California and National Elections

Bates Ousts Incumbent Dean in Berkeley Mayors Race

By Juliana Barbassa and Timothy Gnatek
November 6, 2002 01:30 AM

BERKELEY -- With a lead that grew larger throughout the night, Tom Bates, the longtime Berkeley assemblyman, was elected the city's new mayor. Updated Nov. 6, 1:30 am

His defeat of incumbent Mayor Shirley Dean strengthens the progressive faction's control of city politics.

"It's a blowout," said Mal Burnstein, Bates's campaign treasurer. "It's over. She lost. We won. Goodbye, Shirley."

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Former assembleyman Tom Bates campaigned outside the North Berkeley BART station.
The strength of Bates' lead was a surprise in a race that had looked like it was too close to call up until election day.

Polls had indicated a close race between the two veterans of Berkeley politics, which has been polarized for decades between moderates and progressives.

Dean represented the moderate faction, while Bates was backed by the progressives, who will now hold a two-vote advantage on a city council renowned for its divisiveness and in-fighting.

Returns for the four city council races showed incumbents Linda Maio, Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington -- all progressives -- leading by wide margins in Districts 1 (West Berkeley), 4 (Central Berkeley), and 7 (South Campus).

The race for District 8 -- the Claremont/Elmwood area -- to replace moderate Polly Armstrong was considered the most hotly contested. Gordon Wozniak, another moderate who espouses a citywide traffic plan and better relations between the city and the University of California at Berkeley, beat out UC Berkeley student Andy Katz, who was backed by the progressives.

The mayoral race was close for months. A poll commissioned by the Dean campaign in September showed the two neck-and-neck. The tight election was a testament to both their familiarity and similar stance on issues.

The two are well-known figures in Berkeley politics. Voters would have had to think back to the 1960s for a time when Dean and Bates weren't fixtures in the local political scene.

Dean started early in the 1970s by organizing the Bonita-Berryman Neighborhood Association that fought against city change. Her work with the association led her to the city's Planning Commission in 1971, 15 years on the city council, and finally two terms as mayor.

Tom Bates started out in 1972 on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and went on to spend 20 years in the California Assembly until he was forced out by term limits in 1996.

This time around, the two made issues such as affordable housing and support for local schools part of their campaign promises. Both also promised to make Berkeley a greener place by running the city's cars on alternative fuel and using more solar energy.

To newer residents, it may have seemed difficult to distinguish between the two, but long-time observers of the local political scene recommended a closer look at the two candidates' records and their roots, as well as at their campaign promises.

"Dean has traditionally been more balanced between business and the environment," said Bruce Cain, Director of the Institute of Government Studies at UC Berkeley. "For Bates, it may be hard to convince long-time Berkeley residents that he is more to the middle, even if it is true."

On the other hand, he said, "The city council seems very polarized, and I don't see Shirley Dean as able to bridge that. Maybe Tom Bates can."

Dean pointed to a list of successes in her eight years in office.

She took credit for building projects like expanding and renovating the city's library and constructing 8,000 new housing units, including the Gaia Building downtown.

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Mayor Shirley Dean passed out campaign information last week on the UC Berkeley campus.
Dean also said she lowered crime and helped secure a $4 million bond to improve the downtown area. This won her the support of the city's moderate groups: more than 30 neighborhood associations, the fire and police associations, and many local business owners.

"Berkeley's a complex city to work in, and it's hard to get things done here," said Keith Alward, owner of Alward Construction, and one of the contributors to the mayor's campaign. "Dean has a good record, and she's done a great job of rejuvenating downtown. Why fix what isn't broken?"

Dean prided herself on "being an accessible mayor, with my phone number in the phone book," and her supporters say they feel that way, too.

"We made a group decision to support Shirley Dean," said Shaman Ajmani, whose family owns several Indian clothing and food stores on University Avenue. "When one of our buildings burnt down two months ago, she was a great help in getting us up and running again."

The last financial reports filed by the candidates showed the incumbent bringing in $142,133, or just over $8,000 more than Bates. The Bates campaign spent almost every dollar it had raised, however, outspending Dean by more than $34,000.

Like Dean, Tom Bates has more than thirty years of experience -- long enough for Berkeley residents to consider him a natural part of local politics.

Bates said his time in Sacramento has been invaluable in bringing benefits and big money into Berkeley projects.

He said that as an assemblyman, he worked to get hundreds of laws passed under a Republican governor. Bates supporters said that his ability to work with opposing factions in Sacramento would help him to get things done on the contentious Berkeley council.

"Tom sponsored things like the renter's tax credit, which let people with limited income file for a tax credit," said Barbara Ellis, a member of the National Organization of Women's Political Action Committee, which supports Bates' candidacy. "He also pushed for 'Just Cause Eviction,' which said landlords couldn't evict people just to raise the rent."

His backers also remembered his long fight for funding and state approval to create the East Bayshore State Park. When completed, it will stretch along 8.5 miles of waterline from the Bay Bridge to Richmond.

"I planned out the $40 million project. Now I want to implement it as mayor," Bates said.

His support of liberal policies earned him the backing of the Green party, the National Organization for Women, and several state and federal heavy-hitters like Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; State Attorney General Bill Lockyer; and Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley.

The real differences between the two candidates went beyond the election issues, said long-time political observers.

"What makes a difference is the networks they're tied in to," said Cain. "Bates is with Loni Hancock and some of the progressive circles that were in charge of the city before Dean came. Shirley Dean is tied to the police and fire departments, and the more conservative circles."

Bates' wife, Loni Hancock, was elected to the City Council in 1971, buoyed by her activism in the April Coalition, a group opposed to the Vietnam War. Hancock served as the city's mayor for two terms, starting in 1986, and presided over a council that included Dean.

Hancock ran unopposed for Berkeley's seat in the Assembly -- the one her husband held.

The candidates' backers acknowledged that both are qualified and time-tested public servants.

"Shirley Dean has a good record for getting things done," said Alward. "I've voted for Tom Bates in the past, and if I didn't think Dean had done a good job, I wouldn't hesitate."

Bates may have reminded voters of a time when a more radical brand of politics marked the city, but many felt Dean wasn't doing a great job of bridging political differences either. City Council members often bickered late into the night, and some blamed the mayor.

"The current mayor doesn't know how to run a meeting," said City Councilwoman Dona Spring. "Tom Bates can work with different people, unite various factions."

How well Bates can rally the fractious and politicized Berkeley electorate will be seen when he takes office.