Chapter 18 – Denton vs. Newport: BCA’s Marathon for Mayor
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 l979 Election – BCA’s Revenge
As had been the case two years earlier, BCA people began the 1979 season in an upbeat mood, fresh from November’s triumphs. BCA’s comeback from the 1977 disaster was a reality. But even optimists didn’t feel that a BCA Council majority was within reach until 1981 at the earliest.
However, 1979 brought a fresh opportunity for BCA to challenge its most despised enemy: Berkeley Mayor Warren Widener. BCA old-timers loathed Widener for his betrayals in the early 1970’s, while newcomers were still furious over the Mayor’s fraudulent and ruthless tactics in November 1978.
After a series of defeats, Widener appeared vulnerable, and BCA was going to do everything possible to bring him down – even if it took the single most convoluted nomination process in BCA history.
In addition to Mayor Widener, the other Councilmembers elected in l975 whose terms were now up included Billy Rumford, BDC’s Shirley Dean, plus BCA’s Loni Hancock and John Denton.
Rumford’s intentions were unknown. An honorable man whose independence had rendered him unnominatable, he still could run for Mayor or Council as a spoiler, although Billy’s retirement seemed more likely.
The Democratic Club only had to retain two seats to stay comfortably in power. BCA, on the other hand, needed a five seat sweep for a clear majority. In the unlikely event that BCA took four out of five seats, Carole Davis would be the swing vote. The position of Auditor, currently held by BCA’s Florence McDonald was also up, along with three seats on the five member School Board.
Berkeley Citizens Action
BCA’s new status as a “membership organization” greatly reduced the possibility that any faction would be able to pack the convention. Voting eligibility lists would be frozen thirty days before the convention met.
The revised bylaws also included a direction to the Search Committee that School Board candidates be formally interviewed and evaluated using the same procedures followed for Council candidates. This was a response to 1977’s Holt/Lopez disaster when “endorsements” emerged mysteriously out of another group’s process. Now, for the first time, BCA was seriously committed to nominating its own School Board candidates.
The fight over who would head BCA’s l979 slate involved such a tortured sequence of events that the actual selection of a candidate amounted to a political miracle.
Councilmembers Loni Hancock and John Denton, in that order, were BCA’s two most predictable choices to go against Widener as the l979 political season began. Both were up for re-election. Loni had been urged to run in l975, but she managed instead to persuade Ying Kelley to make the race. Ying came close, but Widener’s double advantage in the hills and the black community was enough for a narrow victory.
Ever since mid l978 John Denton had expressed active interest in running for Mayor of Berkeley. John had originally offered to step aside in favor of Loni if she would declare her own candidacy. However, Denton then had to wait several months while Loni Hancock tried to decide whether or not to run for Mayor. After eight years in office, Loni had achieved total supremacy as BCA’s City Council leader. BCA sentiment was nearly unanimous in supporting her as the organization’s strongest and best candidate for Mayor. The pressure started building to induce her to run.
Yet Loni loved being Regional Director for ACTION and didn’t know if the agency would allow her to retain that position while simultaneously serving as Mayor of Berkeley. In any case, she felt unable to manage the time commitments without being unfair to herself and her family. Towards the end of l978 Loni made her decision, informing John Denton and other BCA people that she would not run for Mayor. With Loni’s support, John Denton formally announced his candidacy for Mayor of Berkeley after the November l978 election. Full of energy and confidence, John, a vigorous 65, began his campaign.
But, unlike Loni Hancock, John Denton did not enjoy consensus support within BCA. Image, not issues, were the problem. John’s personal and political style, especially his apparent self-righteousness, aloofness, unpredictability, and general lack of patience with friends and enemies alike, had spawned a host of internal enemies. Chief among these was Auditor Florence McDonald, who thought John Denton was an upper middle class stuffed shirt lawyer who shouldn’t be allowed to head a BCA ticket that she wanted to be a part of as a Council candidate. Florence’s vision of an acceptable BCA candidate for Mayor was Gus Newport.
In the two years since his sudden emergence on the political scene, Gus Newport, 43, had served on the Berkeley Police Review Commission, the Planning Commission, and the BCA Steering Committee, becoming extremely popular throughout the organization. Although reluctant to run for anything in l979, he, like Loni, was the target of an early, intense, all-faction persuasion campaign. Most people urged Gus to run for City Council, but Florence pressed him to seek the top job.
Florence and her allies insisted that BCA could not appeal to blacks and other minorities if John Denton were the candidate for Mayor against black incumbent Warren Widener. While John Denton was busy campaigning, picking up endorsements in the black community and elsewhere, Gus Newport came up with a special strategy all his own.
At the BCA Platform Convention on December 3, l978, which was otherwise uneventful, Gus Newport announced that he was running for Mayor (or maybe for Council). Gus’ secret agenda was to create an internal BCA crises, the specter of a vicious Denton-Newport confrontation that would compel Loni Hancock to run for Mayor as the only way to save the organization from another l977-style bloodbath. Meanwhile, at the time of his announcement, Gus really was willing to be a Council candidate, but he had abso
utely no intention of running for Mayor.
Meanwhile, the City Council picture, heavily dependent on the emerging mess for Mayor, looked like this at the start of December l978:
Florence, 62, had made it clear for some time that she would run for Council, not Auditor, in l979. The Council had always been her first choice. (See pages ll6-ll7.) While this left the Auditor’s seat open, Florence was a sure bet to be nominated. The only possible problem was her health.
If Loni Hancock did change her mind and run for Mayor, John Denton’s nomination for re-election to the Council was a certainty, providing he wanted it.
As with John Denton, Gus’s nomination for Council was assured, if he was running for that office.
With Ying Kelley and Margot Dashiell making it quite clear that their candidate days were permanently over, Veronika was the only member of BCA’s l977 slate who wanted to run for City Council again. She was also the only person in BCA who had been actively trying to get elected to the Council for six years. Veronika would be a very strong candidate for re-nomination, but her selection wasn’t inevitable.
Loni had said she was not running for anything, but given BCA’s tradition of refusing to accept “No” for an answer, who could say?
The Berkeley Democratic Alliance (BDA)
From the rubble of 1977’s Progressive Berkeley Neighbors (PBN, see pages 2ll-2l2, 226), the Berkeley Democratic Alliance (BDA) arose, with many of the same leaders and the continuing problem of being in the center. (See pages l22-l23.) The Alliance formed in the fall of l978 and demonstrated its liberalism by making nine local endorsements for the November election that agreed with BCA on everything, including all the Berkeley ballot measures. However, the official BDA line involved traditional centrist attacks on both BCA and BDC, as shown in this September l8, l978 Gazette article:
New political group forms with neighborhood emphasis
“I don’t see the BDC or BCA representing the majority of Berkeley voters,” Saperstein said. “BCA is totally unable and unwilling to move to the middle, and the BDC depends on Republican money and votes to win.”
According to Ms. Silk, the five BDC members of the city council “have no program” and “ran a negative campaign based on opposing BCA.”
BCA, she said, “is handicapped by its non-electable left.”
The Alliance managed to attract disaffected BDC members such as Pat Devaney and Bob Holtzapple by providing them a forum from which to threaten independent Council candidacies. BDA represented a more unified and militant center, compared to PBN, whose l977 candidate Buzz Wilms withdrew.
Still, there was a pervasive influence from BCA’s electoral wing in the Alliance that tainted its protestations of independence. BDA’s founding letter of invitation was signed by U.C. City Planning Professor Fred Collignon (John Denton’s Planning Commission appointee), Marty Rabkin (BCA activist, husband of Anna Rabkin, Loni Hancock’s Administrative Assistant), and Mary Jane Shenkin (elected to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee with BCA’s endorsement).
