Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is off to a strong start. Most Berkeley pols wait until they're in office before they contribute to Bezerkley's reputation as a national laughingstock. By stealing 1,000 student newspapers that endorsed his opponent, Bates managed to make a mockery of Berkeley before he so much as took the oath of office.
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office gave him a slap on the wrist by charging Bates with an infraction, not a misdemeanor, for which the maximum penalty is a $250 fine. It's a good deal. No wonder Bates is pleading guilty.
Many of his fellow lefties are happy to let him skate. Figure if you call yourself a "progressive," it's OK if you squelch dissenting voices. After all, it's not as if you're John Ashcroft.
It's telling that Sproul Plaza -- where Bates purloined the papers and the alleged home of the free speech movement -- has seen so many instances of lefties stealing the "Daily Californian."
It happened last year, when protesters stole papers with an ad against reparations to African Americans for slavery by David Horowitz. In 1996, when the Daily Cal endorsed Proposition 209, which ended racial preferences in state hiring, contracting and admissions, someone stole nearly all 23,000 papers.
Mike Berkowitz, aide to Councilwoman Maudelle Shirek, readily admitted to the San Francisco Chronicle that he had stolen thousands of Daily Cals ten years ago when he expected a negative editorial against Shirek -- only to return them when the editorial turned out to be positive.
For his part, Bates told the Daily Cal he stole the papers because he'd been so good to students that "to have the Daily Cal endorse all the people I'm running against -- I just went over the edge and it was like road rage." Do we see a pattern here?
Bates' supporters say that he shouldn't be defined by one bad incident. They have a point.
They'd have a good point if Bates hadn't lied to the Daily Cal when he told a reporter that he hadn't stolen the papers, leaving the impression that the four students who saw him trash the papers weren't being truthful.
They'd have a favorable point if Bates weren't a parsing pol who, when he finally came clean, sent out a statement that used the passive verb to announce that Daily Cals "were placed in recycling and trash bins" -- hey, at least he recycled -- and that it was "inappropriate and unacceptable. I apologize on behalf of myself and my supporters for our involvement in this activity."
Our involvement? Ahem. Bates should be apologizing to his supporters, not for them. He's the only one pleading guilty.
On Thursday, Bates released a new statement announcing the plea bargain, his decision to provide
$500 in restitution to the Daily Cal and his resolve to propose a state law and "a city ordinance to make theft of 'free' newspapers illegal." But it's already illegal. That's why he pleaded guilty.
The only question is whether Bates wants to mandate a bigger penalty than the fine he paid.
Former Councilman Don Jelinek told KQED's "Forum" that that the theft was trivial and chastised host Michael Krasny for devoting an hour of public radio to something so minor.
It's not minor. Bates should resign. If Bates cares to, he could run again. Let voters decide whether it's no biggie when a politician tries to silence opposition. Bates has tried to decide for the people of his city once too often as it is.