Chapter 19 – April 1979: Newport vs. Widener
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 Campaign
Berkeley Citizens Action
For April l979, BCA had a very experienced campaign leadership group headed by Mal Warwick. Many of them were instrumental parts of Gus Newport’s convention victory and that momentum carried into the campaign.
The leadership was backed by a hard core of enthusiastic campaign workers who brought a special anti-Widener intensity to the effort. The campaign was well organized and covered most of the city with either mailers, precinct workers, or both. While John Denton endorsed the entire BCA slate, some of his convention backers were pessimistic about Newport’s chances and/or pro-Collignon. However, most Denton supporters worked in the BCA campaign and the overall level of coalition unity was significantly greater than l977.
BCA stressed its traditional major endorsements from Congressman Dellums, Assemblyman Bates, and Supervisor George. The BCA base was fundamentally intact, although Fred Collignon did make inroads, picking up a number of prominent endorsers who otherwise supported past, present, and future BCA slates.
BCA’s dominant theme was a continuation of the November l978 Measure I campaign to limit rents. Over and over again the literature reminded tenants that since Widener and his slate represented the landlords, both enforcement of Measure I and continuation of “rent relief” after Measure I expired at the end of l979 depended on the election of the BCA slate.
From the Berkeley Citizen, BCA’s traditional campaign tabloid:
Measure I Rent Rebates in Danger
Renters Must Vote In April to Protect Law
“The future of Measure I rent reductions will be at stake in this April’s city election.”
The assertion is made by Kathy Reilley and Marty Schiffenbauer, the law’s co-authors, in an open letter addressed to Berkeley renters.
The letter urges tenants to vote for the Berkeley Citizens Action candidates for mayor, city council and city auditor to bring about “a city government dedicated to enforcing Measure I.”
From a “telegram” to voters signed by Dellums, Bates, and BCA:
RENTS IN BERKELEY WILL SKYROCKET AFTER JANUARY l, l980, WHEN MANY OF MEASURE I’S PROVISIONS EXPIRE, UNLESS RENTERS GO TO THE POLLS ON TUESDAY TO DEFEND THEIR RIGHTS. ABSENTEE LANDLORDS AND REAL ESTATE SPECULATORS HAVE CONTRIBUTED HEAVILY TO THE CAMPAIGN FOR MAYOR WIDENER AND HIS SLATE.
From the Get-Out-The-Vote flyer distributed only on election day (a BCA tradition):
(A simulated letter)
We regret to inform you that YOUR RENT WILL BE RAISED as of January lst. The Mayor and his City Council slate have given us the green light to increase rents by any amount we see fit.
Unless You Vote Today, You may Pay More Rent Tomorrow
The Mayor and his Council majority have opposed every rent relief measure presented to them in the 8 years they’ve run City government. To defeat Measure I, the Mayor even sponsored the real estate lobby’s phony Measure J last November.
MAINTAIN MEASURE I …
Vote Newport, Denton, Fukson, Jones, McDonald, Rabkin
Renters also received a Tenant-Landlord Guide from BCA that functioned as both campaign literature and an explanation of how Measure I worked. People needing more information were urged to call the Renter Organizing Project, BCA’s own tenant counselling service run by newcomer Rachael Richman under a foundation grant.
Once again the BCA candidates each produced their own individual literature, with Guy Jones and Veronika Fukson campaigning as Democrats. Jones was endorsed by Billy Rumford. John Denton’s leaflet was headed: “FOR INTEGRITY IN CITY HALL”. Assemblyman Elihu Harris endorsed Denton along with BDC’s two incumbents. Florence McDonald’s literature emphasized her record as Auditor, where she successfully combatted “bumbling, backlog and bureaucracy”.
The focus was always on Gus Newport’s race for Mayor. BCA’s first poll confirmed the obvious: No one knew who Gus Newport was. To achieve name recognition and support for Gus, BCA used successful approaches from campaigns of the past. Newport’s posters and literature proclaimed him to be “The Democrat for Mayor”, a recycled John George slogan from l976.