BCA electoral people tried to engineer a formal coalition between BCA, the Alliance, and other groups as a part of a strategy to seize the political center and avoid a l977 re-play. The goal was a new, more broadly based electoral organization that could shake the “radical” albatross once and for all.
But such an approach meant junking all the hard work people had put into establishing BCA as the progressive community’s sole electoral vehicle. There was such a sense of BCA organizational solidarity by this time, led by the Steering Committee, that the proposal to broaden our base by creating a new umbrella group was crushed. BCA’s policy was clear: it would not seek any mergers with the political center. If the center, in this case the Berkeley Democratic Alliance, wished to broaden BCA’s electoral appeal, then the burden was on the Alliance to enter the BCA process and succeed in getting one or more of its candidates nominated. As usual, their chances would be slim. It appeared that BDA’s likeliest challenger for the BCA nomination would be Fred Collignon, 35.
Many people felt that BCA’s failure to run a student candidate in 1977 severely weakened the slate’s campus support. Others believed that it was foolish to keep running student candidates who were guaranteed to lose because they did so poorly in both the black community and the hills.
At first it appeared that any student candidate would have to fight hard for the nomination. Even worse, the election season began without any strong student contenders. The student candidate dilemma might be unsolvable again.
BCA’s 1979 Search Committee
Amidst all these uncertainties, the BCA Search Committee convened on December 9, l978. It was the Search Committee’s task to transform anarchy into order.
The Steering Committee had managed to pass a bylaw amendment placing its entire membership on the Search Committee. This was another step towards insulating BCA from the progressive community at large. The Search Committee was originally intended to reach out far beyond BCA’s own political boundaries to representatives of diverse organizations. While the invitations were still sent, the Search Committee’s largest single block would now be the Steering Committee, whose members generally shared a BCA-establishment mentality that looked with suspicion upon “outsiders”. This problem became worse in later years.
Under Chairperson Ann Chandler, the Search Committee proceeded to list all the potential progressive candidates and begin inviting them for interviews, starting with the Mayoral puzzle.
Mayor (to be, or not to be)
Speaking to the Search Committee on December l4, l978, Gus Newport made his new position very clear: “I will be a candidate for City Council only if Loni Hancock runs for Mayor. Otherwise, I’m not a candidate for anything.” Gus was continuing his strategy of maximizing the pressure on Loni, while also extricating himself from any commitment to run for Mayor.
It certainly appeared that the draft Loni for Mayor movement was winning. Also on December l4, l978, John Denton told the Search Committee that Loni was reconsidering her position. John explained that he was willing to run for re-election to the Council if Loni ran for Mayor; otherwise, he was still a candidate for Mayor himself.
The Search Committee dragooned Loni Hancock into appearing before it on December l6, l978. Everything was now dependent on her. Loni announced that “I’ll run for Mayor if its OK with both my family and ACTION.” Loni specifically shot down a rumor that her decision was dependent upon Widener bowing out (reportedly to take a Federal job) and Sue Hone becoming the BDC candidate for Mayor. Loni said she didn’t care who her opponent was. Everything sounded so positive that the Search Committee’s spirits soared.
While her family situation was resolved quickly, Loni Hancock’s entrance into the Mayor’s race remained in limbo while she and BCA waited for the answer from ACTION’s Washington headquarters. The Federal bureaucracy had gained control of BCA’s entire nomination process.
Meanwhile, John Denton’s candidacy for Mayor was shattered by the successful efforts of his opponents to reverse Loni’s original decision not to run. John felt betrayed and helpless. Unable to campaign for Mayor, he was back where he started months earlier, waiting on Loni Hancock. After more than two weeks had passed with no word from Washington, John grew even more bitter and depressed. He publicly attacked Florence McDonald for having sabotaged his candidacy and indicated that he might retire from the Council.
The BCA Candidates Convention was set for January l4, l979. On January 6, l979, Loni sadly informed the Search Committee that after three weeks she had still heard nothing from Washington. Now Loni was pessimistic, her candidacy ebbing away. A day later, John Denton announced to the Search Committee that (l) the situation was hopeless; (2) he would not run for Mayor under any circumstances; and (3) he might not run for re-election to the Council.
Realizing that neither Loni Hancock, John Denton, nor Gus Newport were currently willing to run for Mayor, the Search Committee frantically looked for a last-minute replacement. While being interviewed as City Council candidates, Search Committee members asked both Veronika Fukson and Fred Collignon whether they would consider filling the vacuum at the top of the ticket. Since Florence McDonald was now in the hospital, it appeared that Veronika and Fred were BCA’s last hopes to even have a candidate for Mayor in the likely event Loni couldn’t run. But neither of them was ready to make a commitment either.
On January 7, l979, one week before the convention, there wasn’t a single serious candidate seeking BCA’s nomination for Mayor. But a variety of intrigues lurked behind the scenes.
The Berkeley Democratic Alliance was also interviewing candidates, preparing for its own endorsement meeting three days before the BCA Convention. On January 9, l979, the BDA Election Committee interviewed Gus Newport as a Council candidate. Gus reiterated his prior position that he would seek the Council if Loni ran for Mayor, adding that he might also run for Council if John were the Mayoral candidate.
That same night, Fred Collignon appeared ready to run for Mayor, hoping for both BDA and BCA support. But the Collignon candidacy, although encouraged by some BCA Search Committee members, was viable only if Denton, Hancock, Newport, and Fukson all stayed out of the race. Meanwhile, John Denton now seemed willing to be drafted back into running for Mayor, providing BCA and BDA both wanted him. John’s desires conflicted with the wishes of Collignon backers that Denton stay out of Fred’s way.
Florence McDonald had never given up her efforts to persuade Gus Newport to run for Mayor. Florence now received last minute help from Congressman Dellums and Supervisor George, both of whom wanted BCA to have a black candidate for Mayor, rather than either John Denton or Fred Collignon.
McDonald, Dellums, and George, aided by Mal Warwick, Nancy Snow and Pat McClintock, among others, finally insisted to Newport that they would eliminate the housing and employment obstacles which Gus claimed were keeping him from running for Mayor. Nancy and Pat had a place for Gus and his family to live (as their tenants) and Gus also received promises of help in finding new employment if becoming Mayor cost him his job training specialist position with the United States Department of Labor.
Finally, as Gus tells it, Florence took advantage of him when he visited her in the hospital. Gus couldn’t say no to the impassioned pleas of Florence McDonald delivered from her hospital bed.
On January l0, l979, everything seemed to happen at once. Loni Hancock was conclusively out for both Mayor and Council. She left town on a business trip that would keep her away from Berkeley until after the BCA Convention. The Gazette, contacting Loni in Nashville, Tennessee, headlined her withdrawal on the January l2, l979 front page. It turned out that the Carter administration would not allow Loni to keep her job and run for Mayor. There has always been speculation that Warren Widener, an early Carter supporter, used his influence in Washington to block Loni’s candidacy.
Also on January l0, l979, Mal Warwick announced that Gus Newport was a candidate for Mayor with the backing of Dellums and George.
While Loni Hancock, Gus Newport, and John Denton were each playing Hamlet, John’s indecision apparently lasted one day longer than the others. On January l0, he was rumored to be running for City Council, but friends urged him to re-enter the Mayor’s race on the grounds that Gus Newport was un-electable. Finally, John Denton decided to fight back as a revitalized candidate for Mayor.
On January ll, l979, Gus Newport and John Denton made their first joint appearance as rival Mayoral candidates for the BCA nomination. Together with Warren Widener, their debut came at a most unlikely forum: the Berkeley Democratic Alliance’s endorsement meeting. The very surprised BDA members wanted no part of this late-blooming internal BCA conflict and completely ducked the Mayor’s race.
