she mentioned her experience in bookkeeping plus a willingness to consider switching races. From then on, Florence was the logical auditor choice. With her labor organizing background, Florence would be able to relate extremely well to the Auditor’s staff.
Loni thought Florence ought to run for Auditor and talked it over with her. By convention time, Florence had decided that she would be our Auditor candidate.
I still believe that my Auditor idea was pro-Florence. The Auditor received a real salary, not the Council’s $300 per month, and Florence certainly developed creative ideas about what to do with it. (See _______).
After serving an impressive four year term as Auditor, Florence ran for the Council in l979 with nearly all the advantages of incumbency. While running for Auditor in l975 was not Florence’s first choice, she made the decision herself as a team player, for the overall good of BCA.
Report of the Candidate Search Committee
The Search Committee’s report, dated January 24, l975, made things easy for the convention by recommending the nomination of several consensus candidates, all of whom had received the necessary 2/3 vote of the Search Committee’s members:
Recommended Candidate Position Votes
In Favor Opposed
Ying Lee Kelley Mayor 2l 3
Vivian Gales Council 26 0
Loni Hancock Council 24 0
John Denton Council 23 l
Falling short of the 2/3 mark, but coming close, were Florence McDonald, l6 votes In Favor – 2 Opposed; Jeff Rudolph, l5 In Favor – 4 Opposed; and Dick Santos, l6 In Favor – 1 Opposed. The Search Committee recommended “that in the event Florence McDonald is not chosen by the convention as a council candidate, she be considered our choice for the auditor candidacy.”
The Search Committee recommended no one for the 2-year Council opening resulting from Sweeney’s judgeship. Carole Davis had become the Council majority’s candidate to replace Sweeney, essentially mandating that this remain a black seat. With all our Council candidates wishing to compete for the 4-year seats, could BCA find a black challenger to go against Davis?
BCA’s platform, adopted January 8, l975, was issue oriented and electoral in tone, devoid of the April Coalition’s ideological fancies and rhetoric. The platform focused on local issues, reflecting the motions Loni and Ying had presented at the City Council. Unlike l973, there were no sections on War and Imperialism or Berkeley and the World.
The First BCA Candidates Convention
On January 25, l975, Berkeley Citizens Action chose its first slate of municipal candidates. This was another open convention at which anyone could come and vote, but the packing was restrained. Thanks to Florence’s decision to run for Auditor and the Search Committee’s identification of consensus candidates, there were no real contests. Negotiation and communication triumphed over confrontation.
In a spirit of unity totally unknown to the April Coalition, BCA nominated its first four candidates by acclamation:
Ying Kelley for Mayor
Florence McDonald for Auditor
Loni Hancock and Vivian Gales for City Council
292 people voted on the first ballot, a drop of nearly 900 from the l973 convention, over l00 fewer people than in l97l. With l95 votes (2/3) needed to nominate, the first ballot results were:
Nominated John Denton 22l
Jeff Rudolph l9l
Allen Jackson 50
Dick Santos 47
James Peterson 46
Martha Nicoloff 23
Bob Feinbaum 22
Coming only four votes short of 2/3 on the first ballot, Jeff Rudolph was promptly nominated by a motion from the floor that carried l73 YES to 35 NO.
Of the convention’s losers, Allen Jackson, James Peterson, and Martha Nicoloff stayed in the race as minor candidates. (BCA had dispensed with the April Coalition’s requirement that all candidates seeking endorsement pledge not to run if rejected at the convention.) Jackson and Peterson joined a host of black independents who jointly splintered much of the south and west Berkeley vote. Martha Nicoloff, a co-author of the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, took votes away from BCA.
The convention had a very pleasant atmosphere, marred only by an angry leaflet from the Communist Party justifying its recent decision to join the anti-BCA black boycott. The leaflet, dated January 2l, l975, asserted that BCA has “not made serious efforts to establish ties with the Black community” and therefore lacked legitimacy. Claiming that Ying’s campaign for Mayor would be “an appeal to racism”, CP then attacked Loni as a “racist and anticommunist” for:
* publicly opposing Mark Allen’s candidacy; (on the grounds that he was neither an independent person nor electable)
* refusing to “actively oppose” Bailey’s recall; (see page )
* “her hostility toward striking Berkeley city workers.” (see page )
Finally CP called for BCA to halt all candidate nominations and instead “seek communication with the Black community in an effort to reverse the process of exclusion of the Black community from BCA’s candidate selection.”