But my all-time favorite example of BCA literature was Mal Warwick’s remake of the John Miller “Doctor’s piece” that had savaged Widener with the true list of his contributors in l976 (see pages l83-l84). Sent exclusively to Democrats in the hills and other homeowner precincts in l979, Mal’s BCA piece proclaimed in large red letters:
Republicans for Widener …
… and banks and speculators, too!
Decide for yourself. Since he squeaked into a second term as Berkeley Mayor in l975, Widener has received tens of thousands of dollars from right-wing physicians’ groups, corporate landlords and other special interests throughout California. Now money is pouring into Berkeley from all over the state from banks, real estate speculators and developers, and others with corporate interests at stake, trying to buy four more years for the Widener slate.
Meet some of the contributors to Widener and his slate:
(The list of nearly l00 entries that followed featured the PG&E Good Government Fund, California Real Estate Political Action Committee, Bank of America, plus many more companies, predominantly in the real estate and banking fields.)
Under the heading “They get their money’s worth”, the mailer attacked Widener for the proposed industrial park sale to ARA Services with its “history of Mafia ties”; the attempted repeal of the Berkeley Election Reform Act; acceptance of corporate contributions in violation of the Election Reform Act, opposition to the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance in l973, and support of a “developer backed candidate” against Helen Burke in l978.
Unlike two years earlier, BCA was no longer being polite to the Council majority. In addition to this new aggressiveness, the l979 campaign displayed gigantic slate signs. These “Peoples Billboards” were organized by Terry Terteling of the Ocean View Committee and each one was several square yards in size. They were placed on top of or in front of buildings. Smaller versions were made to fit on cars. On the celebrity front, the BCA
campaign featured appearances by Harry Belafonte and Jane Fonda.
Almost everything BCA did in l979 could be characterized as electoral. While it resembled ideological vs. electoral conflicts of the past, the one significant campaign controversy more accurately involved BCA organizational solidarity. At issue was the relationship between BCA candidates and the Berkeley Democratic Alliance.
The BCA campaign organization wanted the BDA-endorsed Council candidates (Denton, Fukson, & Jones) to disassociate themselves financially from the Alliance’s slate literature because it included Collignon in place of McDonald. Ultimately, BDA received little in campaign funds from the three BCA Council candidates it supported.
But the BCA campaign spent approximately $30,000, about half as much as BDC, an extremely favorably ratio for BCA.
The Berkeley Democratic Club
On the surface BDC retained or even expanded its l977 base of support, receiving endorsements from State Senator Nick Petris, Bart Director Art Shartsis, the Berkeley Black Council, and the Alameda County Building Trades Council. Leo Bach, the team player looking towards l979, also supported the entire slate which had defeated him.
The Alameda County Democratic Central Committee even endorsed three BDC candidates Widener, Washburn, and Dean, a significant defeat for BCA whose entire Council ticket had received Central Committee support in l977. This time only BCA School Board and Peralta Community College Board candidates appeared on the Central Committee slate mailed to Democratic voters.
BDC’s professional campaign manager was the l977 veteran Don Solem. They raised and spent about $70,000, nearly half of it for Widener. Using the name Better Berkeley Campaign Committee, the BDC slate greatly increased its receipt of corporate contributions in violation of Berkeley Election Reform Act section 605 which was still unenforced for the second election in a row.
Although real estate, banking and development companies from throughout California continued to support the Council majority out of self interest, one critical local constituency was in rebellion: organizational Republicans.
Thus, while BCA ironically proclaimed “Republicans for Widener”, a partisan Republican faction was agreeing with Charles Hughes on a long list of grievances against BDC, including the following:
l. Berkeley Republicans have been excluded from public participation in BDC’s candidate selection process.
