A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Greatest Power Couple In Berkeley HIstory

(Above: Tom & Loni with Zona Roberts at the Grand Opening of the Ed Roberts Campus)

Congratulations to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and state Senator Loni Hancock, who celebrated their 30th anniversary on November 13. Actually, they got married on November 9, and therein lies a tale.
"I think we should celebrate on Nov. 9, but she thinks we should celebrate on the first Sunday after the first Tuesday in November, in honor of her election as Berkeley's first woman mayor," says Tom. So they resorted to the politician's best friend:  the compromise. In even years they celebrate on her date, and in odd years they celebrate on his.
Yes, he said mayor. They used to hold each other's job. Loni was Mayor of Berkeley from 1986 to 1994, and Tom served in the state legislature from 1976 to 1996.
In 1994 she joined the Clinton administration, and he was termed out of the legislature two years later, and that was the end of their political careers – or so they thought.
But in September 2001, while they were vacationing in Italy, they got an urgent message from Berkeley saying Loni was desperately needed to come back ASAP and run for Tom's old seat in Sacramento, and Tom was needed to run for Loni's old office in City Hall.
"We headed to Milan and booked our tickets, then we went to dinner," he said. "When we got back from the restaurant we were told, 'Something awful has happened. Somebody flew some airplanes into a building.' So it was weeks before they were able to get a flight back to the states.
They finally made it back and won their elections, and were re-elected by increasing margins every four years since then. Tom, who was the youngest person ever to serve as Alameda County Supervisor when he won his first election in 1972, is now the oldest person ever to serve as Mayor of Berkeley.
He's also the longest-serving mayor, 14 years in all. But he's never taken a penny in salary.
"I had a choice: I could take my pension from my 20 years in the legislature, or I could take my mayor's salary, but not both," he explains. "I chose the pension."
So whenever he made a tough decision or cast a tie-breaking vote at a City Council meeting, he always quipped, "Well, that's what they're not paying me the big bucks for!"
It would take a hundred columns to list all their achievements, but Tom's include the David Brower Center, the Ed Roberts campus for the disabled, and the project closest to his heart, the sports fields (which his colleagues named after him) at the East Bay Shoreline Regional Park.
Meanwhile, Loni has been an effective champion for education, public safety, governmental reform and the environment, becoming in the process, as her Senate colleague Carol Liu, D-Los Angeles, called her, "the moral conscience of the Senate."
But now it's over. On Dec. 1 Tom, the city's oldest mayor, will hand his gavel to Jesse Arreguin, the youngest, and Loni will hand her Senate desk to Nancy Skinner. And then they can finally embark on their long-delayed retirement.
And they're still in love. She still can make him blush just by saying something nice about him. And he has no more passionate defender than her.
Berkeley will be in their debt for generations to come.