Chapter 23 – The November 1980 Election

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

The November l980 Election – A Peaceful Interlude

Berkeley’s November l980 contest was a very restful exercise compared to both previous and future confrontations. There were no Berkeley ballot measures and none of the candidate races even qualified as a main event. While Berkeley’s conservative coalition spent its time planning for April l98l, BCA ran a routine slate campaign in a business-like fashion.

BCA’s November l980 slate consisted of eleven endorsements:

* Ron Dellums for re-election to Congress.

Dellums’ opponents were Republican Charles Hughes (back for a second try after losing in l978) and Libertarian Tod Mikuriya. They were not taken as serious threats, resulting in a very low-key Dellums effort.

* Tom Bates and Elihu Harris for re-election to the Assembly.

Challenged only by a Libertarian, Harris didn’t have to campaign at all. Tom Bates faced three opponents, but Republican William Sullivan, a pharmacist and research chemist, was little more than a placeholder. Bates still responded with a serious campaign.

* Nicholas Petris for re-election to the State Senate.

A breakthrough – BCA finally endorsed Nick Petris, making amends for the April Coalition having denounced him in l973. (See page 55.)

In the State Senate, Petris was a far left environmentalist, but in Berkeley his connections were with moderate to conservative Democrats.

For several elections Petris had been the only Democrat holding partisan office to endorse the BDC slate. BCA people hoped Petris would reciprocate for this precedent setting gesture of support by staying neutral in the April l98l Council race or at least splitting his endorsements for a change.

Ironically, it was a split endorsement that caused the April Coalition’s l973 condemnation of Petris. Here was proof of political evolution. The identical Petris action denounced eight years earlier was now an overt BCA objective.

As usual, Petris had no serious challengers for his Senate seat.

* Jack Gifford for Superior Court Judge

Gifford, an Oakland attorney backed by Dellums and Bates, was in a run-off against Howard Schwartz, a conservative Oakland-Piedmont Municipal Court Judge. Since Judge George Brunn, BCA’s previous candidate, failed to make the run-off, the new endorsement went to Gifford.

* Richard Anderson for BART Board.

Anderson, a business consultant, was taking on incumbent Art Shartsis. Most people didn’t think Anderson had a chance, but with Shartsis’ growing conservatism, the challenger picked up progressive support from Dellums, BCA, and others.

* Mary Jefferds for the East Bay Regional Park District and Michael Fajans for the Alameda-Contra Costa (AC) Transit District Board.

These were courtesy endorsements for a pair of Berkeley incumbents supported by PACE, the Political Action Coalition for the Environment. Jefferds was unopposed and Fajans won as expected.

* Yes on State Propositions l (Parkland Acquisition) and 8 (Water Resources Protection).

The Parklands Act was an apple pie measure. Proposition 8 amounted to the first shot in the emerging state war over the proposed Peripheral Canal, a major expansion of the California Water Project to take Northern California water south.

Proposition 8 consisted of pro-environmental concessions that were meant to soften the Peripheral Canal’s impact. The canal bill had been passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown, only to be blocked by a citizens’ referendum.

The Peripheral Canal would now be appearing on the June l982 ballot.

Meanwhile, most canal opponents wanted Proposition 8’s safeguards as a kind of environmental insurance policy, even though 8 would be automatically repealed if the canal itself was rejected by the voters.

* Yes on l0, the Smoking & Non-Smoking Sections Initiative.

The only state initiative, this measure to protect the health and rights of non-smokers required the designation of no-smoking sections in public places. It was sponsored by the Group Against Smokers’ Pollution (GASP), which had earlier persuaded the Berkeley City Council to pass a similar law, the Smoking Pollution Control Act.

GASP was now taking on the major tobacco companies, who were willing to spend millions of dollars to defeat this threatening initiative.

Although this was hardly a typical BCA issue, the organization voted in favor of l0, with some smokers dissenting.