2. Berkeley Republicans have been automatically excluded as potential City Council candidates.
3. Warren Widener is inherently untrustworthy.
4. Even conservative Democrats, such as Arnie Cohn in l977 and Leo Bach in l979 have been defeated for the BDC nomination.
5. The people BDC has nominated and elected with Republican support, such as Carole Davis and Billy Rumford, betrayed their constituency and started voting with BCA. Bill Segesta (and to a lesser degree Shirley Dean) were also guilty of supporting BCA some of the time.
The first three grievances were traditional, but Leo Bach’s defeat, combined with the Rumford/Davis defections, produced a new cumulative, unbearable frustration level. A large portion of the organizational Republican leadership decided to fight back by withholding active support from BDC in l979. They did not run their own candidates, preferring a more passive approach, amounting to a partial boycott. The Republicans and other conservatives who followed this strategy wanted BDC to lose as a demonstration of right wing power. The goal was to achieve major concessions
from BDC in future years by punishing Widener’s l979 slate.
The Republicans explained their tactics in a September 9, l983 Daily Cal interview:
“We vote as a bloc with the moderates and they win,” said local Republican Party leader Charles Hughes, …”When we don’t they lose.”…
“It’s correct that we did not go all out in certain elections,” (specifically l979) said Paul Highley, a member of the central committee of the Alameda County Republican Party. “We’ll do it again, too, if we have to.”
But, since the Republicans were normally invisible, whatever they did, this sudden policy reversal in l979 was totally unknown to BCA. The Democratic Club seemed to be mounting its standard campaign, minus the harsh smears of l977. In their tabloid mailer, “the Berkeley Leader”, the headlines were a combination of endorsements and bland phrases such as “Best Leadership Team” and “MAYOR WIDENER SEEKS RE-ELECTION”. The lead article cited Widener’s “total commitment” to the goal of achieving a “progressive and humanistic urban environment.” Widener was running on his
record and the basic theme was positive:
During the eight years since Warren Widener was elected Mayor, Berkeley has achieved successes that are a model for the nation – in housing rehabilitation, job programs, affirmative action, recreation opportunities, services for seniors and the disabled, and more. His hard work and fair approach have turned a divided and factionalized City Council into a productive, working majority.
Attacks on BCA appeared to be a low priority. In muted tones compared to l977, BCA’s economic platform was labeled a “Sham and a Hoax” and the BCA candidates were condemned for proposing cuts in the Police Department budget.
A “Friends of Mayor Warren Widener” mailer carried this message on the cover:
A record of leadership …
* Economic Opportunity and Development
* Seniors, Disabled and Human Services
* Open and Efficient Government
* Public Health and Safety
* Housing and Neighborhood Conservation
* Federal Support
… and Achievements for Berkeley
A “29 page summary of Mayor Widener’s accomplishments” was available on request. Widener also stressed his endorsements by Mayors Lionel Wilson of Oakland, Tom Bradley of Los Angeles, and Diane Feinstein of San Francisco, plus Assemblymen Willie Brown and Elihu Harris.
Individual BDC candidates offered similar upbeat literature, all of which resembled their l975 campaign more than anything else.
Partridge and Guthrie also conducted a two-person School Board slate campaign, backed by their colleagues Carroll Williams and Melinda Robinson, plus the entire Council majority.
As election day approached, BDC tried to respond to BCA’s multiple attacks by placing this hard hitting ad in the Daily Cal:
The Berkeley Citizens’ Action (BCA) and its image manipulators, have been about the business of creating a candidate and perpetuating the noxious scare tactics of the Watergate era.
(What followed were allegations that BCA had fabricated a package of lies concerning Gus Newport’s personal history, including an allegedly phony university degree and false claims about Newport’s professional achievements working for the City of Berkeley, the U.S. Department of Labor, and community organizer Saul Alinsky.)
The Daily Cal declined to run this ad on the grounds it was factually questionable and potentially libelous. BDC distributed the copy as a leaflet headed: “THE AD THAT THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN REFUSED TO RUN”.