As in l977, the combination of reluctant/indecisive BCA candidates, the resulting vacuum, and then desperate, emergency efforts to fill that vacuum, produced a surprise political clash, this time over the nomination for Mayor. The opening battle was fought at the Search Committee’s January l3, l979 meeting, the day before the convention. The Coalition’s biggest guns appeared out of nowhere and started firing.
Congressman Dellums, backed by Supervisor George, told the Search Committee why they believed a black BCA candidate for Mayor was a political necessity. Only Gus Newport, Ron argued, could defeat Warren Widener without polarizing the city along racial lines. Ron declared that BCA’s future lay in appealing to Third World voters, undercutting Widener’s support in west and southwest Berkeley. Dellums added that if BCA nominated John Denton for Mayor, Ron didn’t know whether he would endorse him. That sounded like a threat.
Dellums’ sudden and dramatic personal involvement in the race for Mayor resulted in large part from a political problem that had little to do with Denton or Newport. The Congressman was being subjected to severe criticism by his opponents in the black community for Ron’s alleged subservience to whites. The proof of these charges was Dellums’ repeated refusal to support black candidates for office. Examples included Ron’s l972 endorsement of Tom Bates rather than a black opponent, his l975 backing of Louise Stoll for School Board plus Ying Kelley over Widener for Mayor, and most recently, Ron’s active support for Helen Burke against James Sweeney.
The fact that Dellums’ endorsements had been based upon progressive politics, rather than race, worked to Ron’s detriment in the black community where race was everything to many people.
Dellums was now convinced that his own political legitimacy as a black leader required him to break this self-destructive endorsement pattern, starting with the Berkeley Mayor’s race. Ron would have made an exception for Loni Hancock, a personal friend with unique qualities and incredible broad-based support, but none of these special considerations applied to John Denton. Not only had Ron Dellums and John Denton never been friends, Ron’s closest advisers within BCA were all anti-Denton.
Finally, many people around Ron had disliked Denton ever since he challenged (and maligned) BART Director Dick Clark, a Dellums ally, in l974. The Dellums office blamed Denton for Clark’s eventual defeat at the hands of a potential enemy, Art Shartsis. So there would be no special favors for John Denton. Dellums needed to endorse a black candidate and he would do everything possible to get Gus Newport nominated.
John Denton’s supporters, led by Larry Duga, responded to Dellums at the Search Committee. Larry eloquently called for a color-blind test of political qualifications and experience to head the ticket, arguing that John Denton had earned BCA’s support through his work on the City Council and a lifetime record of activism on behalf of Third World people, the poor, and other progressive causes. Furthermore, Denton backers asserted that John was a much stronger city-wide candidate than the totally unknown Gus Newport. After all, Denton had already carried Berkeley twice, in l974 and l975. Additionally, many people objected to Dellums’ perceived heavyhanded attempt to intervene in the BCA process at the last second.
Thus, while Dellums galvanized support for Gus Newport, he also produced a pro-Denton backlash against the Congressman’s apparent attempt to play kingmaker.
In a very tense atmosphere, the Search Committee voted not to make any evaluations or recommendations for Mayor. Since a Search Committee consensus was obviously impossible, the Newport vs. Denton battle ended up being dumped, untreated, on the convention for the general membership to decide.
Compared to Mayor, everything else was easy. The Search Committee developed a comprehensive report for the other offices, including a chart showing the votes of 29-32 individual evaluators, the totals for each candidate, plus individual comments. It was the most detailed and informative Search Committee report ever, primarily thanks to Mal Warwick.
The Search Committee evaluated eleven people for the four City Council slots, including both John Denton and Gus Newport. When the following votes were taken, it was hoped that Loni Hancock would be the candidate for Mayor. Here were the scores for the top six contenders to be Loni’s running mates:
Recommended Not Recommended Abstain
Florence McDonald 2900
John Denton 280l
Gus Newport 2702
Guy Jones 28l0
Veronika Fukson 2009
Fred Collignon l739
The major Search Committee discovery was Guy Jones, 24, a black U.C. graduate student in city planning who served both on the BCA Steering Committee and as John Denton’s Administrative Assistant. A Yale graduate, Guy was born and raised in the Berkeley area. His better known brother, Oliver Jones, was an NAACP civil rights lawyer, later famous for winning multi-million dollar judgments in wrongful death cases against the Richmond police.
All four previous student candidates had been young white males who had trouble getting votes in both the black community and the hills. But as a black student candidate, it was presumed that Guy Jones could solve at least half that problem. With the support of every faction, including all the students, Guy Jones became an immediate Search Committee consensus choice.
In addition to Guy Jones, the Search Committee’s nearly unanimous support for Florence McDonald, John Denton, and Gus Newport demonstrated how easy it would have been to pick a Council slate if Loni headed the ticket.
Of course, the above votes suggested that Veronika Fukson and Fred Collignon would have both lost the nomination if Loni ran for Mayor, a very accurate prediction. To a majority of BCA members, Loni Hancock, John Denton, Veronika Fukson, and Fred Collignon represented fairly similar constituencies, in that precise order of acceptability. And there would be room for only two of these candidates on a balanced slate that included McDonald, Newport, and Jones.
Fred Collignon’s BCA credentials were impressive enough to the Search Committee for him to be considered as a candidate for Mayor, providing no one else was running. In his interview, Fred tried extremely hard to sound like a l00% BCA person, saying it was very unlikely he would run for Council as an independent candidate if he lost the BCA nomination. But the BCA establishment still viewed him as an outsider, like his predecessor Buzz Wilms. Thus, a majority of the BCA Steering Committee members voted against recommending Collignon or abstained, significantly lowering his rating.
The Search Committee’s comments about Collignon included these revealing words: “accountability?”, “BDA candidate”, “political allegiance and accountability?”. There is a recurring self-fulfilling prophecy in the treatment of centrist people.
Collignon had no chance to defeat Veronika or any of the five BCA “insider” candidates rated ahead of him in popularity. Assuming the loser in the Denton-Newport race then ran for Council, Collignon’s fate was sealed. For Fred to win the BCA nomination, at least one of the insiders had to withdraw.
On January ll, l979, three days prior to the BCA Convention, Fred Collignon officially became the Berkeley Democratic Alliance’s candidate.
The BDA leadership successfully pushed for a single Council endorsement at this time, with the rest of the slate to be filled in later. Collignon’s closest challengers for the BDA nod were Veronika Fukson and Pat Devaney, among a crowded field that included most BCA and BDC hopefuls. The Alliance endorsement meeting attracted approximately l40 people, demonstrating legitimacy as a centrist forum. But it was still impossible to tell whether BDA would collapse or actually run its own candidates. For now, the Alliance’s immediate hopes rested upon the remote possibility that Collignon could win the BCA nomination.
The City Council candidates with little Search Committee support included Peter Babcock, Bill Shive, and Tim Nader.
Babcock, a graphic artist with the Daily Cal, had the most professional looking literature of anyone interviewed by the Search Committee. He later became BCA’s coordinator, putting his talents to work on slate tabloids.
For many years Bill Shive had been Executive Director of the Berkeley Area Interfaith Council, a coalition of diverse creeds. Bill’s brand of Christian-oriented religious radicalism was unique within BCA and he became extremely popular. But he didn’t have any chance to be nominated.
Tim Nader was head of the U.C. student municipal lobby and had run the campus Carter for President Campaign. He tried for the BCA, BDA, and BDC nominations, losing everywhere.
Florence McDonald’s switch to the City Council race created a vacancy for Auditor which a pair of BCA’s most respected veterans, Anna Rabkin and Nancy Snow, both wanted to fill. This could have led to another horrendous fight, except the two of them worked it out privately. Nancy deferred to Anna Rabkin, Loni’s Administrative Assistant. Nancy Snow went on to manage the Dellums Berkeley Office before becoming Education Director of the Berkeley Consumers Co-op in l984.
