The Berkeley Takeover

On the eve of the Berkeley municipal elections on April 6, Ronald Reagan and other conservative spokesmen in California officially lamented and denounced what they called “an impending radical takeover” in that volatile city. As soon as the election was over and before its somewhat ambiguous results could be analyzed, it was the turn of the liberal newspapers and television stations. They spoke in tones of accommodation. The San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times were gratified because the election had demonstrated that it was possible for the alienated to “work within the system.” The New York Times confidently called the results “another defeat for extremism” and claimed that “the middle of the political spectrum, where almost all elections are decided, was moved to the left.”

Well, the event scarcely ranks in the annals of revolution alongside the formation of the Paris Commune, but neither was it simply a victory for some dynamic young liberals and urban reformers. It was much more than that. If it was not in every respect a great radical victory it was a victory for radicals. The partial victory of the Berkeley radicals, moreover, has meaning beyond the boost it gives to the morale of the American left in the age of Nixon and in the land of Reagan.

On the surface, the victory lay in the election to the City Council of three out of a slate of four young radicals running under the aegis of a diverse group of students, intellectuals, and white radicals called the April Coalition, and in the election of a militant young black councilman, not technically a part of the radical slate, to the office of Mayor. Warren Widener, the Mayor-elect, is a friend and protégé of Ron Dellums, surely the only member of the US House of Representatives who might plausibly be called “radical.” Widener will vote with the three new radical Council members on most of the important issues.

Right now, the crucial question is who will fill Widener’s vacated seat on the Council. There is strong pressure from the left, and a surprising amount of acquiescence from the center, to fill the seat with a fourth member of the radical slate, Rick Brown, a young graduate student in education, who lost the election barely. If Brown is appointed, the four April Coalition radicals and Widener will constitute a majority of the Council (eight members in addition to the Mayor). There is, of course, pressure not to appoint Brown, to appoint instead a “swing” member as a compromise. But there is almost no way that the seat can go to an appointee wholly unacceptable to the Coalition and to Widener. There is every prospect, then, for a radical majority on many issues. That is one, minimal meaning of the election.

What comforts the establishment, aside from the fact that all of the radical winners are young, personable, articulate, deadly serious, and clearly well-informed on matters of municipal governance, thus, presumably, assimilable or, at least, amenable …

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