BCA’s major November l980 internal dispute centered on the confusing race for President, incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter vs. Republican Ronald Reagan vs. independent John Anderson vs. progressive environmentalist Barry Commoner of the newly formed Citizens Party.

One major segment of BCA wanted to make no endorsement due to the complete absence of consensus. The dominant sentiment on the Presidential race was a mixture of fatalism and paralysis. Councilmember Florence McDonald and most third party-oriented BCA members were backing Barry Commoner. In both Berkeley and BCA, Carter had broad but invisible, almost embarrassed support. Meanwhile, outside of BCA circles, John Anderson’s forces were waging the single most enthusiastic campus campaign.

BCA’s pro-Carter faction, discretely led by Mayor Newport, (a pragmatist at heart), forced the issue. They felt BCA had to do something tangible to help stop Ronald Reagan. Aware that any attempt to directly endorse Jimmy Carter would fail badly, a motion was made by Gus’ people for BCA to campaign against both Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. But the “no endorsement”

advocates blocked its passage with help from the 2/3 rule.

BCA would officially ignore the November l980 race for President of the United States. No endorsement for Present at least preserved organizational unity and left Congressman Dellums safely at the head of the BCA ticket.

Following a respectable voter registration drive, BCA produced its campaign tabloid, the Berkeley Citizen. The headline: “DELLUMS, BATES FACE TOUGH REELECTION”, may have stretched credibility past the breaking point, but it certainly reflected (l) the paranoid sentiments present in nearly every campaign, and (2) an effort at voter motivation.

According to the BCA tabloid, Dellums and Bates were both potential targets of the new right’s campaign war chest, and the incumbents could not take their re-election for granted because of a projected high Republican turnout in conservative areas such as Contra Costa County, Piedmont, and the Oakland hills. Actually, only half the four page tabloid even dealt with the election. The rest of it consisted of a Guide to Rent Control and articles on various City Council achievements.

After Tom’s relatively narrow re-election margin in November l978, the Bates campaign was serious about scoring an impressive victory in l980.

Tom had taken a major leadership role in the anti-Peripheral Canal referendum campaign which successfully gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures. Bates made several trips to Southern California to try his hand at voter education and coalition building. He was considering a run for statewide office in l982 and needed a big re-election win for a launching pad.

Tom’s campaign also struck the only significant blow for levity in November l980: the lst Annual Tom Bates Film Festival, featuring Ronald Reagan playing a character named Tom Bates in “That Hagan Girl”. The film co-starred Shirley Temple, who had reportedly tried to destroy all the prints so no one could see her in such a dreadful movie. To date, there has not been a 2nd Annual Tom Bates Film Festival.

Gus Newport seemed grimly determined to do his part against Ronald Reagan, no matter who he offended. The Mayor publicly endorsed President Jimmy Carter for re-election at a get-out-the-vote rally in Peoples Park the weekend prior to election, explaining:

Carter’s record has been less than inspiring. But Reagan’s record inspires fear, and will set progressive Democrats back years in their efforts.

Carter is at least responsible to a broader, more pluralistic Democratic Party.

Besides quoting Newport, the Daily Cal’s November 3, l980 issue reported that BDC Councilmembers Gilda Feller, Shirley Dean, and Sue Hone were joining Gus in the Carter camp, while BCA’s John Denton hadn’t made up his mind, Veronika Fukson wouldn’t comment, and Florence McDonald was still voting for Commoner. But, one day prior to election, at least the Carter/Mondale campaign had managed to obtain Mayor Newport’s public backing. (There were rumors that Berkeley had been promised increased Federal aid in exchange for this endorsement, if Carter won.)

The right wing assault on Dellums and Bates never materialized. The Berkeley Gazette and the San Francisco Chronicle both endorsed a ticket that included Reagan for President, Hughes for Congress, and Bates for Assembly, while the Daily Cal went with Carter/Mondale and most of the BCA slate.

BCA dutifully went through all its traditional get-out-the-vote activities, although enthusiasm was clearly lacking. On election night, as Carter conceded early and the Republicans seized control of the United States Senate, Berkeley people only panicked when the early returns showed Dellums trailing Hughes. But it was a routine false alarm caused by absentee ballots and Contra Costa County’s superior speed in vote counting.

