June 3, 2008 Democratic Party Primary
On Tuesday, June 3, 2008, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock won nomination for State Senator in the Democratic Party primary. Loni's opponent was Wilma Chan, former member of the Assembly from a district south of Berkeley. Term limits prevented both of them from remaining in the Assembly. Loni defeated Chan by approximately 10,000 votes. It wasn't even close, despite huge expenditures against Loni, including Chan smears in mailings and TV ads. An Indian tribe, upset with Loni's opposition to their urban casino, tried to punish her with more lies, and they failed along with Chan.
As the clear progressive choice, Loni was endorsed by, among others, Representative Barbara Lee, the Sierra Club, the California Teachers Association, the California Nurses Association, and Loni is the officially endorsed candidate of the California Democratic Party. The San Francisco Chronicle even endorsed Loni. Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, representing what remains of the conservative coalition, made robot phone calls supporting Chan. Loni still carried nearly every single Berkeley precinct.
Loni's Assembly work in the areas of education, health care, and the environment now will continue in the State Senate, since her primary victory equates to election; there being too few Republicans capable of mounting any challenge in November 2008. Under term limits, Loni can run only once for re-election, in 2012.
Nancy Skinner for Assembly
The second contested Democratic primary on June 3, 2008 completed a comeback for Nancy Skinner, elected to the Berkeley City Council as its first student and first environmentalist back in 1984. See Page 4 of this site. After a lengthy retirement from local politics, in which she played a national and international role organizing against global warming, Nancy had resisted efforts to run for numerous offices. She was appointed to a vacancy on the East Bay Regional Parks Board, later winning that seat in the November 2006 election. With an endorsement from Loni and her own impressive qualifications, Nancy Skinner defeated three opponents by wide margins to win the Democratic nomination for Assembly as Loni's successor. Again, nomination equates to election. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner will be able to twice run for re-election, serving a total of three terms, six years under term limits now in effect.
This is the Assembly seat first won by Ken Meade in November 1970, defeating conservative Republican Incumbent Don Mulford. Tom Bates then served in the Assembly for twenty years, from 1976 to 1996, before being forced out by the term limits initiative. Six years then followed for Assemblywomen Dion Aroner and Loni Hancock. Nancy Skinner becomes the fifth progressive Democrat in a row to represent the Assembly district that includes Berkeley.
November 5, 2008 General Election
As Barak Obama swept Berkeley and the nation, the Race for Mayor was an altered re-run of six years earlier, Tom Bates, this time the incumbent, vs. challenger Shirley Dean, making her fifth try for Mayor.
Bates had defeated Dean with 55% of the vote back in November 2002, and been re-elected in November 2006 with 62%, carrying every precinct against a neighborhood-oriented candidate running to his left. That was for a two-year term, as subsequent elections for Mayor, starting with this one, would now be consolidated with the race for President rather than Governor.
By 2008 Tom Bates still faced opposition on his left over land use and planning issues, primarily the density and height of larger buildings which Bates tended to support. He was often accused of voting just like Shirley Dean during her terms as Mayor, far too pro-developer. However, environmental groups such as the Sierra Club were proponents of "Smart Growth" in cities like Berkeley, new, dense, buildings in the central core, close to public transit. The Bates approach was viewed by "Smart Growth" proponents as a desirable alternative to urban sprawl.
Shirley Dean now offered herself as the neighborhood candidate who opposed greater density, appealing to many Bates opponents on his left, while also seeking support in her traditional moderate-conservative Berkeley hills base.
It was not a case of them trading places, since Tom Bates retained much of his liberal/progressive/environmentalist/Democratic Party support plus momentum from the June victories of his wife Loni Hancock for State Senate and Nancy Skinner for Assembly. Mayor Bates had also enlarged his base into former Dean territory.
On election day Dean carried only five of the most conservative hill precincts, losing everywhere else. Bates received 61% of the vote, nearly identical to his victory in 2006 against an unknown candidate, and 6% above the mark he achieved defeating Mayor Dean in 2002. Tom Bates remained unbeaten as a candidate, and with a new four year term would become Berkeley's longest serving Mayor of the modern era. Dean fell to 2 wins and 3 losses in her races for Mayor dating back to 1982.
A re-written Landmarks Preservation Ordinance passed by Mayor Bates and his Council majority, challenged by preservationists as pro-developer in a referendum, was on the ballot: Measure LL. It went down to defeat, a victory for opponents of the City Council's land use policies.
There was a similar result in City Council District 4. Long time progressive Councilmember Dona Spring, who fought hard for every cause she believed in, while confined to a wheelchair, died in office on July 13, 2008 at the age of 55. Once a leader in the 2002 effort at drafting Tom Bates to run for Mayor against Dean, Spring had become the most vocal anti-Bates Councilmember over land use and many other issues.
The remaining two years of Dona Spring's District 4 term became a contest over whether someone closer to her positions or to those of Mayor Bates would be elected. The winner, Jesse Arreguin, had pledged to continue in the Dona Spring tradition, and was supported by most of Spring's closest allies, especially District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington. Arreguin also was helped by the appearance of something I never expected to see again, a Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) election day slate doorhanger, just for District 4, supporting Jesse Arreguin .