California and National Elections

Berkeley City Council Career of Maudelle Shirek Nears an End

Updated 11/02/04 11:25 PM
BERKELEY – Max Anderson jumped to an early lead Tuesday in the battle for the District 3 city council seat, signaling a possible end to the 20-year run for 93-year-old incumbent Maudelle Shirek.

Results from three of the district’s nine precincts showed Anderson leading with 58 percent. Candidate Laura Menard was second, with 34 percent. Trailing with 2 percent was Jeff Benefiel. The results for Shirek, running as a write-in candidate, have yet to be announced.

In August, Shirek’s aide failed to secure an adequate number of signatures to qualify her for a place on this year’s ballot. Because of the blunder, Shirek’s only alternative was to run as a write-in.

“I’ve had a lot of support from people who supported Maudelle in the past but felt it was time to pass on the torch. A lot of people in the community wanted to see change but also wanted to see consistency with the progressive campaign,” Anderson said tonight at the La Pena Culture Center, where a mix of his supporters and regular bar goers crowded around the television to watch coverage of the presidential election.

In recent years, several city council members as well as constituents have complained that Shirek, a champion of civil rights and progressive politics who has held the city council seat for two decades, has become more conservative and that she has not conscientiously served her community.

“I think Maudelle has gotten too old, to be honest. Maudelle seems to be losing it,” said District 3 resident Dean Tuckerman, who has lived in Berkeley for 18 years. Though Tuckerman has supported Shirek for years, he voted for Anderson Tuesday.

Carl Reeh, of the LeConte Neighborhood Association in District 3, has mixed opinions about his district’s long time representative. “We haven’t gotten much personal correspondence. But when it has come to crucial issues, she has gone out of her way and done a good job,” said Reeh.

Many progressives who are dissatisfied with Shirek have turned to Maxwell Anderson, 59, a registered nurse and chairman of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. Though Anderson has been a long Shirek supporter, he didn’t expect her to run in this year’s campaign.

Anderson has focused his campaign on bringing the community together, local business development, and affordable housing. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, three progressive Berkeley council members, as well as Berkeley Citizens Action, a political organization that has supported Shirek for decades, have endorsed him.

But many south Berkeley neighborhood groups are backing longtime neighborhood organizer Laura Menard. Menard, 49, says she joined the race after Shirek was disqualified from the ballot. Positioning herself to the right of Anderson, Menard is stressing crime prevention, keeping taxes down and improving schools.

Shirek’s third challenger is Green Party member Jeff Benefiel, 40, a jeweler who has no previous community experience. “I decided to run because I wanted to see if ideas would carry in any election,” said Benefiel at a candidate night.

But Shirek, who could not be reached for comment, isn’t giving up without a fight. “She’s more effective today than she was 20 years ago. She’s had 20 years of seasoning,” said Shirek’s aide, Dale Bartlett. “Age is not a factor. Some people feel she’s too old. That’s ageism,” he said.

Public officials such as Rep. Barbara Lee and three conservative city council members support Shirek’s re-election.

The oldest elected official in the state, Shirek didn’t enter politics until 1982, after she was fired from her position as director of Berkeley’s New Light Senior Center for being too old.

Born in Jefferson, Ark., Shirek moved to Berkeley in the 1940s. She fought against housing discrimination and became one of the first blacks on the Berkeley school board. In the 60s and 70s, she was active in the anti-war movement. She founded two senior centers, was one of the first elected officials to address the AIDS epidemic, and helped organize the Free Mandela movement.

“I hate to see her go through all this. I still think highly of her and what she’s done over the years. That hasn’t diminished over the years,” Anderson said Tuesday night.