Anna Rabkin picked up a nearly unanimous BCA Search Committee recommendation followed by the Berkeley Democratic Alliance’s endorsement. Her BCA nomination would be a mere formality.
Background – Two Decades of Board of Education Politics
It was a very risky step when BCA’s l977 Constitutional Convention approved a bylaw amendment calling for School Board endorsements in the future. Every previous venture by BCA and its predecessors into the School Board arena had been an immediate or a long-range disaster. The Berkeley Board of Education had five members and its own turbulent history that paralleled the City Council.
In the l960’s, there had been a single dominant education issue: integration. After the April l961 election, the Berkeley Democratic Caucus achieved a School Board majority (Reverend Roy Nichols, Carol Sibley, Sherman Maisel, and Spurgeon Avakian, later followed by Dr. Sam Schaaf and John Miller). Together with many citizens groups and a 39 member task force, they spent years preparing a limited school integration plan. The phrase in “We Shall Overcome” about “Blacks and whites together” was a reality, as black and white parents and members of the School Board worked side by side.
When the anti-integration Republicans and the Gazette failed to recall Maisel and Sibley in the October 6, l964 special election, the integration plan went forward, expanding to the elementary school level.
Beating the School Board recall was the political highpoint for Berkeley’s liberal Democrats, the shining moment of an entire decade. In her l972 book, Never a Dull Moment, Former Board of Education President Carol Sibley describes the ecstatic scene on recall election night as she and Maisel claimed victory:
By September l968, a city-wide integration plan had been fully implemented under Superintendent Neil Sullivan. Black and white kids rode the buses daily. Integration opponents vanished from the political scene, as did the entire issue.
Now the School Board had to cope with “quality of education” issues brought on by integration: how to best serve the needs of children who differed widely in socioeconomic backgrounds, achievement levels, and test scores. Hill parents wanted their high achieving children to receive a superior college prep education. Black parents from west and southwest Berkeley were concerned that their children started behind the whites and never caught up. They urged the School Board to focus on the under-achievers.
The result was a growing political tug-of-war between hill and black School Board members, a slow breakdown in the Democratic Caucus’ victorious coalition. When the progressive community entered Berkeley politics as a result of the anti-Vietnam War movement, it had no independent perspective on School Board issues. In l967, the Community for New Politics supported Hazaiah Williams, a black minister, for School Board.
This was a low-priority CNP endorsement, like that given to Ron Dellums, another Democratic Caucus nominee. The CNP was trying to relate to the black community by adding Williams and Dellums to the CNP’s real slate. Hazaiah Williams was elected to the School Board.
Two years later, in l969, the Berkeley Coalition had its very own School Board candidate, Louise Stoll, an energetic, tough-minded young mother who lived in the hills. Louise was a School Board reformer that the Berkeley Coalition intended to pair with her City Council counterpart, Loni Hancock.
But in creating its l969 alliance with the Berkeley Black Caucus, the Berkeley Coalition discovered there was no room for Louise Stoll. The Black Caucus insisted that Louise Stoll withdraw in favor of its own candidate, Maudelle Shirek. That was part of the price the Berkeley Coalition had to pay to get a Black Caucus endorsement for Loni Hancock. Since City Council, not School Board, was the Berkeley Coalition’s priority, Louise reluctantly stepped aside. Maudelle Shirek lost to a pair of hills candidates, Marc Monheimer and Sam Markowitz.
In l97l, the Berkeley Coalition created the larger April Coalition with the express intention of nominating both Louise Stoll for School Board and Loni Hancock for Council. Louise Stoll’s living room qualified as the April Coalition’s birthplace. But the l969 pattern was repeated. Loni’s nomination went smoothly, while the April Coalition excommunicated Louise Stoll for her opposition to Community Control of Police (on the grounds it was segregationist).
Kicked out of the April Coalition Convention, Louise kept on campaigning this time.
The April Coalition nominated a full School Board slate consisting of Maudelle Shirek, Carmen Alegria, and Joan Levinson. Alegria was never a serious candidate. Joan Levinson came from the alternative schools movement and reflected an April Coalition spirit of educational innovation. Shirek was one of three major black School Board candidates in l97l. However, the Berkeley Coalition had never forgiven her for axing Louise Stoll two years earlier.
The campus-based April 6th Movement, heavily influenced by Berkeley Coalition attitudes, decided to junk the April Coalition’s School Board slate, except for Joan Levinson. The April 6th Movement endorsed Stoll, Levinson, and Hazaiah Williams. In one of his other creations, the New Democratic Caucus, April 6th Movement leader Jeff Gordon substituted Mary Jane Johnson, the third serious black candidate, for Levinson.
To U.C. students, School Board endorsements were a low-priority commodity to be bought and sold, if that would help the Council candidates. The student group’s School Board endorsements so offended Maudelle Shirek’s supporters that the Black Caucus stole April 6th Movement literature to prevent its distribution.
The Daily Californian endorsed the April 6th Movement’s School Board slate and student voters supported it, helping to elect both Louise Stoll (who had won the Democratic Caucus endorsement) and Reverend Williams. Mary Jane Johnson was the third winner, as the entire April Coalition School Board slate lost.
Loni Hancock and Louise Stoll, close friends who had done some joint campaigning in defiance of the April Coalition, each joined boards that didn’t have a majority. The l97l-73 Berkeley Board of Education consisted of one hill conservative (U.C. Chemistry Professor Samuel Markowitz), one Democratic Caucus hill liberal (attorney Marc Monheimer), one progressive (Louise Stoll), and two black community representatives (Reverend Hazaiah Williams and the NAACP’s Mary Jane Johnson).
Louise Stoll offered her own program, including draft counseling, peace education, women’s studies, and abolition of corporal punishment. She successfully represented the constituency which had elected her, developing a poor relationship with Hazaiah Williams (who she had supported) in the process. Louise commented that Williams liked to play D’Army Bailey to her Loni Hancock.
Surprisingly, Louise found that Marc Monheimer would second her motions (even those he disagreed with), so she was never totally isolated like Loni. Monheimer and Stoll became political allies on the fragmented board.
In l973 the April Coalition endorsed no one for School Board, one of the wisest decisions of that frenzied year. As Markowitz retired, Monheimer won re-election, joined by Gene Roh, an Asian. This produced Berkeley’s first-ever Third World School Board majority: Williams, Johnson, and Roh.
To many whites, this majority appeared to be racially hostile, capricious, bureaucratic, and arrogant, managing to antagonize most of the city, especially the hills.
Stoll and Monheimer, as the minority, seemed politically more progressive than their foes. For example, Stoll and Monheimer both signed the November l974 ballot argument in favor of Public Ownership of PG&E.
Thus, as the black community and the hills prepared to fight for School Board control in l975, most BCA people felt represented by Louise Stoll and she received the organization’s endorsement for re-election. Congressman Dellums also supported Louise, putting his name in the voters’ handbook on her behalf. Since Louise was alleged to be hated in the black community, BCA cautiously left her off all its literature.
With three School Board seats up, a pair of informal mini-slates did battle in l975. It was the whites (Louise Stoll and U.C. Education Professor Jim Guthrie) vs. the blacks (Mary Jane Johnson and Alex Papillon).
Stoll and Guthrie won easily, with Johnson retaining her seat, but finishing a weak third.
Once in power, Louise Stoll headed in the wrong direction. The new hills majority (Stoll, Monheimer, and Guthrie) appeared to be even more capricious and arrogant than its Third World predecessor. Louise’s fiscal intransigence seemed to provoke a teachers strike, and the union responded by unsuccessfully trying to recall the School Board. The good will in BCA circles and elsewhere that Louise had accumulated during her first term dissipated by l976. Both the progressive and the black communities came to view the School Board majority as their enemy.
