Eight years ago this picturesque college town on San Francisco Bay was in a state of political seige as leftist organizers targeted Berkeley's municipal government for a "radical takeover."
But now, with another city council election pitting the left wing insurgents against the local political establishment only days away, an eerie quiet has settled over this western Mecca for the ideologically dispossessed. Conspicuously absent are the spirited marches, the proliferation of posters, leaflets and banners, the acrimonious debate and political turmoil that characterized Berkeley's last four municipal election campaigns.
The stakes in the election Tuesday remain high, with five of the nine city council slots, including the mayor's seat, up for grabs. A sweep for the leftist Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) slate would provide a majority vote on the city council, a goal that has narrowly eluded it for years.
A rout by the rival Berkeley Democratic Club, on the other hand, would wipe out the leftist presence in municipal government and sound the death knell for their eight-year organizing drive.
Moreover, Berkeley's election ballot is studded with the traditionally exotic array of local initiatives, including a measure aimed at preventing police from arresting marijuana users, and another ordinance that would bar the city from depositing funds in banks doing business in South Africa.
But thus far neither the initiatives, the candidates, nor the spectre of a radical surge into power has sparked much interest in the local populace, a situation that could prove catastrophic for the leftist side.
There are several reasons for the apathy, not the least of which is that a whole new breed of students now populates the Berkeley campus that has overwhelmingly rejected the violent radical legacy left by its forbears. In addition a Proposition 13 induced budget squeeze has pulled the financial rug out from under many of the left's utopian social schemes, and there are no highly controversial issues in the campaign to focus attention on the election.
The most striking development, however, has been a tempering in the strike of the leftists themselves, making them appear now as more loyal opposition than a revolutionary threat.
Gone from their program are the calls of the past for community control of police and for support for guerrilla movements in the Third World. In their place the leftists now speak of community-based economic development, loans to small businesses and the need for a new crime prevention plan.
"They don't seem to be talking about creating a bright red enclave in the face of America any more," says Edward Kallgren, an attorney who was the lone moderate elected to the Berkeley City Council eight years ago. "Now they're saying our main problem is economic development and we've got to improve the climate for business. My God, that's been our line for years."
The left has paid a price, however, for its new-found respect. Many of Berkeley's more vociferous radicals, for example, have abandoned the BCA IN ANGER OVER ITS SHUNNING OF LEFTIST IDEALS.
BUT THE BIGGEST PROBLEM THE LEFT CANDIDATES FACE IS THEIR INABILITY TO ROUSE ANY INTEREST IN THE SLUMBERING STUDENT POPULATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA CAMPUS, LONG THEIR PRIME BASE OF SUPPORT.
"THE STUDENTS ARE WITHDRAWING INTO THEMSELVES, THEIR JOB PROSPECTS AND THEIR PRIVATE PLEASURES," SAYS WILLIAM KORNHAUSER, SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR AT THE BERKELEY CAMPUS. "THEY DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE STUDENT MOVEMENT IN BERKELEY, AT THEIR OWN CAMPUS."
THE RESULT HAS BEEN A PRECIPITOUS DROP IN STUDENT VOTING OVER THE LAST SEVERAL CITY ELECTIONS, AND THIS YEAR AS BERKELEY MARKS THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF ITS BLOODY "PEOPLE'S PARK" CONFRONTATION, THE PREDICTIONS ARE FOR AN EVEN LOWER TURNOUT.
FACED WITH THE DECLINE OF STUDENT SUPPORT, THE DEFECTION OF THE FAR LEFT, AND THE BLEAK PROSPECT OF ONCE AGAIN BEING OUTSPENT THREE OR FOUR TO ONE BY THEIR HEAVILY FINANCED OPPOSITION, THE LEFTISTS BY MOST ACCOUNTS WIL LBE FORTUNATE TO HOLD ON TO THE TWO SEATS THEY NOW HAVE ON THE COUNCIL.
BUT THROUGH SHEER ENDURANCE, IF NOTHING ELSE, THEY HAVE APPARENTLY ESTABLISHED THEMSELVES AS A PERMANENT PART OF BERKELEY'S BIZARRE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE-EVEN WINNING A GRUDGING ACCEPTANCE FROM THE OTHER SIDE.
"THEY'RE GOING TO BE HERE A LONG TIME," SAYS BERKELEY BUSINESSMAN PAUL HARBERTS, A REPUBLICAN WHO HAS THROWN HIS SUPPORT BEHIND PAST EFFORTS TO QUASH THE RADICAL CAMPAIGNS. "THEY'VE GOT A CONSTITUENCY, THEY'VE PROVEN IT AT EVERY ELECTION.
"THEY'LL WIN SOME, WE'LL WIN SOME," HARBERTS SHRUGGED. "AND THE TOWN WILL GO ON."