The Berkeley Democratic Alliance
Fred Collignon primarily appealed to neighborhood people, environmentalists, and independents. He captured endorsements that normally went to both BDC (Councilman Rumford, Joe Engbeck, Pat Devaney, Bob Holtzapple, Sylvia McLaughlin) and BCA (Roy Nakadegawa, Jack Kent, Helen Burke, Father Willilam O’Donnell, Irv Rautenberg).
Collignon’s slogan was “pulling Berkeley together”. Fred stressed his qualifications and diverse background as a Professor of City Planning, founder of a local planning firm, civil rights activist, lay leader with Newman Catholic Center, and organizer of programs for the disabled.
Collignon didn’t focus on specific issues which distinguished him from BCA or BDC. His appeal to the center relied more on a general sense of alienation:
THE BERKELEY DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE seeks to end the polarization of the two city political machines that have dominated and crippled Berkeley’s government for the past decade. The Alliance seeks to reach across political boundaries and to build a new liberal and progressive coalition among neighborhood activists, environmentalists, students, and citizens concerned with issues of neighborhood quality, community services and economic development.
The BDA campaign depended almost exclusively upon door-to-door precinct workers who tried to cover the entire city for Collignon. Some BCA people encouraged an Alliance slate campaign in the hills, where it would hurt the Council majority. But the official BCA policy of non-cooperation with BDA created severe tensions, leading to a BDA fundraising letter with these harsh words:
The left of BCA organized their campaign tactics principally to favor Gus Newport and Florence Mc Donald, and actively tried to pit Fred against the rest of the BCA slate. To minimize the effect of those BCA tactics and to help Denton, Fukson and Jones, Fred and the Alliance committee decided to put out a slate piece and carry that piece with Fred’s own literature into the BCA heartlands ….
The Berkeley Democratic Alliance slate piece was circulated, supporting six out of seven BCA choices for council and school board. This piece infuriated the BCA campaign leadership and the two excluded candidates, Florence and Gus.
While anger at Collignon was intense among certain BCA factions, the Democratic Club was a bit less hostile, since BDC people always viewed Fred Collignon as a part of BCA.
Final Articles and Endorsements
The major pre-election expose was a report that BDC Council candidate Taylor Culver had gone bankrupt. Here was an explanation for Culver’s seeming lack of interest in his own campaign.
The Daily Californian’s endorsements were unspectacular, with backing offered to the entire BCA slate, plus David Partridge for the third School Board seat. But the Berkeley Gazette surprised everyone by endorsing John Denton in place of Andrea Washburn on the grounds that “the left of liberal citizens of the city should be represented on the council.” Unlike two year’s earlier, the Gazette’s l979 coverage had been relatively objective.
But by endorsing a BCA Council candidate for the first (and only) time in its history, the Berkeley Gazette signalled permanent withdrawal from its traditional role as the official right wing voice.
Lacking a dominant initiative such as rent control on which to focus, the San Francisco Chronicle’s April l6, l979 story came up with a new angle:
Apathy Comes of age in Berkeley Election
The last municipal campaign of the decade in Berkeley where electoral politics stayed hot and imaginative through most of the politically tepid l970s – is proving that dullness and apathy can happen even there, after all.
The Daily Cal agreed and so did the Berkeley Gazette with this day before election headline:
Low voter turnout expected Tuesday
While campaign volunteers for all sides, especially BCA, were working intensely, the press had declared that nobody cared. These stories turned out to be more perceptive than people realized at the time.
BCA concluded its campaign with the traditional Sproul Steps Monday before election rally, featuring Tom Hayden and the “Win-a-Kilo” BMI raffle drawing. As in l973, the grand prize winner’s name and actual delivery of the prize were shrouded in mystery. Dave Panush and others had helped organize a vigorous student effort on behalf of Guy Jones and the BCA slate. Gus Newport had made numerous appearances at the University. Once again BCA appeared dependent upon the campus community to overcome BDC’s hills advantage.
