David Mundstock (1948-2020) and His History of Progressive Electoral Politics

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David Mundstock was an activist and historian of Berkeley electoral politics who passed away August 28, 2020. He was the only child of Jewish parents who’d emigrated from Nazi Germany to Canada and later settled in San Francisco. Mundstock was a UC Berkeley undergraduate and Law school student, and was deeply dedicated to the democratic promise of electoral politics.  He spent countless hours getting people to register and vote, but his biggest contribution was the role he played organizing students to become a major constituency of the progressive coalition that elected the first representatives of the “new politics” to the Berkeley City Council in the early 1970s.

David Mundstock at street voter registration table being interviewed by TV media, 1971. Photo by Jim Yudelson.

David understood the nuances of Berkeley’s electorate and compiled, data, painstakingly, on every election, often charting results in color on large precinct maps. He willed his extensive collection of Berkeley electoral materials to colleague and archivist Lincoln Cushing, who surveyed the collection and donated it to the Berkeley Historical Society and Museum. It’s a powerful body of work detailing the evolution of politics in a vibrant city – over 30 cartons of documents as well as 150 political posters, boxes of campaign buttons, and bumper stickers.

David Mundstock at his home, 2016. Photo by Lincoln Cushing,


Former mayor Loni Hancock reminisces:

David was actively involved in the campaigns to establish rent and eviction control in Berkeley and was one of the few who recognized that switching Berkeley municipal elections from April to November, to coincide with state and federal elections, would vastly increase voter

turnout as well as save the city the cost of an extra election. The April to November election date change was approved by Berkeley voters in June 1982 and following the November 1982 and 1984 municipal elections, 8 of the 9 elected Berkeley City Council members were progressives.

David Mundstock’ s obituary at Daily Cal

David Mundstock’s History of Progressive Electoral Politics

The battle is joined over Community Control of Police, the April Coalition slate of candidates, and their divided opposition.  Loni Hancock was first elected to the Berkeley City Council on April 6, 1971

The progressive agenda is developed, introduced and rejected in a bitterly divided City Council, torn by political betrayals.  Government by initiative begins with Rent Control in 1972.  The April Coalition fights its own internal civil war in 1973, and is then defeated by the Berkeley Four, a center right alliance of Democrats and Republicans with a huge spending advantage. Ying Lee Kelley is the only April Coalition candidate to win. Progressive initiatives, such as the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, pass.

The Bailey Recall

Councilman D’Army Bailey, elected in 1971 on the April Coalition slate, is recalled in the summer of 1973 by the conservatives.  Bailey had managed to antagonize vast segments of the community, including many former supporters.

The Berkeley Four’s City Council, 1973-1974

The conservative coalition asserts control, while Loni Hancock and Ying Kelley try to keep progressive hopes alive.

The Creation of Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) and the 1974 Elections

The April Coalition was dead, a casualty of the 1973 defeat. 1974 began without any progressive organization at all. Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) was created to fill this vacuum and made its first endorsements in the November 1974 election.

1975 and the Two Party System:

Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) v. the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC)

BCA nominates Ying Kelley to run for mayor against the incumbent, Warren Widener.  Widener had been elected with progressive votes in 1971, but then he changed sides and became the leader of the center/right coalition. BCA’s opposition is now the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC), which relies upon Republican votes. 

The April 1975 Campaign, Kelley v. Widener for Mayor

BCA’s first City Council race and the new progressive organization turns out to be competitive.  This was the only Berkeley campaign with spending limited by law.  Both sides can claim victory when the ballots are counted.

The 1975-1976 City Council
The June 1976 Campaign & the New Slate Politics

BCA was intended to be active in every election.  The June 1976 primary was BCA’s first chance to endorse a complete slate of national, state, and local candidates plus ballot measures.  From President of the United States to Municipal Court Judge, BCA made a choice and ran a slate campaign.  Berkeley measures included an initiative ordinance to save Ocean View and the first attack on traffic diverters.  Meanwhile, the United States Supreme Court was destroying all campaign reform laws, including Berkeley’s.

