Once upon a time Berkeley politics used to be fun, even a little dangerous. Residents got so passionate about control over the municipality that they called each other names like "rich white bitch" and "white South African." They created phony campaign doorhangers featuring popular Congressman Ron Dellums, in which he "endorsed" city measures and candidates he really opposed. They even came to blows using fists and lawn tools. Ahhhh, the good old days.
Now, for the first time ever, Berkeley Citizens Action and the Berkeley Democratic Club have endorsed the same candidate for mayor: Tom Bates. To understand the significance of this, let me put it another way: This is like the Democrats and Republicans nominating the same guy for president. For those not hip to B-town politics, BCA is the aging citywide lefty organization formed in 1975 by antiwar activists. The BDC, meanwhile, has historically represented mainstream, business-friendly Democrats who often happened to be landlords.
Bates himself deserves credit or blame, depending on your perspective for this political convergence. Since he was elected four years ago, BCA's favorite son has worked hard to reach across the aisle to the more conservative liberals on the council, such as Betty Olds and Gordon Wozniak, as well as business and development interests. The political realignment goes beyond Bates, though, and in many ways is long overdue.
A decade ago, before the state legislature changed the law, rent control served as a municipal wedge issue: If you were for it, you voted for BCA candidates; if you were against, you voted the BDC slate. Since then, the two groups have limped along, ostensibly as opposing slates, but their philosophical differences have become harder and harder to pinpoint.
David Mundstock, a founding BCA member, observes that none of Bates' opponents meets the old-school definition of a conservative Berkeley candidate. For instance, his main rival, Zelda Bronstein, is running as a progressive alternative to Bates. Mundstock says political differences in the mayor's race this year boil down to non-ideological land-use issues such as development density bonuses, landmarking, and height limits. "You can't have a political philosophy based on four stories versus five stories," he says.
Still, every now and again emotions still run high. Bates says that while he was out campaigning door-to-door recently, a passing driver recognized him and gave him the finger.
While we're on the subject of political ennui, Feeder is beginning to fear that Berkeley business interests won't be able to generate enough outrage to defeat Measure J in November. This is the initiative that makes the city's controversial landmarks ordinance politician-proof. It's championed by the same hysterical preservationists who bestowed historic status to such great architectural feats as Celia's Mexican Restaurant, a retaining wall, and some concrete eyesore where Bernard Maybeck once took a dump or something.
A rep for the chamber of commerce's Better Berkeley political action committee revealed recently that it plans to send out a citywide mailer reminding voters of some of the Landmark Preservation Commission's most embarrassing decisions. But Mayor Tom Bates, who opposes the measure, warned the chamber folks that one mailer wouldn't do it they needed to finance at least three to ensure its defeat.
Problem is, the dang preservationists haven't done anything crazy for a long time now. Even developer Patrick Kennedy, who has had many run-ins with them over the years, is having a hard time getting fired up to kill Measure J: "I think the landmarks people are more reasonable," he said. "They've been on their best behavior for a while. I don't know if people are going to get excited about it one way or the other."
The No-Spin Zone?
Why did Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson alert local media earlier this week that she received approximately $1,800 in improper payments from the city a few years ago? Insiders speculate that Anderson, who is the midst of a tough re-election campaign, was trying to minimize any damage inflicted by her political opponents on the issue. After all, how often do politicians snitch on themselves to reporters unless they're launching a pre-emptive strike?
On Saturday evening Anderson's chief of staff, Jay Leonhardy, sent out a press release bragging that the mayor had uncovered an "accounting error" that resulted in her receiving monthly car-allowance payments between July 2002 and February 2003. Anderson wasn't supposed to get a car allowance because she wasn't driving her own car at the time, but rather a city-owned Chevy Impala. The mayor claimed she didn't notice the error back then because she got a raise around the same time and her city checks are automatically deposited into her bank account. She has since repaid the amount.
While revealing, the press release still begged the question: Why was Anderson combing through three-year-old expense reports? Some sources suspect the mayor was trying to head off a story in the West County Times, which made calls to City Hall about the issue in recent weeks. Anderson tells Feeder she hadn't received any press calls, but she didn't deny she wanted to pre-empt an attack by her old foe, Richmond political fixer Darrell Reese, a consultant to the powerful firefighters' union. (Reese didn't return a call from Feeder.)
Anderson says that "a while back" she wouldn't get more specific a Reese associate had raised questions about her city car, so she figured she'd better see what she was dealing with. Within the last month, Anderson asked for records from the finance department, which had coincidentally been conducting a payroll audit. Only then, she says, did she discover that the city had been paying her improperly. Anderson notes that such accounting errors plagued Richmond before its financial meltdown two years ago. The audit has found other city employees who improperly received payments, finance director James Goins says.
Anderson, who is running for re-election against Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin and mortgage broker Gary Bell, says she notified the press to make it clear to taxpayers she wasn't trying to cheat them. "I just felt that the better thing was to just state it ... so no one else does a spin on me," she reasons.
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