In l977, many BCA people would have preferred to avoid the School Board race. Instead, the BCA Education Committee engineered the surprise “endorsement” of Len Holt and Hector Lopez, candidates of the Berkeley Schools Coalition. Considering BCA’s l975 support for Louise Stoll, this was a complete flip-flop over to the Third World side of the School Board fight. But since the Holt/Lopez endorsement had been sprung on the convention without any warning (see page 229), it was deemed illegitimate and their names never appeared on BCA literature.
Thus, in its first two tries at School Board, l975 and l977, BCA endorsed three candidates, representing totally opposite sides, and BCA was unwilling to actively campaign for any of them.
Besides Holt and Lopez, the l977 field included two progressive white candidates who were also opposed to the School Board majority: Richard Scott and U.C. Math Professor John Kelley, Ying’s husband. Having both Ying and John Kelley running for office at the same time contributed a special awkwardness to the l977 races. Richard Scott, John Kelley, Len Holt, and Hector Lopez predictably fragmented the anti-School Board majority vote.
The Berkeley Democratic Club provided Louise Stoll’s remaining
allies with an electoral base of operations to ward off the confused challenge coming from their left in l977. Marc Monheimer did not seek re-election. BDC endorsed Carroll Williams, a black entomologist, and Melinda Robinson, an ex-Republican, both of whom lived in the hills and were relatively compatible with the School Board majority. While Louise kept a low profile, Williams and Robinson were both elected as part of the 1977 BDC sweep.
BCA came out of the l977 election with no allies on the School Board, no coherent approach to education issues, and all the losing candidates, plus their supporters, angry at BCA for having sabotaged them. Out of this total wreckage, BCA masochistically voted to institutionalize School Board endorsements starting in l979.
Louise Stoll married Marc Monheimer and they moved to San Francisco. The vacancy caused by Louise’s resignation was filled by the School Board’s appointment of David Partridge, Executive Vice President of Fidelity Savings and Loan.
School Board, l979
As the l979 Search Committee (including BCA’s Education Committee) began its unprecedented School Board candidate interviews, the three seats up were held by Guthrie and Partridge, who were running, plus Mary Jane Johnson, who was retiring. l977’s Berkeley Schools Coalition, the Holt/Lopez base, had died. When it came to the Berkeley Board of Education, BCA was starting from absolute zero. But candidates were available.
There was Anna de Leon, 38, an instructor at Alameda County’s Juvenile Hall. Anna had worked on art and cultural programs in the Berkeley schools. Ying Kelley appointed her to the Civic Arts Commission in l975 and she had been its President. Anna also participated in numerous community activities.
Anna de Leon’s diverse background in education, art, and politics made her an attractive candidate to a wide spectrum of the city. When asked at the Search Committee which School Board member she would use as a model, Anna replied that Louise Stoll, in her first term, came the closest. Although it was heresy in l979 to say anything nice about Stoll, the Search Committee still recommended Anna de Leon’s nomination by a nearly unanimous vote. As Larry Duga so aptly put it in his written comment, Anna was “the BCA candidate”.
Jeanie Rucker was running for the School Board as the black community’s prime contender to succeed Mary Jane Johnson. With a strong background in school activities, including service as PTA President, Rucker presented a non-partisan image. This was a change from the early l970’s when she was Vice-Chairperson of the Berkeley Charter Review Committee and leader of D’Army Bailey’s appointees.
The third strong candidate was Dion Aroner, Assemblyman Tom Bates’ longtime Administrative Assistant. With the schools so dependent upon state funding, she could provide a valuable Berkeley/Sacramento link. Dion also would attract extremely solid support across political boundaries.
Both Rucker and Aroner received identical ratings (75% support) from the Search Committee, behind de Leon, but far ahead of everyone else. Incumbent James Guthrie’s visit netted him the following score: Recommended – 2; Not Recommended – 26; Abstain – 4. He didn’t bother coming to the convention.
The BCA Convention – Shootout at Columbus School
When BCA’s members assembled on January l4, l979, everyone knew the fight for Mayor between Gus Newport and John Denton would be another divisive landmark. But unity could be preserved for a while by delaying the start of that contest.
Tom Hayden, head of the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED),
delivered the keynote address, trying to sound optimistic:
Then came the selection of School Board candidates, and it only took a single ballot to fill the slate:
Berkeley Citizens Action School Board Ballot
l48 votes cast, 99 (2/3) needed to nominate
nominated Anna de Leon l46
nominated Jeanie Rucker l25
nominated Dion Aroner l07
Hynetha Hewett l2
The number of eligible voters later rose to just above the 200 mark, down nearly 50% from l977, the last “open” convention. Thanks to the new bylaws, no one had packed this convention with outsiders. For the conflict that was to follow, BCA would have only itself to blame.
Picking an Auditor candidate didn’t take long either, with Anna Rabkin defeating Clifford Fred by l40 to l4. Then people had to face the Mayor’s race.
John Denton was placed in nomination by Mable “Mama” Howard, political matriarch of the Berkeley black community. Her message was clear – black people were fed up with Widener, but they knew and trusted John Denton. Qualifications, not race, counted with Mama Howard. John was trying to demonstrate his black support, to prove what a mistake people had made by impeding his campaign for Mayor, a campaign that could successfully challenge Widener everywhere.
Ying Kelley nominated Gus Newport, just as she had done two years earlier, when, backed by John Denton and all the electoral people, Gus was put forward against Mark Allen. Ying continued to believe that Gus had special leadership qualities which made his nomination essential for BCA.
To many people Newport vs. Denton looked like a replay of l973/l977 style battles between ideologues and pragmatists, left vs. right. Yet it represented something fundamentally new – a choice between rival electoral strategies. Denton supporters, who defined themselves as l00% pragmatic, knew that John’s experience and excellent reputation would win him more votes than Gus city-wide, but especially in the hills where John had done well before. Dividing the city in half, John Denton symbolized an eastern electoral strategy.
Gus Newport’s people were adamant on a western strategy, undercutting Widener in his other base, the black community. If Newport were able to match Ying Kelley’s l975 vote for Mayor in the east (campus and hills), then Gus could beat Widener city-wide by improving upon Ying’s poor showing in west and southwest Berkeley. This was a valid, pragmatic electoral approach, but more of a long-shot than John Denton’s safer eastern strategy.
Most of Newport’s key backers, such as Congressman Dellums, Supervisor George, Ying Kelley, Mal Warwick, and Will Lightborne, were electoral people who never endorsed Mark Allen for the BCA nomination, yet they had a passionate commitment to the western strategy. Of the original Newport inner circle, only Florence McDonald had strongly backed Mark in l977 and really qualified as a leader of the BCA “left”.
Of course those ideologues who were still in BCA, including Mark Allen himself, became highly visible members of the Newport camp, but they were less important to Gus than electoral groups such as CED. By combining electoral and ideological tendencies, the Newport forces were an unprecedented BCA hybrid.
Adherents of the western strategy also relied heavily upon Billy Rumford’s rumored candidacy for Mayor. Rumford’s publicized hints (l/l2/79 Gazette) that he might enter the race as an independent belatedly explained Widener’s recent Measure H adventure, the defeated Charter Amendment to set up a run-off election for Mayor. If Rumford actually challenged Widener, Billy would have an even greater vote-splitting effect than John DeBonis eight years earlier. In a three-way race, Gus Newport would be assured of victory. But Rumford could always be bluffing.