On election day BCA ran its standard morning and afternoon Get-Out-The-Vote operation, discovering that the papers were right.
Everything pointed to a low turnout. The only question was how low. Gloom predominated at BCA headquarters because a low campus turnout traditionally meant disaster.
But turnout was ignored once the numbers started coming in, and BCA’s raucous victory party lasted until the early morning hours. The joyous celebrants hailed the candidates, Mal Warwick, the campaign committee, and themselves in a party that seemed unlikely to ever end. This time it was BDC’s night to shed tears. The April l8, l979 Gazette captured the election results with two pictures: a beaming Gus Newport with his arm around an equally beaming John Denton; while a downcast Warren Widener and Shirley Dean sadly embraced.
The April l7, l979 Results: 29,54l voters
Gus Newport l2,8l2(45%) Berkeley Citizens Action
Warren Widener ll,929(42%) Berkeley Democratic Club, Incumbent
Larry Schonbrun 2,820(l0%) Independent
Al Verdad 402( l%) Independent
John Denton 14,469(49%) Berkeley Citizens Action, Incumbent
Florence McDonald l2,585(43%) Berkeley Citizens Action
Veronika Fukson l2,362(42%) Berkeley Citizens Action
Shirley Dean l2,l85(4l%) Berkeley Democratic Club, Incumbent
Guy Jones ll,683(40%) Berkeley Citizens Action
Andrea Washburn l0,553(36%) Berkeley Democratic Club
Jack Bonno 9,377(32%) Berkeley Democratic Club
Taylor Culver 8,l47(28%) Berkeley Democratic Club
Fred Collignon 4,656(l6%) Berkeley Democratic Alliance
Anna Rabkin l4,l05(54%) Berkeley Citizens Action
George Kasten ll,824(46%) Berkeley Democratic Club
Jeanie Rucker l7,589(60%) BCA & BDC
Anna de Leon l5,l75(5l%) Berkeley Citizens Action
James Guthrie ll,945(40%) Berkeley Democratic Club, Incumbent
David Partridge ll,762(40%) Berkeley Democratic Club, App. Incum. Hynetha Hewitt 6,9l8(23%) Independent
Peralta Board of Trustees, Area #6
Berkeley Grand Total
Curt Aller 9,089(48%) 30,46l(55%)
Leland Traiman 9,864(52%) 24,867(45%)
Responsible Investment Ordinance (A) YES l7,738(66%) Passed
Amendment to Measure A (B) YES l6,536(66%) Passed
Berkeley Marijuana Initiative (C) YES l7,522(64%) Passed
Turnout and Slate Patterns
Fewer people voted in April l979 than at any Berkeley election within memory. The drop from April l977 was nearly 9,000 voters. The last two special elections, both in l973 (Rent Board and the Bailey Recall), each produced l,000 more voters than April l979’s general municipal election.
Turnout fell city-wide from l977, but the greatest decline was in the hills and among conservatives generally. A significant segment of the Berkeley Democratic Club constituency simply disappeared. The members of BDC’s l979 City Council slate each lost 3,700 to l0,000 votes that their predecessors had received in the l977 sweep. The press blamed BDC’s slippage on “apathy” and “over confidence” in the hills. These may have been factors, but I believe the Republicans successfully withheld several thousand of their indispensable votes.
The great joke on BCA was that after a decade of striving for the highest possible turnout, a near sweep resulted from the lowest turnout.
The number of votes cast for BCA candidates declined from l977 to l979, but only a little. Veronika Fukson won with l,200 fewer votes than she had received in her losing effort two years earlier. In the l975, l977, and l979 elections, John Denton and Veronika Fukson each ran twice and their vote totals were always within a narrow l2,000 to l5,000 range.
