A History of Progressive Electoral Politics
by David Mundstock

Remember I wrote this history in 1984-85 and never updated it.  So please be tolerant of this text, frozen in time.  If you want to see Berkeley campaign posters and updates to the present, please go to: Berkeley Campaign Art .


Click on the blue text to read the Introduction.


Chapter 1 - Before 1971

Berkeley's electoral history from the Republican era through the Democratic victory in the early 1960s and the disintegration of the liberal coalition resulting from the Vietnam War.  Ron Dellums is elected to Congress in 1970.

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C-Pre 1971.htm

Chapter 2 - The 1971 Election and the April Coalition

The battle is joined over Community Control of Police, the April Coalition slate of candidates, and their divided opposition.  Loni Hancock was first elected to the Berkeley City Council on April 6, 1971.

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Chapter 3 - The 1971 to 1973 City Council and the April 1973 Election

The progressive agenda is developed, introduced and rejected in a bitterly divided City Council, torn by political betrayals.  Government by initiative begins with Rent Control in 1972.  The April Coalition fights its own internal civil war in 1973, and is then defeated by the Berkeley Four, a center right alliance of Democrats and Republicans with a huge spending advantage. Ying Lee Kelley is the only April Coalition candidate to win. Progressive initiatives, such as the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, pass.

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Chapter 4 - The Bailey Recall

Councilman D'Army Bailey, elected in 1971 on the April Coalition slate, is recalled in the summer of 1973 by the conservatives.  Bailey had managed to antagonize vast segments of the community, including many former supporters.

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F -BailRe

Chapter 5 - The Berkeley Four's City Council, 1973-1974

The conservative coalition asserts control, while Loni Hancock and Ying Kelley try to keep progressive hopes alive.

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G - 73-74

Chapter 6 - The Creation of Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA)
and the 1974 Elections

The April Coalition was dead, a casualty of the 1973 defeat. 1974 began without any progressive organization at all.     Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) was created to fill this vacuum and made its first endorsements in  the November 1974 election.

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H - 1974

Chapter 7 - 1975 and the Two Party System: Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) vs. the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC)

BCA nominates Ying Kelley to run for mayor against the incumbent, Warren Widener.  Widener had been elected with progressive votes in 1971, but then he changed sides and became the leader of the center/right coalition.  BCA's opposition is now the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC), which relies upon Republican votes. 

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I - 1975

Chapter 8 - The April 1975 Campaign,  Kelley vs. Widener for Mayor

BCA's first City Council race and the new progressive organization turns out to be competitive.  This was the only Berkeley campaign with spending limited by law.  Both sides can claim victory when the ballots are counted.

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Chapter 9 - The 1975-1976 City Council

BCA now has three Councilmembers, with the addition of John Denton.  BDC runs the Council with its six votes.  A major battle is fought to try and save the historic Ocean View neighborhood from the West Berkeley Industrial Park. This is part of a 20 year legal/political struggle.

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K - 75-76

Chapter 10 - The June 1976
Campaign & the New Slate Politics

BCA was intended to be active in every election.  The June 1976 primary was BCA's first chance to endorse a complete slate of national, state, and local candidates plus ballot measures.  From President of the United States to Municipal Court Judge, BCA made a choice and ran a slate campaign.  Berkeley measures included an initiative ordinance to save Ocean View and the first attack on traffic diverters.  Meanwhile, the United States Supreme Court was destroying all campaign reform laws, including Berkeley's.

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L - June76

Chapter 11 - Defying the Will of the Voters

Berkeley's voters passed a Rent Control Initiative in 1972 and an initiative to save Ocean View in 1976.  Legal challenges by the opponents of these measures were successful.  On both issues, the BDC City Council majority could have acted to implement the voters' will, but refused.  Positions for and against rent control would define the two parties for decades.

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M - Rent

Chapter 12 - November 1976: John George for Supervisor

The November 1976 election was primarily about a single contested race for Alameda County Supervisor.  BCA was part of a broad progressive coalition supporting John George of Oakland, whose opponent was Billy Rumford, a BDC Councilmember.  Tom Bates was also running for his first Assembly term.  George and Bates were victorious.