November 1976: John George for Supervisor

The November 1976 election was primarily about a single contested race for Alameda County Supervisor.  BCA was part of a broad progressive coalition supporting John George of Oakland, whose opponent was Billy Rumford, a BDC Councilmember.  Tom Bates was also running for his first Assembly term.  George and Bates were victorious.

1977, Year of Hope

BCA prepared for the April 1977 election amidst great optimism based upon the victories of 1976.  Ying Kelley would lead a slate that needed to win three seats for that ever elusive holy grail of the Council majority.  However, ideological divisions similar to those that destroyed the April Coalition made it impossible to even nominate four candidates.  BCA also supported a new rent control initiative that would face a massively funded landlord attack.

Catastrophe: The April 1977 Sweep

A divided BCA faced an alliance of the BDC plus the landlords who unleashed the most vicious fear smear ever waged against BCA candidates and rent control.  The conservative coalition took full advantage of unlimited campaign spending.  The result was a BDC sweep, as all BCA candidates and rent control were defeated.

The BCA Revival

The April Coalition never recovered from its defeat in 1973, when three out of four candidates lost.  BCA had suffered a far worse disaster in 1977, a complete sweep.  Yet a combination of anger at the conservative smear tactics and new leadership led Berkeley Citizens Action to an amazing revival.  Loni Hancock and John Denton continued to resist BDC’s 7-2 Council majority.

June 1978: Proposition 13 Spells Rent Control

The June 1978 primary election was sedate by Berkeley standards.  BCA’s participation with an endorsed slate was another sign of the organization’s survival.  While Berkeley overwhelmingly defeated property tax cutting state Proposition 13, California passed it.  The result would be lower property taxes for owners not tenants.  This unfairness made Proposition 13 the unlikely cause of new crusades for rent control throughout California.  Rent control was back on the Berkeley agenda.

November 1978 – Rent Control Round 3
      I = Initiative                      J = Jive

BCA drafted its own rent control initiative for the November 1978 ballot, seeking to give tenants their share of Proposition 13’s savings.  This was measure “I”.  Mayor Widener and his Council majority countered with their much weaker measure that also claimed to be rent control, measure “J”.  BCA waged a highly successful campaign that led to the passage of “I” and the defeat of “J”.

Denton v. Newport: BCA’s Marathon for Mayor

BCA’s triumph in November 1978 indicated that Warren Widener might be vulnerable in the April 1979 race for Mayor.  When Loni Hancock declined to run, BCA suddenly had a primary contest between Councilmember John Denton and (the then unknown) Gus Newport.  It took eight ballots and two weeks before BCA managed to nominate a candidate for Mayor.

April 1979: Newport vs. Widener

Unlike 1973 or 1977, BCA emerged from a contested convention united and with a complete slate of candidates, including John Denton for re-election.  The glue holding BCA together was a decade-long loathing for the turncoat Widener. 
Yet virtually no one believed Gus Newport could actually prevail over Widener, who was seeking his third term as Mayor.  The greatest upset in modern Berkeley history occurred on April 17, 1979, with the lowest turnout.

The First Progressive Council Majority, 1979-1980

To the shock of everyone, BCA had elected four Councilmembers: Mayor Newport, John Denton, Florence McDonald, and Veronica Fukson.  Together with Councilwoman Carole Davis, who switched sides, there was now a progressive majority on the Berkeley City Council.  Could this group actually govern?

June 1980, Measure D, Rent Control Round 4

Rent control supporters drafted a permanent rent stabilization ordinance to replace the temporary measure adopted in November 1978.  Signatures were unnecessary, for unlike its three initiative predecessors, the City Council voluntarily placed Measure D on the ballot.  Landlords and tenants went to war once more, but BCA was on a winning streak and rent control passed again.  The full BCA slate included 18 candidates and ballot measures at the state and local levels.  17 of these carried the City of Berkeley.

Berkeley Goes to Court – June 1980

Between initiatives passed by the voters and controversial measures that the Council adopted, Berkeley was forever being sued.  Affirmative action, the Berkeley Waterfront, review of the police, campaign reform, and a tax on the Oakland Raiders (when playing in Berkeley), were some of the Berkeley issues ultimately decided by judges rather than voters or the City Council. 

