Ron Dellums, influential congressman and self-described ‘commie pinko from Berkeley’, dies at 82

Ron Dellums, whose ant-Vietnam War and social justice platform began a 27-year run representing the East Bay in Congress that included tireless advocacy for decreasing defense spending and ending apartheid in South Africa, in addition, to  later being elected mayor of Oakland, died Monday after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 82.

Although Dellums’s connection to Oakland was clear, his political career began on the Berkeley City Council, when he was first elected in 1967. Amid a wave of anti-war candidates starting in 1970, Dellums notched an upset in the Democratic primary against Rep. Jerry Cohelan, who was viewed as a more conventional liberal, but who had not registered opposition to the Vietnam War until late in the campaign.

Once in Washington, Dellums unleashed a flurry of legislation, most of it went nowhere. But he also established his unwillingness to toe the party line if doing so stood in the way of his convictions. When Congress refused to hold hearings on alleged war crimes by American soldier during the Vietnam War, he instead, held his own. Dellums’ rhetoric was branded so radical that he received a place on President Richard Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List.”

Dellums, bella abzug
Dellums, right, with another noted 1970s activists in the Congress, New York Rep. Bella Abzug.

Paradoxically, at first glance, Dellums sought and received a seat on the House Armed Services Committee. Eventually rising to the rank of chair, Dellums used the seat to reduce military spending. To the surprise of his critics on the right, Dellums was less the radical anti-war activist and more of an open-minded politician. In 1993, he pushed for the integration of gays and lesbians into the U.S. military. Dellums was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Meanwhile, his tireless push for social and economic justice paid off in 1986 when Congress approved his bill calling for an U.S. embargo of South Africa in opposition of apartheid, along with divestment of American companies from South Africa. Dellums also championed statehood for Washington, D.C., arguing it was treated like a colony.  However, Dellums caught much flak for visiting Cuba and meeting with Fidel Castro

Controversy followed in the early 1980s after a House doorkeeper alleged that Dellums and two other congressman had used cocaine and marijuana. But an eight-month investigation in 1983 yielded no evidence of impropriety. Dellums was also ensnared in the widespread House overdraft scandal in 1992 that included more than 300 other members who also bounced checks from their congressional bank accounts. Dellums, however, was the worst offender, bouncing 851 checks. Again, Dellums and his colleagues were cleared on any wrongdoing.

When Dellums announced his retirement from Congress during the middle of his term in 1998, the move rocked the East Bay political scene, triggering a major reshuffling of five elected seat as politicians made moves for higher offices. The biggest winner was Dellums’s former aide and Oakland state senator, Barbara Lee, were succeeded her former boss in Congress.

During Lee’s 20 years in Washington, Dellums’s legacy has continued. Most notably, a strand of Dellums’s anti-war DNA can seen in Lee’s lone vote against what she called an “endless war” in Afghanistan. Lee, herself, even made a trip to meet with Castro, again to the consternation of Republicans, who labeled her a communist.

“I feel blessed to have called Congressman Dellums my dear friend, predecessor, and mentor,” Lee, said in a statement Monday.  “I will miss him tremendously, and I will hold dear to my heart the many lessons I learned from this great public servant,”

Dellums oakalnd
Dellums returned to political office after winning a three-way race for Oakland mayor in 2006. He did not seek re-election after one term.

Dellums’ post-congressional career, however, was somewhat spotty, but highlighted with a return to his political roots in the East Bay. Dellums, then 70, was elected Oakland mayor in 2006.

Although his administration is credited with hiring a bevy on new cops on the beat, his time in the mayor’s office, in the end, added little to his legacy. Personal financial issues weighed on Dellums during his tenure as mayor before he announced he would not seek re-election after one term. He later went on to work as a government lobbyist.

In a statement Monday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called Dellums a “true American hero.” “Congressman Ron Dellums governed from a place of morality and compassion, and his political activism shed light on injustices within out country and all over the world,” said Schaaf. “His progressive values set the bedrock for Oakland values, and his life of public service will continue to inspire all of us to fight for a more just and equitable society.”

Dellums was a native son of Oakland. He attended Oakland Tech and McClymonds and earned a degrees from San Francisco State College and U.C. Berkeley, before joining the Marines.

“The story of Ron Dellums’s 27 years in Congress is not just about a wild-eyed radical, a self-described ‘commie pinko Afro-topped bell-bottomed dude from Berkeley’ who earned the love of friends and the respect of enemies,” a Washington Post columnist wrote in 1998, upon Dellums’s retirement.

“It is about a man who made strategic and deliberate decisions about how and when and for how long to promote his causes, to ignore insult and outlast exclusion, to be a gentleman rather than a firebrand. ‘At the end of the day,’ as he likes to say, he found he cares as much that ideas be discussed freely and fairly as he does about the issues themselves.”