It must also be understood that, unlike Mark Allen, both Gus Newport and John Denton enjoyed nearly universal BCA support as Council candidates. The Search Committee votes proved this. l979’s divisiveness did not result from inherent hostility to either John or Gus, but sprang instead from the totally symbolic stature of the Mayor’s office. Besides presiding over the Council, the Mayor had no special powers. But BCA people were willing to fight for seven hours over electoral strategies and leadership symbols, as the following box score of secret balloting demonstrates:
Berkeley Citizens Action
Ballots for Mayor, January l4, l979
First Second Third Fourth Fifth Sixth
Ballot Ballot Ballot Ballot Ballot Ballot
Votes Cast l99 20l 203 200 l95 l97
Votes Needed To l32 l34 l35 l33 l30 l3l
John Denton 94 l07 ll6 ll7 l2l ll5
Gus Newport l04 93 83 78 72 79
That John Denton trailed Gus Newport after the first ballot was not surprising. Gus was backed by major elected officials and most of the key BCA organizational people. Yet John was only ten votes behind, a better showing than expected.
After the first ballot, Gus and John were given a fresh opportunity to speak and answer questions. Their nominators had taken up so much of the allotted time that the two candidates, especially Gus, hadn’t been able to adequately address the convention. John Denton felt vindicated, gracious, and upbeat. He was waging a good fight and spoke of his willingness to run as a Council candidate if Gus was nominated for Mayor. This was John Denton the team player and BCA loyalist. His supporters were impressed.
Gus Newport on the other hand, spoke so aggressively that he was uncharacteristically scary. It sounded like Gus was “demanding” to be nominated. He refused to run for Council on a slate headed by John Denton. Gus’ own convention literature asked the question “who is Gus Newport?” Now it seemed that Gus had provided the answer in a way that bothered some of the people who had voted for him.
John Denton took the lead on the second ballot as Gus lost ll votes, a clear indication just how counterproductive Newport’s statements had been. (Gus rarely sounded so hostile in his future campaign speeches.)
The Denton forces successfully pressed their advantage by having the next three ballots taken in rapid succession without further speech-making. John’s original nucleus of friends, electoral people, BCA old-timers, white males, and the BDA contingent, grew as the Newport strength ebbed away.
The Denton momentum reached its peak on the fifth ballot when John was 5l ahead, only nine votes short of 2/3 and victory. One more immediate ballot might have done it.
But the Newport forces broke the non-stop parade of ballots and managed to bring Don Hopkins before the convention to speak on behalf of Congressman Dellums. Until then, the Dellums people had held back for fear of generating more backlash. But now they were desperate and Don Hopkins lectured the convention on the necessity of having a progressive black BCA candidate for Mayor.
Hopkins’ oratory was enough to cause a six vote loss for Denton on the sixth ballot, killing John’s momentum. Nearly everyone was then willing to support Newport’s motion that the exhausted convention quit for the day.
The 2/3 rule thus forced a week’s recess for the second time in a row. Among other casualties, the “group singing” listed on the agenda after nominations for Mayor and City Council had to be cancelled.
The worst things at these conventions are the vicious rumors that get circulated. Truth cannot be determined. In l979 one rumor had Florence McDonald threatening to drop out of the Council race if John Denton were nominated for Mayor. There were other walkout rumors from the Newport camp. But Florence was still in the hospital, so how could anyone know what her position really was? The truth appeared to be that Florence changed her position several times, ultimately making no threat at all.
Of course, if either Florence or Gus actually declined to run for Council in the event of a Denton victory, the big winner was Fred Collignon, who only then had a chance to be nominated. That was one reason why the Berkeley Democratic Alliance people kept voting for John Denton.
But another rumor alleged a BDA plot to switch support to Gus in exchange for Florence McDonald’s withdrawal, freeing up a Collignon slot through the back door. The Newport camp was livid that anyone (other than Florence, herself) would try to knock Florence off the ticket. BDA people vehemently asserted their innocence of the charges. Such convention rumors escalate the antagonism levels and lead to dismal newspaper headlines, such as these comments on the six-ballot deadlock:
“A House Divided” (Grassroots)
“Scenes from a Shotgun Marriage” (Berkeley Barb)
“race issue splits convention” (Daily Cal)
The Daily Cal’s January l5, l979 story offered this juicy doomsday lead:
It was therefore possible to end the impasse through negotiations in advance of the January 20, l979 reconvened convention, something else that could never have occurred in l977. The Newport and Denton camps agreed that there would be a maximum of two more ballots for Mayor. If no one had achieved a 2/3 vote after the second ballot, the man who was trailing would withdraw. Thus, Gus Newport and John Denton personally decided to waive the 2/3 rule for the good of BCA.
The Steering Committee sent all BCA members, including those who were absent on January l4th, an invitation to the second convention. The Newport and Denton forces conducted a limited packing war, restricted to the membership lists, trying to increase their convention strength. Since Gus’ side included most of the BCA organizers, the opportunity to bring new people to the convention was a significant advantage for them.
The BCA Convention reconvened at Columbus School on January 20, l979 in a civilized atmosphere. Back from Nashville, Loni Hancock delivered a new keynote address, stressing the need for everyone to unify around the candidates to be chosen:
Loni urged the convention to disappoint BDC this time by emerging with unity.
The candidates spoke again, with Gus sounding much milder than a week earlier. The “two ballots and out” agreement was explained and everyone cast their votes.
Berkeley Citizens Action
Ballots for Mayor, January 20, l979
Votes Cast 258 262
Votes Needed To l72 l75
John Denton l25 l25 Withdraws
Gus Newport l29 l36 Nominated
Convention attendance increased by 60 voting members since the sixth ballot a week earlier, with a 50 vote gain for Gus Newport. The Denton vote went up by only l0. The Newport camp’s organizational superiority wiped out Denton’s lead. Gus’ four vote advantage on the seventh ballot jumped to eleven by the final tally. But a one vote margin would have been equally decisive. John Denton withdrew and asked the convention to nominate Gus Newport by acclamation. Nearly everyone applauded and voted in favor. It was over after eight ballots, the longest ordeal ever in BCA democracy.
In comparison with the Mayor’s race, City Council was now totally predictable.
The first motion made and carried was to nominate John Denton for re-election by acclamation. That was followed by an identical motion on behalf of Florence McDonald. Florence even spoke to the convention from the hospital, a little electronic wizardry produced by Marty Rabkin.
With two seats left to fill, the convention voted.
Berkeley Citizens Action
Ballot for City Council, January 20, l979
238 Votes Cast, l59 (2/3) Needed to Nominate
Guy Jones l78 Nominated
Veronika Fukson l37
Fred Collignon 48
Leandro Duran 3l
Peter Babcock l7
Bill Shive l6
Curt Manning l0
Tim Nader l
Fred Collignon knew that John Denton’d defeat for Mayor ended his own chances within BCA. The single ballot which nominated Guy Jones placed Veronika Fukson only 22 votes short of receiving 2/3, and she was certain to go over the top on the next ballot with all the minor candidates eliminated.
To avoid wasting time, Collignon promptly moved that Veronika be nominated by acclamation, the traditional concession gesture by a candidate who is withdrawing from the race. However, that turned out not to be Fred Collignon’s intention.
In any case, BCA emerged from its l979 convention with a full City Council slate for the first time, thanks to Mark Allen’s absence from the candidate ranks.
However, there would no longer be a full BCA School Board slate, since Dion Aroner withdrew after her nomination. Primarily it was pressure from Anna deLeon’s supporters that pushed Aroner out of the race on the highly questionable electoral grounds that having both women running would help the incumbents. In reality the opposite was true, and Aroner’s exit guaranteed that at least one of the incumbents, Guthrie or Partridge, couldn’t lose.
BCA later endorsed a progressive slate of candidates for the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees: Mike “Doc” Preston, Lonnie Dillard, Robert Scott, and Leland Traiman. They competed under a district/at large system in which trustees had to live in a specified district but were elected at large. In the Berkeley district, BCA’s Leland Traiman, who had helped organize the Peralta slate, was challenging BDC incumbent Curt Aller. Aller had run a weak race against Congressman Dellums in the June l974 Democratic primary.