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N - Nov1976

Chapter 13 - 1977, Year of Hope

BCA prepared for the April 1977 election amidst great optimism based upon the victories of 1976.  Ying Kelley would lead a slate that needed to win three seats for that ever elusive holy grail of the Council majority.  However, ideological divisions similar to those that destroyed the April Coalition made it impossible to even nominate four candidates.  BCA also supported a new rent control initiative that would face a massively funded landlord attack.

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O - 1977

Chapter 14 - Catastrophe: The April 1977 Sweep

A divided BCA faced an alliance of the BDC plus the landlords who unleashed the most vicious fear smear ever waged against BCA candidates and rent control.  The conservative coalition took full advantage of unlimited campaign spending.  The result was a BDC sweep, as all BCA candidates and rent control were defeated.

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P - 1977CAMP

Chapter 15 - The BCA Revival

The April Coalition never recovered from its defeat in 1973, when three out of four candidates lost.  BCA had suffered a far worse disaster in 1977, a complete sweep.  Yet a combination of anger at the conservative smear tactics and new leadership led Berkeley Citizens Action to an amazing revival.  Loni Hancock and John Denton continued to resist BDC's 7-2 Council majority.

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Q -Post1977

Chapter 16 - June 1978: Proposition 13 Spells Rent Control

The June 1978 primary election was sedate by Berkeley standards.  BCA's participation with an endorsed slate was another sign of the organization's survival.  While Berkeley overwhelmingly defeated property tax cutting state Proposition 13, California passed it.  The result would be lower property taxes for owners not tenants.  This unfairness made Proposition 13 the unlikely cause of new crusades for rent control throughout California.  Rent control was back on the Berkeley agenda.

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R - June1978

Chapter 17 -November 1978 - Rent Control Round 3

I = Initiative
J = Jive

BCA drafted its own rent control initiative for the November 1978 ballot, seeking to give tenants their share of Proposition 13's savings.  This was measure "I".  Mayor Widener and his Council majority countered with their much weaker measure that also claimed to be rent control, measure "J".  BCA waged a highly successful campaign that led to the passage of "I" and the defeat of "J".

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S - November78

Chapter 18 Denton v. Newport
BCA's Marathon for Mayor

BCA's triumph in November 1978 indicated that Warren Widener might be vulnerable in the April 1979 race for Mayor.  When Loni Hancock declined to run, BCA suddenly had a primary contest between Councilmember John Denton and (the then unknown) Gus Newport.  It took eight ballots and two weeks before BCA managed to nominate a candidate for Mayor.

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T -1979NOM

Chapter 19 - April 1979: Newport vs. Widener

Unlike 1973 or 1977, BCA emerged from a contested convention united and with a complete slate of candidates, including John Denton for re-election.  The glue holding BCA together was a decade-long loathing for the turncoat Widener. 

Yet virtually no one believed Gus Newport could actually prevail over Widener, who was seeking his third term as Mayor.  The greatest upset in modern Berkeley history occurred on April 17, 1979, with the lowest turnout.

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U - 1979CAMP

Chapter 20 - The First Progressive Council Majority, 1979-1980

To the shock of everyone, BCA had elected four Councilmembers: Mayor Newport, John Denton, Florence McDonald, and Veronica Fukson.  Together with Councilwoman Carole Davis, who switched sides, there was now a progressive majority on the Berkeley City Council.  Could this group actually govern?

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V - 1979-80

Chapter 21 - June 1980, Measure D, Rent Control Round 4

Rent control supporters drafted a permanent rent stabilization ordinance to replace the temporary measure adopted in November 1978.  Signatures were unnecessary, for unlike its three initiative predecessors, the City Council voluntarily placed Measure D on the ballot.  Landlords and tenants went to war once more, but BCA was on a winning streak and rent control passed again.  The full BCA slate included 18 candidates and ballot measures at the state and local levels.  17 of these carried the City of Berkeley.

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W - June1980

Chapter 22 - Berkeley Goes to Court

Between initiatives passed by the voters and controversial measures that the Council adopted, Berkeley was forever being sued.  Affirmative action, the Berkeley Waterfront, review of the police, campaign reform, and a tax on the Oakland Raiders (when playing in Berkeley), were some of the Berkeley issues ultimately decided by judges rather than voters or the City Council. 

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Chapter 23 - The November 1980 Election

November 1980 lacked any seriously contested local races. Although Jimmy Carter's BCA supporters were unable to win the organization's endorsement for the President, Berkeley was never going to be Reagan country.

