Background: This Assembly seat had first been won by Democrat Ken Meade in 1970, defeating the Republican incumbent Don Mulford. Tom Bates, who had been Meade's campaign manager, was first elected in 1976, when Meade retired. Bates then served for 20 years, and also married Loni Hancock who was twice elected Berkeley's Mayor. Term limits prevented him from seeking re-election to the Assembly in 1996. Dion Aroner, Bates' Chief Aide, won a contested primary and was twice re-elected until term limits ended her tenure at 6 years in 2002.
The Candidate: The hunt was on for a strong progressive candidate to follow in the Meade-Bates-Aroner tradition. Well-funded, center right Democrats were expected to run in a district which now included large sections of Contra Costa County. It was anticipated to be a difficult race for anyone from Berkeley. After much behind-the-scenes persuasion, Loni Hancock announced that she would run for the Assembly. Loni was the perfect candidate, having been elected four times to the Berkeley City Council, twice as Mayor, while also serving in the Carter and Clinton administrations. Now Loni, making a second political comeback, would be running for her husband's former office.
The Campaign: Loni Hancock's major opponent was Charles Ramsey of Richmond, son of former Berkeley City Councilmember Henry Ramsey. He was supported by most of the Berkeley moderate/conservative coalition, led by Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean. Dean's backing was prominently featured on Ramsey literature. The Hancock campaign made a strong effort in Contra Costa County, including mailers that featured her endorsement by the Sierra Club and her work with the Department of Education under President Clinton. Loni 's experience in government dwarfed Ramsey's, as even the San Francisco Chronicle noted in its editorial favoring Hancock. The result was a Loni Hancock landslide victory, winning a plurality in Contra Costa County and overwhelming Ramsey in Berkeley plus the other Alameda County portions of the district. With no opponents on the November ballot, Loni's Democratic Party nomination meant she had won the office her husband Tom Bates held for 20 years.
The Tom Bates Draft. Loni's victory for Assembly produced an odd result, even for Berkeley. All potential candidates for Mayor, including progressive Councilmembers such as Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio, declared that they would rather have Loni's husband, former Assemblyman Tom Bates, run for Berkeley Mayor as the strongest progressive candidate against incumbent Shirley Dean. A public draft Bates Movement was then conducted in the media, and through phonecalls plus e-mails to Tom. There was such motivation to defeat Mayor Dean that factionalism on the left gave way to complete unity behind Bates. The only question was whether he would run. An organization was formed, the November Coalition for a New Mayor, with the sole purpose of creating a Bates candidacy. It held a well-attended, boisterous nominating convention on May 4, 2002, at which Tom Bates won 87% of the vote, prior to Tom even arriving and declaring his intentions. After the vote, Tom Bates did appear to announce that he really was running for Mayor of Berkeley, the office formerly held by his wife, Loni Hancock. In 2002, Loni and Tom would each be seeking the position previously held by the other.
The Candidates. Tom Bates, never having lost an election, served in public office from 1972-1996. He was one of the most liberal Democrats in the California State Assembly, but also very successful in passing legislation. Shirley Dean was first elected to the Berkeley City Council in 1975 on the conservative coalition slate. She failed in a November 1982 challenge to Mayor Gus Newport, returning to the Council four years later in 1986 under district elections. Dean then won a low turnout December 1994 run-off for Mayor against progressive former Councilmember Don Jelinek, notable for her smear tactics and the fact that Jelinek had outpolled Dean in November. Dean won a clear majority in a 1998 rematch with Jelinek. Mayor Dean used her power as presiding member to control the agenda and frustrate the progressive Council majority at every turn. (Dean's tactics became so notorious they were the main target of a city art festival-sponsored satirical, mock City Council, in which actors took over the Council Chambers and ridiculed Berkeley's elected officials.) Dean may still be best remembered for having posed as Councilmember Worthington's aunt to try and dig up dirt on Kriss by improperly getting access to his undergraduate college files. Mayor Dean also repeatedly takes credit for proposals from others that she originally opposed and was the most divisive member of the City Council.
Both Tom Bates and Shirley Dean had strong support among their respective political bases. The race was to be won in the Berkeley center, among liberal voters who supported both Bates and Dean in the past, plus the votes cast by new residents and people unfamiliar with the actual differences between the city's two coalitions. The election was expected to be very close.
Results: Tom Bates was elected Berkeley Mayor in a landslide with 55% of the vote, 22,240 to 17,238. Progressives have been able to defeat Shirley Dean once every 20 years. The last time was November 1982.
Tom Bates was re-elected Mayor with over 62% of the vote. Shirley Dean having declined a rematch, Tom had no conservative opposition. Instead his challenger, Zelda Bronstein, came from the left, over a complicated set of land use issues involving the appropriate level/location of development, height and bulk of buildings, plus a dispute over amending the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.
Mayor Bates will serve a two year term, the City Charter having been amended so that races for Mayor will now be held to coincide with Presidential elections, thus maximizing turnout. The next contest for Mayor is going to be in November 2008.
The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce entered the 2006 election fray by trying to defeat the two most progressive Councilmembers, Kriss Worthington and Donna Spring. Worthington faced and defeated a multi-millionaire opponent who broke all records for campaign spending in a district election. In the closest race, Kriss Worthington prevailed by a little over 200 votes. Donna Spring destroyed her Chamber of Commerce challenger, receiving 71% of the vote. After losing, he moved out of Berkeley. All City Council incumbents won re-election in November 2006.
Loni Hancock was overwhelmingly re-elected to her third and final term in the Assembly. Under term limits, she cannot run for the Assembly again in 2008. Loni ran for the open State Senate seat in a contested June 3, 2008 Democratic primary. For more information click on the link immediately below.