CP and its slanderous leaflet were ignored, but thanks to the black boycott, there was the continued lack of a BCA candidate to challenge Carole Davis for the 2-year seat. Mark Allen had now stepped into the vacuum by declaring his independent candidacy against Davis, further establishing this as a black seat and simultaneously reducing BCA’s chances of running anyone, or even having a chance to win. Now the progressive vote would be split between Mark Allen and a BCA nominee, assuming someone could be found who was willing to run under such unfavorable conditions. As suggested by the Search Committee, the convention voted to reserve the 2-year seat for a black BCA candidate. The Search Committee was directed to keep searching.
Howard Moore, a distinguished attorney, became our best hope to stop Carole Davis. His candidacy might have even caused CP to withdraw Mark since Moore had successfully defended Angela Davis, CP’s leading American heroine. Although endorsed 20-0 by the Search Committee on February 3, l975, Howard Moore declined to run. It is possible that CP talked him out of entering the race. No other credible black candidate could be found and the Search Committee gave up.
We surrendered the 2-year City Council seat to Carole Davis by default, as Mark Allen remained her principal opponent. (This was the first of two Council races in which BCA was unable to even nominate a candidate, an electoral collapse our right wing opponents have never suffered. The Communist Party and Mark Allen were among those responsible for the l975 failure. However, in l977, BCA’s inability to nominate a full slate was directly due to the second Mark Allen candidacy.)
As chosen by the convention, BCA’s complete ticket for l975 was:
Mayor – Ying Lee Kelley
City Council – John Denton
(4-year seats) Vivian Gales
(2-year seat) No Candidate
Auditor – Florence McDonald
The Fair Representation Ordinance, delayed a year because we could not get signatures fast enough, completed BCA’s slate. (See …). It was the only initiative on the April l975 ballot. Two years earlier, there had been nine initiatives, eight of which the April Coalition endorsed. This drop reflected the progressive community’s lack of political energy compared to l973.
The Opposition – The Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC)
Councilman Ed Kallgren decided not to run for re-election in l975, taking himself out of the leadership and effectively removing his living room as the forum for selecting the Conservative Coalition’s candidates.
The Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC), a Berkeley Four endorser in l973, became the new forum. It was an old, tiny, conservative club, dating back to l934. BDC was one of many groups that participated in the broader Berkeley Democratic Caucus, with which it is often confused. The head of BDC in l975 was Zack Brown, Councilman from l96l to l969, the last incumbent to be defeated for re-election. BDC did function under the California Democratic Party’s rules for affiliated clubs. Obviously the Republicans were still going to be kept hidden away since they could not possibly join the Berkeley Democratic Club. In the sense that it overtly excluded the Republicans, while relying upon them privately, BDC was identical to Kallgren’s living room, except its meetings were open to the public.
The Election Reform Act’s slate penalty, (a reduction in the amount slates could spend compared to single candidates), encouraged the BDC candidates to generally campaign as individuals. Running separate campaigns also appeared to be their personal preference. With its spending severely limited, the BDC slate was never the dominant force that the Berkeley Four had been in the l973 campaign.
In l973 there had been more participants in Ed Kallgren’s living room picking the Berkeley Four candidates than the tiny band which assembled on January 30, l975 to nominate the Berkeley Democratic Club slate. (The two Council majority incumbents, Widener, 37, and Rumford, 40, had been endorsed three weeks earlier.) BDC mustered 32 eligible voters who met the test of having been members as of December l5, l974 (compared to BCA’s 292 first ballot voters). Yet the BDC selection was done publicly, and for the Council majority, it was probably their most open candidate nomination process ever.
The City Council competitors were Frank Wong (a developer, best known for Walnut Square), Carole Davis (Chair of the Community Health Advisory Committee), Joe Garrett (the Berkeley Four’s losing candidate from l973), Shirley Dean (President of the Berkeley Planning Commission), Paul Maier, 45, (Chair of the Charter Review Committee), Harry Weininger, 40, (owner of the Berkeley Carpet Center), Bob Feinbaum, (a losing Democratic Caucus nominee in l97l), and Victor James (who later ran and lost for Alameda County Sheriff).
