Progressive Tom Bates who returned to Berkeley politics last May, fresh off a six-year political hiatus, declared victory Tuesday night in his race to unseat Mayor Shirley Dean.
“The work has just begun,” the former state Assemblyman told more than 200 supporters at his campaign headquarters on Shattuck Avenue.
With 85 percent of the vote counted, Bates held a commanding 56 to 42 percent lead over the moderate incumbent at press time early Wednesday morning.
Bates’ triumph ends a race that featured two of the city’s pre-eminent politicians. The pair offered similar visions for the city, but did so in contrasting and sometimes antagonistic styles.
Bates, positioning himself as a consensus builder, won support of voters tired of a City Council that has been marred by partisan bickering.
Noting nationwide gains for Republicans Tuesday, Bates insisted late Tuesday that Berkeley now has a mission to keep the progressive spirit alive.
“We need to provide hope for the nation going in the wrong direction,” he said.
Dean gave a short speech to supporters early Wednesday, but campaign officials refused to comment on their apparent defeat.
Berkeley election returns filtered in slowly Tuesday night, with voters packing polling stations up to the 8:00 p.m.. closing time. Many polls remained open until 9:30 p.m. to accommodate crowds, according to City Clerk Sherry Kelly.
The candidates’ headquarters told the story of the vote.
While Bates’ headquarters was a raucous party with supporters cheering with each updated vote total, Dean played host to roughly 35 mostly subdued supporters, most of whom filed out by 10:30 p.m.
The race for mayor pitted two political Goliaths who were close on many policy issues but stood on opposite sides of Berkeley’s moderate versus progressive divide for nearly 30 years.
Dean, a 15-year member of City Council, was elected mayor in 1994, ending the progressives’ 16-year stranglehold on the office. Bates rode his progressive Berkeley base to 20 years in the state Assembly until term limits forced him to retire in 1996.
The race, which saw both candidates raising roughly $150,000, was one of the most expensive in Berkeley history and sometimes appeared driven more by personal animosity between the candidates than by substantive policy differences.
Dean fired the opening salvos, blasting Bates for allegedly blocking the construction of student housing and warning voters that a Bates victory would mean a return to run-down buildings and a derelict downtown.
Bates eventually fired back, calling Dean a mean-spirited person. He blamed her for the partisan bickering at City Council meetings and noted her ballyhooed trip to Ohio to dig up dirt on arch rival Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
The campaigns also dueled in the ring of campaign finance. Bates’ treasurer Mal Burnstein found that Dean had misfiled approximately $3,000 in campaign contributions from the 1998 race. Dean was ultimately ordered by a citizen commission to re-allocate the money to her previous campaign and file amended fundraising reports with the city.
Dean’s campaign responded by plugging two citizen petitions, accusing Bates of illegal fundraising. Both charges against Bates were dismissed by the citizen commission.
With both candidates calling for a Berkeley with more housing along transit corridors, better public transportation, good relations with the university and support of small businesses, Dean and Bates often ended up debating who was better suited to achieve their similar visions.
Bates said his political connections throughout the state gave him an edge. Noting his ties to Sacramento politicians, including his wife, former Berkeley Mayor Loni Hancock, who was overwhelmingly elected to fill Bates’ former Assembly seat, Bates said he was better positioned to win state grants and negotiate with the university from a position of strength.
Dean insisted that she had already made progress on these issues, and that Bates was at the head of a political machine that sought to control city politics.