Sunday, April 24, 2011
On May 1 the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond was the site of a community celebration honoring state Senator Loni Hancock for her 40 years of public service.
It was the first public celebration ever held in her honor, for the simple reason that Hancock, who is famously shy - a curious trait for someone in politics - wouldn't allow it.
"She gets embarrassed by these things," says Roberta Brooks, former aide to Reps. Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee, who is one of the event's four MCs.
Brooks and the other three MCs - environmental scientist Sheila Daar, congressional aide Nancy Snow, and Ying Lee, who was Hancock's loyal ally on the Berkeley City Council back in the 1970s - are longtime members of Hancock's women's group, which has been meeting continuously for four decades.
"We started as a political support group for Loni," says Snow. "She was the only woman on the council, and even the other progressives were not friendly, to say the least."
"But it quickly became a consciousness raising group where all of us could get help from each other about everything," Daar adds.
Now they're closer than sisters.
"We go to each other's weddings," says Lee. "Our kids feel like siblings and think of us as aunties."
Hancock was first elected to the city council in 1971, quickly gaining a reputation as someone who could work with people on the other side without making everything personal - a rare quality in Berkeley politics, then and now.
In 1986 she broke the glass ceiling by being elected Berkeley's first female mayor. She balanced six straight city budgets, convinced Bayer Labs to fund the Bio-Tech Academy at Berkeley High, and negotiated a historic agreement with UC Berkeley in which the university agreed for the first time to pay for some of the city services it receives.
That same year she married state Senator Tom Bates. Today, thanks to term limits, they've switched jobs: She holds his old senate seat, and he's Berkeley's mayor.
But they still can't agree which date to celebrate their anniversary.
"We were married on the Sunday after I was elected, which was Nov. 9," she says. "He thinks we should celebrate on Nov. 9, but I think it should be the first Sunday after the first Tuesday in November."
Solution: In odd years they celebrate on his date, and in even years they celebrate on hers.
Hancock served in both the Carter and Clinton administrations as Carter's regional director for ACTION and Clinton's Western Regional Office director of the U.S. Department of Education.
She was elected to the state Assembly in 2002. Six years later she moved up to the Senate, where she has championed educational reform, clearing up the Zenaca toxic waste site in Richmond and fighting the expansion of gambling casinos.
And she's done it without compromising her values.
"She was under brutal pressure during the last campaign, when the other side went really negative," says Brooks. "People told her she couldn't win if she didn't go on the attack, but she wouldn't do it. She didn't think it was the right thing to do. And she won anyway."
I know it's going to gall her to be compared to Ronald Reagan, but she's a perfect example of The Gipper's dictum that there's nothing you can't accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.