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Y - NOV1980

Chapter 24 - The School for the Deaf and Blind Site

The City of Berkeley and the University of California are not good neighbors.  University expansion is often perceived as a dangerous threat to the city.  In the 1979-81 period, there was a protracted battle over the site of the California Schools for the Deaf and Blind, which were being forced to relocate.  It was an omen of ugliness to come.

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Chapter 25 - Negative Images

Berkeley has often received adverse press coverage because of the city's special politics.  With a progressive City Council majority, the media assault seemed to escalate.  The majority itself did not last as Carole Davis went her own way.  It was another bad sign.

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Chapter 26 - April 1981: The Filthy Fight

Berkeley's Republicans had always been the hidden power behind Berkeley Democratic Club victories.  By withholding their votes, the Republicans took credit for BDC's disaster in April 1979.   

In 1981 the Republicans were placated by creation of the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC).  This new organization brought the Republicans out of hiding as they publicly joined forces with the Berkeley Democratic Club.

The conservative coalition then launched a campaign against BCA intended to frighten Berkeley voters with new tales of dangerous radicals.  Anti-BCA mailers were more hysterical than even the previous smear campaigns of 1973 and 1977, and the Berkeley police joined in this ABC/BDC effort.  It all worked as intended. 

Back in 1985, I was unable to finish writing this chapter on the 1981 campaign.  The history ends where I left it, over thirty years ago.

In April 1981, Berkeley's voters rewarded the conservative coalition with an ABC/BDC sweep of all four City Council seats.  The conservatives were back in control with their new majority.

Click on the blue text to read this incomplete chapter.

ZC - 1981CAMP

The 80s and 90s In Brief
1. November Beats April (1982).

The April 1981 loss of all four City Council candidates left BCA shocked and comotose, unable to act.  Only one person knew what to do in response.

Marty Schiffenbauer personally drafted and collected nearly all the signatures for an Initiative Charter Amendment to move Berkeley's general municipal election from April to November of even-numbered years, when it would be consolidated with the state general election.  This change would increase the turnout of students, tenants, Democrats, and low-income voters,  also
minimize Republican influence, giving BCA candidates a major advantage over ABC/BDC.  It also shortened the terms of BCA incumbents elected in April 1979 and reduced election costs.  The dramatic impact of Marty's initiative was not well understood by the leadership of either side.

The election date change was approved by the voters in June 1982 with BCA support and relatively mild conservative opposition.  In November 1982, this new municipal election date immediately produced the desired results.  Gus Newport was re-elected Mayor over Shirley Dean and BCA won 3 of 4 Council seats, coming very close to a sweep.  The conservatives only elected one candidate, but that was enough to retain a 5-4 Council majority.

In the November 1984 Presidential election (Mondale vs. Reagan), BCA endorsed Walter Mondale, ran a perfect November slate campaign, and swept ABC/BDC.  Two November elections, and BCA candidates held 8 out of 9 City Council seats.  The Council majority now consisted of Mayor Gus Newport, plus Councilmembers John Denton, Veronika Fukson, Wesley Hester, Maudelle Shirek, Don Jelinek, Ann Chandler, and Nancy Skinner (a U.C. graduate student who was victorious thirteen years after the first attempts to elect a student had failed.)    

2. District Elections (1986).

The new BCA Berkeley City Council majority was not particularly charitable to its opponents.  Neighborhood people from the flatlands who were against the Council's low-income housing projects felt insulted by some BCA Councilmembers.  Their anger led to an Initiative Charter Amendment under which eight Councilmembers would be elected by district instead of at large.   Their terms were cut from four years to two years.  Only the Mayor would continue to run at large for a four-year term.  The initiative also established run-off elections whenever the leading candidate failed to receive a majority of all votes cast.  (Run-offs had previously been proposed twice before by the conservatives and defeated both times by Berkeley voters.  District elections themselves were traditionally seen as progressive, especially in San Francisco, where conservatives opposed them.)

But here district elections became a weapon for BDC/ABC to essentially recall their enemies, BCA Councilmembers who had won because of larger turnout from two November elections in 1982 and 1984.