BCA claimed victory in 1979 because its base of support was relatively stable (stagnant), while the Council majority’s conservative coalition splintered for the first time since its founding in l973.
BCA thus won four Council seats, a gain of two, including the toppling of Mayor Warren Widener. Carole Davis would control the new City Council, and if she kept voting with BCA, then Davis, Newport, Denton, McDonald, and Fukson constituted the new majority.
Compared to Ying Kelley’s race against Widener in l975, Gus Newport received a slightly lower percentage of the vote in all parts of the city except the black community. Although Widener still won in black precincts, Newport came much closer to him than Kelley had. Meanwhile, Widener’s support, both percentages and actual totals, dropped everywhere in comparison with l975.
Gus Newport’s stunning 900 vote upset vindicated the western electoral strategy. Widener’s hill margin of a little over 3,000 votes was wiped out by Newport’s more than 4,000 vote edge in the campus community, a similar pattern to l975. But unlike l975, Newport’s campus area lead held up because Gus deprived Widener of any significant advantage in the black community.
Independent candidate Larry Schonbrun did best in the hills and appeared to have taken far more votes from Widener than from Newport. Schonbrun received three times the number of votes that separated the two front runners and could have cost Widener the election. The press fixated on Schonbrun’s impact, while ignoring the Republicans, who kept quiet. Not until years later did the Republicans publicly claim credit for sabotaging Widener. Charles Hughes told the Daily Cal in his September 9, l983 interview that “Warren Widener lost (because) we didn’t go all out to help (him).”
The BCA slate increased its support in the greater campus area compared to l977 and slaughtered BDC there by approximately 3 to l. That advantage was decisive. John Denton ran well everywhere, receiving 36% of the hill vote, the best ever for a BCA Council candidate. In finishing first, Denton totaled l,600 more votes than Newport, supporting the electoral judgment that John was the stronger candidate. While Florence McDonald and Veronka Fukson lost to BDC in the hills by a general margin of only 2 to l, Guy Jones finished 600 hill votes behind his running mates.
Guy Jones ran first in many student and black precincts, an impressive result. He helped BCA to its best showing thus far in the black community, where the BDC slate trailed by small margins. But Shirley Dean did much better than her running mates everywhere, especially in the hills where she beat Jones by over 3 to l, and he could not catch up. Dean won, finishing fourth for the second time in a row.
By placing fifth, only 500 votes behind Dean, Guy Jones proved that it made electoral sense for BCA to keep trying to elect a student. All of Guy’s immediate student predecessors from l973 on had come in last. But now there was hope for future student candidates, especially if they were not young white males. Guy Jones, however, chose to retire from Berkeley politics.
Veronika Fukson and Florence McDonald won with very similar voting patterns, an indication of solid BCA slate support. They trailed slightly behind John Denton nearly everywhere.
Taylor Culver ran like a white candidate in the black community while also receiving the lowest percentage of hill votes ever for a BDC Council nominee. Bonno had almost l,000 more hill votes than Culver, but the two of them set new lows in the campus area. Andrea Washburn’s votes were at a level about halfway between Dean and Bonno in every community, a respectable losing effort.
Fred Collignon’s l6% of the vote was the best showing by an independent candidate since the present two-party system began in l973. Yet he finished a distant ninth, losing by 7,500 votes, and the Berkeley Democratic Alliance subsequently disbanded. Even with an attractive and energetic representative such as Collignon, the center proved to be politically impotent. Not until three city elections later would another group of centrists challenge the established coalitions.
BCA people accused Collignon of taking sufficient votes from Guy Jones to cost him the election, but there was no proof. Collignon, who ran best in the hills, appeared to have done more damage to BDC than BCA. Bonno and Culver unquestionably lost votes to Collignon in the hills, one reason for their very weak showing. On the other hand, Collignon did horribly in the black community.