The ballot also included a pair of initiative ordinances which BCA people thought would help the campaign by fostering greater voter interest and turnout.
The Responsible Investment Ordinance, Measures A & B
Concern about City of Berkeley investments that supported white-ruled South Africa had been voiced for years, leading to various unsuccessful City Council motions (see pages 83-84). In l978 the U.C. student sponsored California Public Interest Research Group (CAL-Pirg) decided to address this issue with an initiative. CED and BCA people from the campus community, including Tessa Rouverol, Andy Spahn, Guy Jones, and Nancy Skinner, plus Walt Millikin, joined in the effort.
The Responsible Investment Ordinance condemned apartheid and required the withdrawal of City of Berkeley funds from banks doing business with South Africa. A Citizens Committee on Responsible Investments would help the Council implement this policy. Sufficient signatures were collected and the initiative became Measure A.
City staff people were concerned about clarifying the ordinance’s scope so that it would be possible to find acceptable banks for the deposit of municipal funds. Absent such a clarification, City Attorney Michael Lawson’s proposed analysis for the Voters Handbook claimed the initiative would result in an annual $400,000 interest loss. For once the Council added to the ballot a friendly amendment to the initiative defining “indirect loans” to South Africa. That became Measure B, and the City Attorney’s analysis was changed to reflect a “minimal” adverse financial impact if both measures passed. BCA endorsed A & B as a package. There was no campaign against them.
The Berkeley Marijuana Initiative (BMI)
The Berkeley Marijuana Initiative of l973 had been a joyous cultural experience (see pages 49 & 74). Steve Bloom unilaterally decided to mount a full-scale encore performance in l979. Bloom, a tall, red-headed individualist, had escaped from the Navy in the mid l970’s as a conscientious objector. After working with various political organizations that mistook his youthful intensity for disruption, Steve decided he could do better on his own. Full of energy, Steve drafted a new BMI, collected nearly all the signatures, conducted his own “Win-a-Kilo” raffle, promoted the initiative by giving away free joints, and convinced BCA to support the effort.
The initiative, which became Measure C, directed the City Council to ensure that the enforcement of marijuana laws became the Berkeley Police Department’s “lowest priority”. The Council was further instructed to cut off funds for the enforcement of marijuana laws, try to stop arrests, and receive reports of all marijuana law enforcement activities in the city.
City Clerk Edythe Campbell claimed that Steve turned his petitions in one day after the deadline for placement on the April ballot. The Charter contained an ambiguity on how to calculate this deadline which Edy kept interpreting inconsistently. Instead of going to court, Bloom convinced Bill Segesta to join the Council minority in voting to place BMI on the ballot voluntarily. Technically, it became a Council measure, not an initiative.
The Yes on C ballot argument was signed by Guy Jones, John Denton, Florence McDonald, and Steve Bloom. As had been the case in l973, neither a ballot argument nor a campaign challenged BMI’s triumphant march towards passage.
Thus, the final BCA slate for April l979 consisted of:
Mayor – Gus Newport
City Council – John Denton
Auditor – Anna Rabkin
School Board – Anna deLeon
College Board – Mike “Doc” Preston
Yes on A & B – Responsible Investment Initiative
Yes on C – Berkeley Marijuana Initiative
The Berkeley Democratic Club
None. After the l977 sweep, BDC did not see any need for organizational changes.
As always, BDC’s nomination process was a great deal simpler than BCA’s. The Board of Directors would again interview the candidates and make recommendations to be ratified by the Club’s members. In l977 the entire City Council slate had been picked on a single ballot, and things shouldn’t be too different in l979.
Mayor Warren Widener would be re-nominated for a third term with no significant opposition. Shirley Dean’s re-nomination for Council was similarly automatic, Dean having evolved into a reliable majority member. Her independent image remained, but Shirley’s voting record no longer lived up to it.
Taylor Culver, an architect and attorney with Planning Commission and Board of Adjustments experience, was the only black candidate seeking BDC’s City Council nomination. Very low-key and pleasant, Culver had few enemies and no competition, a perfect nomination recipe.
Andrea Washburn was another reliable BDC person who had been groomed as a Council candidate. She was elected to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee as part of BDC’s June l978 slate. In the Hone, Dean, and Feller tradition, “Andy” Washburn’s background included the League of Women Voters, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the post of Police Review Commission Chairperson. Washburn, the first woman to join the Berkeley Police Reserve, had demonstrated her commitment to neighborhoods by helping organize a citizens patrol which chased prostitutes away from University Avenue in west Berkeley. Like Taylor Culver, Andy was a team player who did not arouse opposition.
As in l977, there remained one contested City Council slot, with BDC’s left and right flanks again demanding representation. From the left came the BDA contingent – repeaters Pat Devaney and Bob Holtzapple, joined now by Fred Collignon. Definitely not the BDC type, they would have to be rejected again. From the right, replacing Arnie Cohn as proxy for the Republicans, came a much more formidable challenger: Leo Bach, 59, a small businessman who owned the Campus Copy Centers.
Leo Bach’s quest for a Berkeley City Council seat was now ten years old. Not only had Leo kept trying to get elected longer than anyone else, he also travelled a unique course from left to right along the political spectrum. His anti-war credentials included work with the Vietnam Day Committee and the Scheer campaign. As a progressive leader in l969, Bach sought the Berkeley Coalition nomination which ultimately went to Loni Hancock, who Leo endorsed.
Leo’s stubbornness and ambition didn’t make him popular on the left. But he stayed with the Berkeley Coalition and participated in the l97l April Coalition, where as a middle aged, middle class white male, his chances of being nominated dropped from slim to none. Like most Berkeley Coalition people, Leo drifted away from the April Coalition. But he didn’t drop out of politics.
By l973 Leo was a loner, conducting his own independent City Council campaign. At least he could finally run for the Council without the bother of getting nominated by an organization. His politics were liberal, but Bach was both ignored and isolated, finishing twelfth with only l,865 votes, 4%. He had no political future in the center.
Then came all the new traffic diverters in l975 (pages l63-l65), which Leo saw as a fundamental attack upon his rights as a citizen. Leo Bach emerged as a leader of the anti-diverter forces that tried to scrap the traffic management plan with a pair of unsuccessful initiatives, Measure O in June l976 and Measure E in April l977. After these campaigns, Leo Bach came to personify the anti-diverter movement.
In fighting diverters, Leo’s allies were the business community, Republicans, conservative Democrats, and hill people, in other words, the city’s right wing. His hated opponents, the diverter lovers, were the members of neighborhood organizations, BCA, and the Shirley Dean wing of BDC. During the diverter wars of the mid l970’s, Leo gradually acquired the political persona of the right-of-center troops he was leading into battle. By the decade’s end, Leo Bach had completed a broad jump clear across the Berkeley political spectrum and become the right wing champion inside BDC. Leo’s personality hadn’t changed at all. He was still blunt, stubborn, and ambitious, but in the BDC context, he was now divisive as well.
When Leo declared his candidacy for the BDC Council nomination in l979, his backers included many (invisible) Republicans plus other overtly conservative interests who felt excluded and unrepresented by BDC’s Council candidates. To them, the Council majority they had helped elect just wasn’t conservative enough. But the outspoken Leo Bach could fix that.
The BDC leadership understood perfectly that while Leo strengthened their base to the right, he amputated it on their left. In his l979 incarnation, Leo Bach could never be packaged to win centrist votes as an “open minded liberal”. The neighborhood people shared a special relationship of mutual hate with Leo. Finally, it would have been impossible for Shirley Dean to retain any credibility among independents with Leo as her running mate. So, as with Arnie Cohn two years earlier, BDC had to have a less divisive alternative to Leo Bach, another unobtrusive Bill Segesta type.