When the Berkeley and Oakland votes rolled in, Dellums easily pulled ahead and BCA later proclaimed Berkeley as an island of sanity in the national right wing sea.

The November 4, l980 Results: 57,306 Berkeley Voters


Berkeley District-Wide

President of the United States

Jimmy Carter (Dem) 35,l03(63%)

Ronald Reagan (Rep) 8,576(l5%)

John Anderson (Ind) 7,326(l3%)

Barry Commoner (Ind) 3,590( 6%)

Congress, 8th District

Ron Dellums (Dem) 38,655(73%) l08,380(56%) Charles Hughes (Rep) ll,958(22%) 76,580(39%)

Tod Mikuriya (Lib) 2,690( 5%) l0,465( 5%)

Assembly, l2th District

Tom Bates (Dem) 27,544(76%) 77,238(6l%)

William Sullivan (Rep) 6,628(l8%) 4l,898(33%)

Kelly Haughton (Lib) l,285( 3%) 5,427( 4%)

Hilda Cowan (PFP) l,025( 3%) 3,l68( 2%)

Ballot Measures

Smoking & Non-Smoking Sections (l0) YES 37,482(70%)

Initiative NO 15,891(30%)

Berkeley turnout was very high, although down about l,600 voters from the November l976 Presidential election. Compared to that Carter-Ford contest, the l980 vote showed a swing towards third-party candidates. In November l976, 94% of Berkeley’s Presidential votes had been cast for the Democratic and Republican nominees. The corresponding figure for November l980 was only 78%.

Congressman Dellums and Assemblyman Bates both won by comfortable margins exceeding 30,000 votes. The results of Dellums’ second race against Charles Hughes basically duplicated l978. Dellums again lost heavily in Contra Costa County where Hughes enjoyed a 2-l edge. Districtwide, Bates did much better in l980 than two years earlier, tripling his victory margin.

Although neither of Berkeley’s highest ranking progressive incumbents showed vulnerability, conservative forces thought they saw an opening. BCA’s campaign literature about threats to Dellums and Bates, while somewhat embarrassing in l980, proved to be prophetic. Both men were to face serious, well-financed challengers in l982.

Meanwhile, the November l980 Berkeley results were notable for the phenomenon of drop-off (votes not cast in the less publicized races).

Approximately one quarter of all Berkeley ballots were blank in the Howard Schwartz-Jack Gifford Superior Court contest and the Art Shartsis-Richard Anderson BART Board fight. The campus community now had the city’s worst drop-off rate, a dubious distinction usually claimed by the black community. The 6-7,000 campus area voters who abstained on Superior Court and BART helped decide the outcome since Schwartz and Shartsis each won by relatively small margins.

The Daily Cal’s November l0, l980 edition commented that:

UC Berkeley students’ political ignorance, reflected by the large number of incomplete ballots turned in during last week’s general election, may have hurt Democrat Frank Gifford in his bid for an Alameda County Superior Court judge seat. …

In the three UC Berkeley dormitory precincts, the number of students who left their ballots blank in this race was higher than the total number of votes either candidate received.

BCA’s low-key slate campaign, with only casual efforts on behalf of the “minor” races, contributed to the high drop-off rate. Berkeley in general, and BCA in particular, did not deliver for Gifford and Anderson.

Here was a clear warning for the future – increased drop-off was eroding BCA’s slate campaign effectiveness. (This didn’t matter to Jack Gifford who was later appointed judge by Governor Jerry Brown.)

At the state level, Proposition l0, the non-smoking sections initiative was beaten by the tobacco company’s slick multi-million dollar media campaign. Another election appeared to have been sold to the highest bidder.

Now Ronald Reagan was President, the U.S. Senate was Republican, and Democratic Party liberals were in full retreat nationally. But in Berkeley, November l980 merely preserved the status quo.