It’s official: Well, almost. Sources close to former state Senator Tom Bates say that the progressive politico is a hairbreadth away from announcing a run to unseat Shirley Dean as mayor of Berkeley. According to Don Jelinek, who unsuccessfully ran against Dean twice in the ’90s and is a close ally of Bates and his wife, state Assemblymember-elect Loni Hancock, Bates has been calling influential people all over town and sussing out how much support he could garner if he threw his hat in the ring. “He’s talking to people and actively finding out the level of his support,” Jelinek says. “People who are normally Shirley’s constituency. Tom is not gonna do it unless he’s genuinely certain that he has a reasonable level of support. He has to be certain that he can get the progressive base and some of the Shirley supporters. Some of the moderates in town have swung to Shirley because they’ve been comfortable with her, but with Tom in the race they’ll rethink their support.”
Jelinek’s not the only one talking about Bates’ ambitions. Elizabeth Jewel, the longtime aide to state Assemblymember Dion Aroner, confirms that Bates has been calling progressive and centrist opinion-makers in an attempt to precisely gauge his chances to beat Dean in November. “He’s been playing around with it, and he’s certainly more serious now,” Jewel says. “He’s been talking to a lot of people. He wants to make sure there’s sufficient support and, more importantly, the breadth of support.”
This news comes on the eve of the May 4 Berkeley Mayoral Convention, a caucus of more than one hundred progressive citizens and politicos who will meet at the North Berkeley Senior Center to pick a progressive mayoral candidate to challenge Dean. Pickings were pretty slim before the Bates rumors began leaking; Aroner and City Councilmember Linda Maio have already dropped out of the running, and the only candidate to show any real interest is City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has strong support in progressive enclaves but little, um, crossover appeal. There is talk that rather than pick a candidate, convention-goers will adopt a “draft Tom Bates” resolution. If this happens, Worthington will most likely step aside for the second time this year. It’s a rare politician who sacrifices his own ambition; rarer still is one who does it twice for the same family.
Bates did not return phone calls for this story, and word is he’s staying mum till he makes a decision. But there’s no doubt that he would make a formidable opponent for Shirley Dean. Bates has the name recognition, fund-raising capacity, three decades of electoral politics under his belt, and perhaps a broader base of support than Dean. Indeed, with his protégée Aroner about to run for state Senate and his wife in the Assembly, Bates practically owns the town.
It’s unofficial: One year ago, the Alameda County Grand Jury asked the Peralta Community College District Chancellor Ron Temple for “copies of all documentation and records relevant to all out-of-state travel during the past two years for yourself and for each board member.” The request came shortly after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Temple and other district officials amassed more than $167,000 on international travel expenses over a two-year period while trying to recruit foreign students. But when the grand jury’s July 2001 annual report came out it contained nothing about Peralta. The succeeding grand jury picked up where its predecessor left off. According to the Oakland Tribune, in October it asked the district for copies of its policies on travel and student recruitment.
Now comes word that the investigating body has expanded its inquiry yet again. Highly placed district sources tell 7 Days that within the past month the grand jury submitted another written request for records. Exactly what jurors asked for, we can’t say. Grand jury investigations and proceedings are done in secret. “Any such investigation is a confidential matter protected by law,” district spokesman Jeffrey Heyman wrote in an e-mail.
It’s worth noting, however, that the new info request comes on the heels of the latest international recruiting journey to China enjoyed by Temple and other college reps. It also comes shortly after the board of trustees’ controversial approval of a four-year, $3.86 million information-technology-consulting contract to Florida-based CampusWorks Inc., a company for which Temple once served as a board member. Union officials and other Peralta troublemakers have complained that the contracting process was unfairly biased in favor of CampusWorks. Last year, an independent advisor to the district recommended awarding the IT contract to another firm.
It’s personal: Ever since the City Council agreed to a redistricting plan that shunted 800 tenants over to the landlord-lovin’ councilmember Betty Olds’ district, City Councilmember Dona Spring has been conspicuously absent from the progressive faction’s Monday night strategy sessions. It’s no secret that Spring was angered by what she saw as her progressive colleagues’ cave-in on the redistricting plan, and when the lines were drawn she found the progressive base in her own district considerably diluted. And when she suggested that the city manager’s office pay for a party to celebrate the final end to the redistricting battle, the unanimity with which her fellow progressive councilmembers rejected it must have stung. Now City Hall whisperers are claiming that Spring is boycotting strategy sessions as part of a personal feud with her colleagues.
That still doesn’t explain Spring’s growing friendship with some of the city’s NIMBY naysayers. Spring has now joined the Berkeley Party, the quasi-political party led in part by Howie Muir, who spent the better part of the last two years fighting a war of attrition against Patrick Kennedy‘s apartment building at 2700 San Pablo. The Berkeley Party’s main goal is passing a referendum that would drastically lower the height caps of all future construction — a process known as “down-zoning,” and designed to cut back the number of affordable housing units.
In fact, Muir has written a council item requiring that Zoning Board notices announcing proposed construction include the number of affordable units, as well as just how affordable they are. Critics claim that Muir’s intent is to have the Zoning Board terrify neighbors by announcing the imminent construction of slums, but dressed it up in the clothes of good government. Who’s sponsoring his item? Dona Spring. “I think Dona’s a very good person, but I’m really alarmed that a city councilmember wants to be associated with the down-zoning fanatics who want to crowd out poor people from the city,” says Kennedy.
Of course, Spring has a different version of events. Asked to account for her strategy session nonattendance, Spring said, “It’s campaign season, and there’s a lot of work I have to do. … But it’s no secret I was unhappy with the redistricting plan. I felt that Linda [Maio] and Kriss [Worthington] didn’t negotiate well for district four. The progressives were scared of a referendum, so they signed onto a bad deal. I was upset about it, but I’ve gotten over it.” As for her new bedfellows, she puts some distance from their worst impulses. “They’re not proponents for affordable housing, and I’ve told them that I don’t support their proposal on the height initiative, but they do have some legitimate issues, like wanting city staff to be more accountable, and they really just want the city to stop giving away the store to developers.”
It’s anonymous: We love Jeanette Sherwin‘s Oaklandnews.com. After all, who could resist the thinking that came up with “Match the Song to the Bureaucrat”? The rules are simple. Check out the long, long list of City Hall characters. Then match them with the pop song that most accurately describes their particular personality quirks. (Sherwin’s posted two versions, a supertough one for city employees and a milder one for civilians.) Who is guilty of Pink Floyd‘s “Momentary Lapse of Reason”? Who lives by the credo of Bobby Brown‘s “My Prerogative”? Or the Eurythmics‘ “Would I Lie to You?” E-mail your answer, and you could win a dinner for two.