Police Say Mayor Stole Newspapers
Friday, December 6, 2002
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has admitted responsibility for stealing and trashing about 1,000 copies of The Daily Californian that carried the student newspaper's endorsement of his opponent, police said yesterday.
Bates, who earlier denied stealing the newspapers to the Daily Cal, released a statement yesterday apologizing for his involvement in the theft.
"There is no question that tossing newspapers is absolutely inappropriate and unacceptable," Bates stated. "I apologize on behalf of myself and my supporters for our involvement in this activity."
"I think we all agree that campaigns must be about furthering the free exchange of ideas. Any effort to impede this free exchange is a great disservice to The Daily Californian and the people of Berkeley," the mayor stated.
Bates declined to comment further.
The Nov. 4 issue police say Bates stole contained the Daily Cal's endorsement of then-Mayor Shirley Dean. Ninety percent of the newspapers were recovered from trash cans on Sproul Plaza.
Several students told police they saw Bates trash the papers. When asked by a Daily Cal reporter Nov. 4 if he stole the papers, Bates said, "No."
UC police concluded its investigation last week and recommended to the Alameda County District Attorney that Bates be charged with petty theft. No other suspects have been named.
"Bates accepted responsibility for the whole thing," said UC police Capt. Bill Cooper. "(But) we don't specifically have a statement saying, 'I did it.'"
Daily Cal Editor in Chief Rong-Gong Lin, II, condemned Bates for his actions.
"It's especially ironic he would have thrown these Daily Cals away just a few feet away from the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement," Lin said.
Bates admitted his involvement in the thefts to his political allies last week.
"He told me, and he feels terrible about it, and he's embarrassed," said Councilmember Dona Spring.
Spring said she believed Bates was overwhelmed by the stress of the campaign.
"He was very exhausted from the election, getting very little sleep, and he just blew it," Spring said. "He let his emotions take over."
Bates' admission already had some questioning his ability to lead, most notably former Mayor Shirley Dean, the eight-year incumbent who lost the race to Bates.
"If the evidence is that he actually did this, I would be one of those calling for his resignation," Dean said.
Were Bates to resign, the city would have to call a special mayoral election to determine his successor. If there was another election, Dean said she would run again.
"There is no question that I would throw my hat in the ring," Dean said.
Many political observers doubted Bates would resign.
"With one mistake on the books he will probably survive it, but he starts with one strike against him," said UC Berkeley political science professor Bruce Cain.
Cain also said Bates could face a recall election but called that unlikely. Elected officials in Berkeley are protected from recall drives during the first six months of their term in office.
"He starts as damaged goods, if he is going to show this kind of misjudgment in the campaign," Cain said. "The odds are ... unless he makes another misstep, the enthusiasm for a recall will diminish after six months."
Even Bates' political opponents thought he would likely ride out any impending political storm.
"He can say it was like Michael Jackson-it was one moment of weakness, like when he dangled his kid over the balcony," said Councilmember Betty Olds.
Suppression of political material is nothing new in Berkeley, Olds said.
"Back in the rent board days I did the same thing-I never stole newspapers, but I took down some people's signs," Olds said. "We got caught by the police."
Bates' strongest political ally in the run up to the election, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, called the newspapers' destruction "stupid behavior." But Worthington stood by Bates.
"Getting rid of the mayor because of this would basically be the same as capital punishment," Worthington said.
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