Anna Rabkin’s 54% of the vote set a new record for BCA municipal candidates. She beat George Kasten by almost 3 to l in the greater campus area and led him in West Berkeley. Kasten’s nearly 2 to l hills advantage was completely wiped out. This was the classic winning pattern for a progressive initiative, duplicated now by Anna Rabkin. BCA held on to the Auditor’s Office as Anna would replace Florence McDonald.
Jeanie Rucker finished ahead of all other municipal candidates by capturing over 2/3 of the black community vote and winning majorities everywhere else.
As the first authentic BCA School Board candidate, Anna de Leon received more votes than any of her City Council running mates. Anna scored 40% support in the hills, the best showing of any BCA candidate to date. She won the campus area and ran close to Jeanie Rucker in the west.
The two BDC incumbents, James Guthrie and David Partridge, were indistinguishable to the voters. Finishing a distant third, Guthrie was re-elected by a tiny l83 vote margin over his running mate Partridge who lost. Although the pair finished l-2 in the hills with 64% support, they trailed significantly behind Rucker and deLeon everywhere else. Having only a narrow base of support concentrated in the hills, Guthrie and Partridge were helpless against Anna de Leon whose city-wide strength also reached into the hills. If future BCA School Board candidates could duplicate de Leon’s voting pattern, they would be unbeatable.
The School Board’s hills majority would be unchanged for now, with Guthrie, Melinda Robinson, and Carroll Williams still in control.
Peralta Board of Trustees
Neither BCA nor BDC put much effort into the Peralta Community College Board races. As a result, more than a third of the city’s voters ignored these contests. Although BCA’s Leland Traiman beat Curt Aller in Berkeley, Peralta seats are normally decided in Oakland, where Aller won convincingly. Of the four BCA-endorsed candidates, only Mike “Doc” Preston was elected. BDC was two for two, Aller and Kenneth Hoh.
The Responsible Investment Ordinance and the B.M.I. each received a higher city-wide percentage of the vote (64%-66%) than any previous progressive initiative. They achieved 80% support in the greater campus area. Both measures even carried a few hill precincts. It probably helped BCA to be so closely associated with these popular ordinances.
Discounting the Peralta at-large races, the BCA slate achieved nine victories and only one defeat, Guy Jones. This total reversal of the l977 loss continued an entrenched pattern of alternating left/right victories that went back to the l969 municipal election. Starting with the Republican resurgence in l969, when McLaren and Price won Council seats and ousted Zack Brown, no side had been able to win two elections in a row.
l97l belonged to the April Coalition which lost decisively two years later. BCA rebounded in l975 when Hancock and Denton finished l-2, only to be swept in l977 as Ying Kelley lost. Now in l979 BCA scored it own near sweep, thanks in large part to Republican circumstances beyond its control.
Although the reasons for success in any given Berkeley election kept changing, with vote-splitting, turnout, and coalition unity gyrating wildly from year to year, the pattern of shifting victories seemed to have a life of its own. Call it superstition or fate, political people knew whose “turn” it was to win. l979 had been BCA’s turn. Both coalitions would keep struggling for years to break this pattern and achieve back-to-back victories.
Another trend seemed to favor whichever side went on the attack. BDC’s assaults upon BCA in l977, aided by the Gazette, produced victory. But the BDC slate which ran on its record in l979 and generally ignored BCA was beaten. Meanwhile, BCA’s l979 aggressiveness in condemning the Widener slate on specific issues seemed to be more effective than traditional politeness and program emphasis.
If both sides concluded that “negative campaigning” was the key to success, there was the potential for a truly filthy exchange in l98l. The April l8, l979 Gazette quoted BDC’s Ed Kallgren hinting in this direction:
We just didn’t wage an aggressive enough campaign. And we didn’t attack enough – that’s not our style. We’re too genteel.
For now, Berkeley Citizens Action had elected a new Mayor and maybe even a working majority on the Council. It took eight years, but the left had its revenge on Warren Widener for the unforgivable crimes of vote stealing and betrayal dating back to the l97l election.