The November 1980 Election

November 1980 lacked any seriously contested local races. Although Jimmy Carter’s BCA supporters were unable to win the organization’s endorsement for the President, Berkeley was never going to be Reagan country.

The School for the Deaf and Blind Site

The City of Berkeley and the University of California are not good neighbors.  University expansion is often perceived as a dangerous threat to the city.  In the 1979-81 period, there was a protracted battle over the site of the California Schools for the Deaf and Blind, which were being forced to relocate.  It was an omen of ugliness to come.

Negative Images

Berkeley has often received adverse press coverage because of the city’s special politics.  With a progressive City Council majority, the media assault seemed to escalate.  The majority itself did not last as Carole Davis went her own way.  It was another bad sign.

April 1981: The Filthy Fight


Berkeley’s Republicans had always been the hidden power behind Berkeley Democratic Club victories.  By withholding their votes, the Republicans took credit for BDC’s disaster in April 1979. In 1981 the Republicans were placated by creation of the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC).  This new organization brought the Republicans out of hiding as they publicly joined forces with the Berkeley Democratic Club.
The conservative coalition then launched a campaign against BCA intended to frighten Berkeley voters with new tales of dangerous radicals.  Anti-BCA mailers were more hysterical than even the previous smear campaigns of 1973 and 1977, and the Berkeley police joined in this ABC/BDC effort.  It all worked as intended. 
In April 1981, Berkeley’s voters rewarded the conservative coalition with an ABC/BDC sweep of all four City Council seats.  The conservatives were back in control with their new majority.

Back in 1985, I was unable to finish writing this chapter on the 1981 campaign.  The history ends where I left it, over thirty years ago.

David Mundstock

The 80s and 90s in brief

November Beats April (1982)


The April 1981 loss of all four City Council candidates left BCA shocked and comatose, unable to act.  Only one person knew what to do in response.

Marty Schiffenbauer personally drafted and collected nearly all the signatures for an Initiative Charter Amendment to move Berkeley’s general municipal election from April to November of even-numbered years, when it would be consolidated with the state general election.  This change would increase the turnout of students, tenants, Democrats, and low-income voters,  also to minimize Republican influence, giving BCA candidates a major advantage over ABC/BDC.  It also shortened the terms of BCA incumbents elected in April 1979 and reduced election costs.  The dramatic impact of Marty’s initiative was not well understood by the leadership of either side.

The election date change was approved by the voters in June 1982 with BCA support and relatively mild conservative opposition.  In November 1982, this new municipal election date immediately produced the desired results.  Gus Newport was re-elected Mayor over Shirley Dean and BCA won 3 of 4 Council seats, coming very close to a sweep.  The conservatives only elected one candidate, but that was enough to retain a 5-4 Council majority.

In the November 1984 Presidential election (Mondale vs. Reagan), BCA endorsed Walter Mondale, ran a perfect November slate campaign, and swept ABC/BDC.  Two November elections, and BCA candidates held 8 out of 9 City Council seats.  The Council majority now consisted of Mayor Gus Newport, plus Councilmembers John Denton, Veronika Fukson, Wesley Hester, Maudelle Shirek, Don Jelinek, Ann Chandler, and Nancy Skinner (a U.C. graduate student who was victorious thirteen years after the first attempts to elect a student had failed.)  

 

District Elections (1986)



The new BCA Berkeley City Council majority was not particularly charitable to its opponents.  Neighborhood people from the flatlands who were against the Council’s low-income housing projects felt insulted by some BCA Council members.  Their anger led to an Initiative Charter Amendment under which eight Council members would be elected by district instead of at large.   Their terms were cut from four years to two years.  Only the Mayor would continue to run at large for a four-year term.  The initiative also established run-off elections whenever the leading candidate failed to receive a majority of all votes cast.  (Run-offs had previously been proposed twice before by the conservatives and defeated both times by Berkeley voters.  District elections themselves were traditionally seen as progressive, especially in San Francisco, where conservatives opposed them.)

By David Mundstock

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