His name was Jack Bonno, manager of the Great Western Building. A Berkeley native, Bonno had the perfect BDC mix of downtown business connections, plus membership in the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Since Bonno had only recently returned to Berkeley after a long absence, he lacked enemies, a key qualification in l979. The Republicans should be placated by nomination of a business executive, one of their own. Of course passionate support for Bonno would be lacking, but that was an improvement over the polarizing effect of a Leo Bach candidacy.
Speaking on behalf of the Berkeley Democratic Club’s Board of Directors, former Councilman Ed Kallgren presented the leadership’s official recommended slate to the BDC nomination meeting on January 22, l979: Warren Widener for Mayor, plus Jack Bonno, Taylor Culver, Shirley Dean, and Andrea Washburn for City Council.
BDC assembled l50 voters, a record high, up 50% from l977. Most of this growth came from BDC’s restless right wing. Since it was fashionable in l979 for candidates to appear in alien forums, BDC members had a very large field to choose from on their first ballot.
Berkeley Democratic Club
City Council, First Ballot, January 22, l979
l50 Votes Cast, 90 (60%) Needed to Nominate
Shirley Dean ll0 Nominated
Taylor Culver l00 Nominated
Andrea Washburn 94 Nominated
Jack Bonno 75
Leo Bach 54
Fred Collignon l5
Bob Holtzapple l3
Pat Devaney l2
Tim Nader ll
Veronika Fukson l0
John Denton 4
With one seat left to be filled, everyone was dropped except Bonno and Bach, leaving a clear ideological choice:
Berkeley Democratic Club
City Council, Second Ballot, January 22, l979
l50 Votes Cast, 90 (60%) Needed to Nominate
Jack Bonno 86
Leo Bach 57
An unprecedented (for BDC) third ballot finally nominated Jack Bonno with 97 out of the l42 votes cast, another victory for the Club’s insiders. BDC’s fading left wing could only manage l5 votes for Fred Collignon, a mere l0%. Pat Devaney had reached the 20% level two years before, proving in which political direction BDC was heading. Collignon did twice as well at the BCA Convention, where Fred received 20% of the vote. The Berkeley Democratic Alliance had now lost decisively in both the BCA and BDC forums, repeating the l977 pattern.
In stark contrast to BCA, the Democratic Club had no difficulty nominating a Mayor. Besides Gus Newport, Widener faced two other opponents at BDC, both of whom would stay in the race as independents.
Larry Schonbrun, an attorney, seemed to be running for Mayor as a combination ego trip, publicity hunt, and search for clients. Schonbrun insisted that Berkeley needed new leadership to replace the failed Warren Widener. Although politically unknown, Larry Schonbrun was the only conventional looking, moderate sounding, white candidate in the race. He would have an impact.
Then there was Al Verdad, Berkeley’s very own New Age Higher Consciousness politician. A combination prophet and clown, the concluding words in Al’s ballot statement summed up his entire campaign:
DON’T GET UPTIGHT. BE BEAUTIFUL. SPEAK TRUTH.
WORK WELL. FORGIVE INSTANTLY. LOVE EVERYBODY.
Al had failed to receive any votes at the BCA Convention which didn’t have time for humor and feared his vote-splitting impact. But Al was a hit with BDC’s tiny anti-Widener wing:
Berkeley Democratic Club
Mayor, January 22, l979
l29 Votes Cast, 77 (60%) Needed to Nominate
Warren Widener lll Nominated
Al Verdad l2
Gus Newport 3
Larry Schonbrun l
The man who wasn’t there, Councilman Billy Rumford, officially declared his independent candidacy for Mayor two days after Widener was nominated. Rumford attacked the entire concept of slate politics as a “goosestep mentality”.
While BCA people were thrilled that the dream of Rumford’s center/right vote-splitting would come true, Widener set about driving Billy out of the race. The Mayor’s supporters in the black and white communities let William Rumford, Jr. know that “spoilers” weren’t wanted. Rumford’s eventual withdrawal amounted to one of Widener’s greatest tactical victories. In the end, Billy Rumford went into quiet retirement, and BCA’s task grew in difficulty.
At this first endorsement meeting on January 22, l979, BDC unsuccessfully attempted to make an Auditor endorsement. Shirley Dean had caused a serious problem by expressing interest in running for Auditor, which unlike City Council, paid a real salary. By being publicly indecisive, Shirley invited pressure from BDC people who didn’t want to lose a popular Council incumbent. Dean succumbed and decided to seek re-election to the Council, leaving an Auditor candidate vacuum.
One hardline BDC faction backed Mike Fontonello for Auditor. He was the bookkeeper for Bill Segesta’s New Bridge Foundation drug treatment program. However, Fontonello didn’t seem to be a very attractive candidate and there were immediate rumors about his past. The BDC Board of Directors recommended no endorsement in deference to Anna Rabkin’s strength and Fontonello’s weakness.
After two ballots, Fontonello and No Endorsement were almost even, with neither obtaining the necessary 60%. BDC had to put the Auditor’s race over to its next meeting. Eventually Fontonello was nominated by BDC but had to withdraw in response to adverse publicity concerning his criminal record for possession of illegal drugs.
Still determined to oppose Anna Rabkin, the Democratic Club then nominated George Kasten for Auditor. A certified public accountant who actually worked as an auditor for Alameda County, Kasten stressed his professional qualifications, but he was another political unknown.
For the Berkeley School Board, BDC’s endorsement of incumbents David Partridge and James Guthrie was relatively routine. Jeanie Rucker completed this slate, making her one of very few municipal candidates endorsed by both major parties. Rucker’s credentials as a non-partisan black community representative made this double endorsement possible. In a new School Board era that would pit BCA against BDC, Rucker and the black community appeared neutral, so both sides found Jeanie acceptable.
In the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees races, BDC made a pair of endorsements, incumbent Curt Aller and Kenneth Hoh. Their opponents on the BCA-backed slate were Leland Traiman and Robert Scott.
The Council majority declined to engage BCA in combat over the initiatives. While BDC tried to ignore the BMI, Mayor Widener and their other candidates urged a “Yes” vote on the Responsible Investment Ordinance.
But the ballot measures were not an inherent part of the BDC slate campaign, which consisted of this ticket in the April l979 election:
Mayor – Warren Widener
City Council – Jack Bonno
Auditor – George Kasten
School Board – James Guthrie
College Board – Kenneth Hoh
The Berkeley Democratic Alliance
Fred Collignon’s plans were a mystery. BCA people thought he was obligated to withdraw from the Council race on the basis of his statements and actions at both the BCA Search Committee and the convention. Yet Collignon’s commitments to BDA required him to run as their standard bearer against the two established parties. Thus, whatever decision Collignon made, one side would feel betrayed.
Ultimately, the anger of Berkeley Democratic Alliance members at being rejected again by both BCA and BDC was decisive in maintaining the Collignon candidacy. For the first time since the two major coalitions formed in the early l970’s, the organized center ran its own candidate.
While trying to elect Fred Collignon to the City Council was BDA’s major priority, the Alliance endorsed a nearly complete slate:
City Council – Fred Collignon
Auditor – Anna Rabkin
School Board – Anna deLeon
This Berkeley Democratic Alliance ticket duplicated the BCA slate with only two exceptions: no endorsement for Mayor and Collignon in place of Florence McDonald for City Council. Note that Shirley Dean was among the losers. From a Berkeley Democratic Club perspective, BDA thus proved that it was nothing but a BCA front all along. Simultaneously, the powerful Gus Newport/Florence McDonald wing of BCA viewed Collignon and BDA as dangerous vote-splitting enemies conducting a personal vendetta against the left.
While being vilified from all sides, Fred Collignon would at least have an opportunity to demonstrate whether the Berkeley center had any claim to political viability.