The 1986 Berkeley District Elections Initiative gerrymandered the campus community into several districts so as to make election of a student highly unlikely.  It was a purely partisan measure strongly backed by hill supporters of the conservative coalition, who felt un-represented after two consecutive defeats.  In June 1986, only the Berkeley hills voted for district elections.  But that was enough for the measure to pass, given low turnout in the campus area and west Berkeley.   Student precincts would have defeated district elections, but for the University having switched the academic year from quarters to semesters.  So most studentss were gone when district elections narrowly passed in the June 1986 primary election.  The era of slate politics was over and neither side could realistically hope for more than five or six seats. 

With district elections, city-wide political organizations, especially BCA, became significantly weaker. Candidates generated their own organizations and campaigns.  Yet the two-party system survived.  A pair of  independent candidates were actually elected, by district, only to later be defeated by party stalwarts running to their left and right, respectively.   Loni Hancock returned to Berkeley politics and was elected Mayor in 1986 and 1990 (after a very close run-off including litigation over disputed late absentee ballots).  Loni helped BCA maintain a very thin, unstable progressive majority into the 90s.  Hoping to create a stronger new coalition, she publicly called for BCA to disband, which the organization refused to do.  Instead it slowly melted away over many years.   (Republicans were dying off, while the Berkeley Democratic Club survived.) 

Councilmembers from both sides became entrenched in favorable districts, leaving relatively few competitive races, and a closely divided, weaker Council.  With district Councilmembers now serving four year terms, a Berkeley voter currently makes two Council selections every four years instead of the traditional nine.

Shirley Dean's election as Mayor in 1994 gave BDC its first majority in eight years.  Dean actually lost in November 1994 to her BCA opponent, former Councilmember Don Jelinek.  But due to minor candidate vote-splitters on the left fringe, Jelinek failed to receive a majority.  Dean then won the December run-off with a much lower turnout.  (Best example of why progressives always opposed run-off elections.)  Then in 1996, BCA candidate Margaret Breland defeated BDC incumbent Mary Wainwright in Southwest Berkeley (District 2).  The resulting nominal 5-4 BCA majority continued to co-exist unhappily with Mayor Dean, who won her own November 1998 race for re-election in a re-match with Don Jelinek.

This political history is updated to the present at a companion website that begins by displaying artistic campaign posters and slate posters, mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, each poster telling its own story.  As creative and slate posters became extinct, the site then transitions into coverage of Berkeley city elections, beginning in 2002:   Berkeley Campaign Art

The author kicks off the Fall 1971 Voter Registration Drive on the Berkeley campus. Daily Cal picture courtesy of the late former City Councilmember Ann Chandler.

Berkeley City Councilmember Loni Hancock, 1972.  Photo taken by Jim Yudelson.

Here is a famous campaign photograph from the November 1976 election that represents our progressive coalition.  Walking door to door in Oakland are, left to right, Congressman Ron Dellums, Alameda County Supervisor John George (running for this office), United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez (in support of Proposition 14), and Assemblymember Tom Bates (seeking his first term in the Assembly).
(Photo taken by Richard Bermack, courtesy of Pamela George.)

60 Minutes Comes to Berkeley (1971)

I mentioned in Chapter 2 how national media descended upon us after the "apparent" April 6, 1971 April Coalition victory.  There were print journalists from papers such as the New York Times and Washington Post.  60 Minutes coming to Berkeley meant we were in the big leagues now.  I still remember having lunch with Mike Wallace, alongside Jeff Gordon and Peter Birdsall.  Together we comprised the student electoral leadership, a trio interviewed twice by 60 Minutes, ending up on the cutting room floor.

The Mike Wallace Berkeley segment was broadcast by 60 Minutes on November 2, 1971, entitled "Go Fight City Hall".  It features interviews with Councilmembers Loni Hancock, D'Army Bailey, and Tom McClaren.  This time capsule, warts and all, takes people directly back to 1971.  I ordered and received the DVD from CBS News Archives years ago.

To order CBS News footage, a written request should be sent via email to:  [email protected] or call 212-975-6441.

Berkeley Politics and Elections Update

For creative election posters, plus information on Berkeley politics and elections to the present, including races for Mayor, City Council, State Assembly, and State Senate: Click on:    Berkeley Campaign Art

Berkeley In the Sixties
Nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary, Mark Kitchell's "Berkeley In the Sixties" is the film you must see to fully understand what really happened.  The Berkeley electoral movement of the 70s resulted from the events of "Berkeley In the Sixties".

To buy the DVD of this film, click on:

"Berkeley in the Sixties".

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