In answering three set questions, all of the candidates declared their opposition to rent control, public ownership of PG&E, and the Fair Representation Ordinance, except several waffled. Only Feinbaum totally rejected the party line by supporting these three elements of the progressive BCA platform, joined by Victor James as pro-rent control. It was highly significant that for BDC, acceptable candidates were those who stood against BCA proposals. It was not important what prospective BDC candidates supported, only what they opposed.
With 32 ballots cast and 60% (l9 votes) needed to win, the first ballot went quickly:
nominated Shirley Dean 28
nominated Carole Davis 27
nominated Paul Maier 27
Harry Weininger 15
Joe Garrett 13
Frank Wong 10
Bob Feinbaum 0
Victor James 0
A second ballot run-off nominated Weininger over Garrett by 2l votes to l2. Adding the incumbents previously nominated, the BDC slate was set:
Mayor – Warren Widener
City Council – Shirley Dean
(4-year terms) Paul Maier
(2-year term) Carole Davis
The BDC platform was a rehash of the Berkeley Four’s version from two years earlier, trying to sound forward looking while omitting the conservative positions the candidates really stood for. The BDC slate’s opposition to rent control, as revealed during the questioning, said more about their real politics than anything printed in the Council majority’s campaign literature.
The Political Center
All the unsuccessful BDC candidates dropped out. Of these, Bob Feinbaum’s case was the best indicator of how Berkeley’s two-party system was working in l975. Feinbaum was and is a liberal, middle class, neighborhood oriented environmentalist from the South Campus area. This puts him squarely in the middle of the Berkeley political spectrum. Thus, in l97l, he opposed Community Control of Police and was nominated as the most liberal Council candidate on the Berkeley Democratic Caucus slate. He finished llth, getting only 5,000 centrist votes.
By l975, the two-party system of polarized coalitions (BCA vs. BDC) had obliterated the center as a coherent political force. Thus, neither side would touch Feinbaum. He was perceived as far too conservative for BCA, finishing dead last at the convention with 22 votes, after receiving the worst score of any candidate in the Search Committee, Yes l, No – 20.
Simultaneously, Feinbaum was much too radical for BDC, receiving no votes at all. He choose not to run for City Council.
In terms of most issues, Feinbaum stood much closer to BCA than to BDC, even though BCA would never fully accept him. But he symbolized a paradox in Berkeley politics that has continued for a decade. Each of the two parties needs centrist liberal votes to win, yet neither trusts the political reliability of centrist candidates enough to nominate them.
People in the political center, specifically neighborhood oriented, environmentalist, middle class liberal Democrats, are in a hopeless position. If they joined either party, they would be politically isolated and out of step, with little or no chance to be nominated for City Council.
On local issues, such people have always been quite compatible with BCA, although socio-economically, they are more in tune with BDC. If centrists form their own independent group and run candidates for the Council, they have absolutely no chance to win, and both parties hate them for trying.
For several years, Loni Hancock tried to exercise leadership in working with progressive, middle class neighborhood people to bring them firmly into BCA. Loni and I recognized that we had to expand BCA’s base among liberal homeowners in order for BCA to become the Council majority. Neighborhood people had always been an important part of Loni’s constituency. Her orientation remained that of a neighborhood person.
Yet Loni’s efforts to expand our support invariably collapsed because of anti-electoral counter-forces within BCA that reflected class or political bias and ended up narrowing, rather than broadening, our political base. Meanwhile, centrist people who tried to work within BDC were even more rudely rebuffed when they sought real influence or endorsement as Council candidates.
Bob Feinbaum and his political descendants in the center have known a decade of frustration. Only their non-partisan, non-electoral neighborhood organizations have survived, such as the umbrella group, the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA). Neighborhood activists have often succeeded in winning Council votes, for example passage of the Traffic Management Plan (traffic diverters), but they never could elect a true centrist candidate. Both major parties have run and elected candidates expressly designed to appeal to the neighborhood centrists, but, except for Loni Hancock and John Denton, the actual performance of such people on the Council has greatly disappointed the political center.