In one of the biggest upsets in Berkeley's often turbulent political history, candidates backed by remnants of the city's countercultural-radical population gained a near-majority in Tuesday's municipal elections.
The leftists won four of five vacant city council seats including the major's, as well as the city auditor's position and two school board posts.
The victory for the left Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) slate gave it a solid minority vote on the nine-member Berkeley city council. With the addition of an expected fifth "swing vote" on many crucial issue from incumbents, it has obtained a practical voting majority.
BCA is a coalition that ranges from backers of free clinics to tenants rights groups to student activits, to radical political organizers. While BCA members refer to themselves as "progressives," they comprise the great bulk of the leftist-radical segment for which Berkeley was famed during the activist '60s.
The progressives' surge into power came as a shock to most of its organizers who had expected a disastrously low turnout, particularly in their prime base of support in the heavily populated student area of the city.
But while voter turnout was down dramatically [barley half that of eight years ago when the progressives made their electoral push], this year is seemed to engulf the city including the wealthy and more conservative Berkeley Hills, long the mainstay of the moderate vote.
"We finally managed to bore the Hills more than we bored our own constituency," was the glib assessment of one long-time leftist activist.
"Apathy's what killed us," agreed Edward Kallgren treasurer and one of the chief political strategists for the morderate campaign. "When just didn't get our people out to vote."
Particularly devastating for the moderates was the defeat of two-term incumbent Mayor Warren Widener who was expected to have an easy time against his challenger, Gus Newpost, generally considered a weak candidate and poor campaigner.
Central to the moderate defeat was the absence this year of any highly volatile ballot propositions which had polarized and turned out the electorate in the past.
Both of the ballot initiatives in this election-an ordinance to stop the arrest of marijuana users, which does little more than formalize existing practice, and a proposal to make Berkeley the first major city to withdraw funds from banks doing business with South Africa-had gained the endorsement of practically all the candidates for city office and each passed by nearly 2 to 1.
Some local political analysts also pointed to the passage of the Javis initiative last year that has severly restricted city finances and made many of the leftists' more-grandiose schemes fiscally impossible.
"I think the turnout in the Hills was very low because they got what they wanted when Proposition 13 passed," explained Lenny Goldberg, a defeated leftist city council candidate six years ago.
"What can the Berkeley City Council do now that would hurt the Hills? In terms of the upper middle class voting their self-interest, they've already established their self-interest with Proposition 13."
Even more central to the leftist victory, however, was the gradual tempering of their rhetoric and programs. Ironically, major-elect Newport pointed to his campaign pledges to seek out venture capital to aid the local business community, and even proposed the construction of a "regional shopping center" to revitalize the ailing black commercial area of the city.