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In Berkeley, Little Enthusiasm Is Seen for Recall or Davis

August 24, 2003|Nita Lelyveld | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — Jane Scantlebury, a librarian at the Berkeley Public Library, is a proud union activist who wears a UNION YES pin on her ID tag. She's a registered Democrat who voted for Gov. Gray Davis, and she hates the idea of a recall vote.

But asked recently what she thought of the governor, she frowned and said simply, "Not much."

"I wish when the recall was first happening, he had stepped down or retired so that Bustamante could take over," the 53-year-old Scantlebury said, referring to Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is a candidate to succeed Davis. "But that's not him. With Davis, his own personal needs come first."

In November, two-thirds of Berkeley voters backed the governor's bid for reelection. Now, it's hard to find anyone to say a positive thing about him.

And although all but one of nearly two dozen people interviewed here on a recent weekday said they opposed the recall vote, no one in this city famous for its protests seemed enraged enough, or loyal enough to the governor, to fight hard against it.

Only a few said they believed it was fair to blame Davis alone for the $38-billion budget gap. Still, no one jumped to his defense.

"He's probably OK: not any better, not any worse than any other politician," said Robin Richey, 29, of Albany, who took a break from caring for her 1-year-old to shop for clothes in Berkeley. She said she would vote against recalling Davis.

Kevin Goodwin, a 26-year-old UC Berkeley senior, said he didn't think it was fair for people to be able to spend money to kick someone out of office with a recall vote.

"I'm not sure that people are right to be so much against him. Still, I don't have any, like, particular love for Gray Davis," he said, as he picked out a Picasso print during a poster sale outside the campus bookstore.

None of the fliers plastering the kiosks on campus mentioned the recall vote. Of the many people on the street soliciting signatures for petitions or passing out leaflets, no one seemed focused on the upcoming event.

On Telegraph Avenue, macrame stands competed for business, and one young ponytailed entrepreneur crouched on a sidewalk asking passersby if they'd swap "cash for cannabis, dollars for dope." But no one was out registering people to vote.

Berkeley is, in some ways, a very idealistic place. Many a car on the streets is plastered with messages about saving Tibet or fostering world peace. Numerous people here described themselves as idealists, but said the current political system in no way reflects their ideals. In fact, some who spoke passionately against the idea of recalling an elected governor said in nearly the same breath that their votes wouldn't matter.

Sitting outside Top Dog, his Berkeley hot dog store, 49-year-old Tim Barnard railed against the recall effort, for which he blamed the "rapacious Republican party."

"I think it's a blatant push by Republicans just to get rid of Gray Davis and push their agenda," he said firmly.

Still, he said, he stopped paying attention to politics after he voted in the last presidential election for Al Gore, "and my vote fell into the abyss. I don't believe in the process as long as the lobbyists and the special interests are running things."

While he waited for a repair shop to put new tires on his 12-year-old VW van, Stan Whitehead nursed a coffee in a Shattuck Avenue cafe and read every news story he could find about the recall vote.

"It's Hollywoodville," said the 74-year-old novelist, painter, poet and teacher who looked California professorial, with an eyeglass case in the pocket of his plaid shirt and brown leather sandals on his feet.

Whitehead, an independent, said he would never vote for actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like others in this down-to-earth environment, he said he wasn't swayed by celebrity.

"To an intelligent person who looks at this, he seems to have a very thin layer of knowledge," Whitehead said.

But he was equally dismissive of Davis, whom he called "a schmo."

"I want a governor who's a real person, someone I can bite into," he said.

Whitehead said he might vote for Bustamante to keep the governorship with the Democrats, whose policies mesh most closely with his own.

But he added wearily, "Part of me says it doesn't really matter who gets to be governor of this state."

Carol Katz, who for three decades outside the downtown Berkeley station of Bay Area Rapid Transit has sold jewelry she makes herself, called the recall effort "a charade" and said she had voted for Davis twice -- not because she liked him but simply because he was a Democrat.

But, she said, "I think that, in order to be a politician, you have be a crook, you have to use favoritism, you have to play the game."

Katz, 56, who fled Boston for Berkeley in 1969, said her party loyalties keep weakening.

"I'm registered as a Democrat, but I'm very sick of the Democratic Party. I think it stinks," she said. "Republicans are very definite about their views. Democrats are very un-unified."

Katz said she probably would vote against recalling Davis because she wouldn't like a precedent for more recall efforts. She said she might not vote at all. Then again, she said, maybe she would vote for Schwarzenegger.

"He's going to win. He's already won. He's our next governor," Katz said.

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