5 thoughts on “Ron Dellums, influential congressman and self-described ‘commie pinko from Berkeley’, dies at 82

  1. Sorry, I’m ranting…but one more thing that Steve Tavares mentions above.

    Mr. Dellums wrote over +850 bad checks on his House of Representative checking account. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that there was an “understanding” that the House would cover minor overdrafts. EIGHT HUNDRED AND FIFTY??? Give me a break. Did his payroll checks for his salary while in Congress not get deposited? Oh, no…that money always came in, on time. He couldn’t manage his personal money. That is a common theme with people who are political hot air bags. He was personal buffoon, who was tall, and well-spoken, so the “sheep” followed him.

    Many people write a check a bit over the cash they have, and quickly repay it. In many states, you get put in real jail for intentionally writing a bad check and not covering it immediately. In Florida, you go to jail even if you do cover it. I knew a person who spent a week in jail in Florida (and received a permanent criminal record) for writing a bad check to a dentist, which she covered within days of it bouncing. Too late! Off to jail.

    I guess, then Pamela Price could be his lawyer!

    The hypocrisy of Mr. Dellums was/is stunning.

    “High ideals.” “A bastion of honest and fairness.” “A role model for all.” “A great political mind.” Singing the praises of his blessed mother, who taught him about education and justice.” I guess dear Mom skipped the part about bad checks.

    In the real world…he’s a proven bank fraud criminal and a tax evader.

    Now I understand why Mayor Libby Schaaf admires him. One B.S.’er admires another.

    We see this over, and over, and over again.

    Ultra-Liberals don’t know how to pick their heroes…there are so few.


  2. If you can bare it, here is over an hour of a bitter, confused, rambling, self-serving, socialist.

    …And he seriously evaded his federal income taxes. What a hypocrite.

    President Johnson once said,”In American, we get exactly the leadership we deserve.”

    Seems Oakland has sadly hit its mark.


  3. I think he did some good in his early years. He overcame much racism.

    By his own admission, he’s a “Pinko.” So, with that, my admiration ends.

    I share the Anti-War views. Vietnam and Iraq were a complete waste of time, money, and most important, lives.

    So many people in the Bay Area never truly understand what the Constitution means. The Constitution ONLY works within a strong capitalistic model. Not a prefect model. Not a Utopian model. Not a fairy tale model…but a model for the enlightened, competitive co-existence of human beings. My progressive friends just don’t get it.

    Mr. Dellums was one of them. In his elder years he was a massive tax evader and a pusher of Democratic Socialism. So very sad he lost his way.

    Further, on his greatest mission, South Africa, the (scientifically proven) low-I.Q. Black population is now killing themselves, and White farmers…and reducing a once proud, industrious country to a debt-ridden, crime-ridden, failed-state. While I was against Apartheid, CLEARLY, some better sharing of power was/is needed for that country to transition. Sadly, there is ZERO historical evidence that going from White to Black rule, ever works out. Well, it may “work out,” but at a dramatically reduced standard of living into the future.

    Nelson Mandela blew it…in part because, he was always a strong socialist. Socialism never works…period…even for a man of good intentions. Mr. Dellums suffered from a similar confusion.

    An objective review of +95% of jurisdictions in the world under Black rule, finds they are failures. We should accept this as a fact, and endeavor to assist people who, for whatever reason, are incapable to help, and uplift themselves. We should not accept their incompetence as part of our new, diverse, “normal.” (Much of Chicago, Baltimore, Haiti, most of Washington, D.C.) THERE IS NO VIRTUE IN REDUCING OUR GRANDCHILDREN’S QUALITY OF LIFE.

    Ron Dellums helped slow real human progress, excessively focused on race (not accepting, there are a real, honest, deficits in much, not all, but much, of the Black community) and socialism. Then Hollywood and the music industry expertly exploited those cultures, ennobling gangster lifestyles.

    Kanya West got it right. “400 years in slavery, is a choice.”
    The Jews, Irish, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, and on, and on and on, did not demand a job…they started their own business and became economically self-reliant. Blacks were doing the same, successfully, until the late 1960’s….then everything went wrong.

    Mr. Dellums, rather than teaching such self-reliance, liked to wallow in victimhood and use it as a political tool.

    Thomas Jefferson was clear on the intent of our founders. We all have equal opportunity. We don’t all have equal skills and aptitudes. GET OVER it and try, every day to improve yourself.

    That life skill is not taught enough in the Black and Latino communities. No one cares if you are “proud” of your community or ancestry. That’s all good. But, on a work-a-day basis, people foremost care about what you can produce. THAT is Democratic Capitalism. If you decide to be a “moocher” for life, don’t expect my sympathy…nor expect my admiration for fake heroes like Mr. Dellums…who questions of core values of the system that a made it possible for him to obtain the limited success he achieved.

    Ron Dellums, in the end, was a failed, confused American. His community continues to suffer under the likes of Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters who follow, and triple-down on his constant victim hood example.

    The only more dishonest politics is when people like Mayor Libby Schaaf, exalt the achievement of such a man to pander for votes for themselves.


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