Ron Dellums, a Marine turned progressive antiwar activist who served 13 terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing the East Bay and was one of the loudest liberal voices, has died. He was 82.
Ben Bartlett, Dellums' nephew and a Berkeley city councilman, told KTVU on Monday that Dellums died of cancer in Washington, D.C. on Sunday evening. On Facebook, Bartletr called his uncle a poet, a statesman, and a "superforce." He credited his uncle with teaching him how to "forgive and to transform anger into love."
Former president Bill Clinton said simply that Dellums spoke "truth to power."
“It is with deep sadness that I can confirm the passing of a great warrior and statesman, Congressman Ron Dellums," U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee said in a statement on Monday. "The contributions that Congressman Dellums made to our East Bay community, the nation, and the world are too innumerable to count. I feel blessed to have called Congressman Dellums my dear friend, predecessor, and mentor. I will miss him tremendously, and I will hold dear to my heart the many lessons I learned from this great public servant. My condolences are with the Dellums family, friends, and loved ones. His legacy and spirit will be forever with us.”
Libby Schaaf, the current mayor of Oakland, added in a statement: "The City of Oakland and our country lost a true American hero in Ronald V. Dellums." Schaaf said that Dellums "governed from a place of morality and compassion, and his political activism shed light on injustices within our country and all over the world. 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 born in Oakland into a family of labor organizers, attended McClymonds High School in Oakland and Oakland Tech, graduating in 1953, according to the history page of the House of Representatives. He enrolled at San Francisco City College and then enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1954. After leaving there, he earned a master's degree in social work from UC Berkeley.
After earning his master’s degree, Dellums worked in a series of social work jobs that promoted his involvement with community affairs and local politics in the Bay Area, according to his history page.
He began his career as a psychiatric social worker for the California department of mental hygiene from 1962 to 1964. Between 1964 and 1968, Dellums directed several area programs, including the Bayview Community Center in San Francisco, Hunter’s Point Youth Opportunity Council, and the San Francisco Economic Opportunity Council. He later found employment at San Francisco State College and the University of California at Berkeley as a lecturer and was employed as a senior consultant for manpower programs at Social Dynamics, Inc., from 1968 through 1970.
At the urging of friends and members of the community, Dellums made his first foray into politics when he sought and won a seat on the Berkeley city council in 1967.
Dellums was the first African American elected to Congress from Northern California and the first openly socialist successful non-incumbent Congressional candidate since World War II. His politics earned him a place on President Nixon's enemies list. He served 13 terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 to 1998.
During his career in Congress, he fought the Cold War MX Missile project and opposed expansion of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber program. When President Ronald Reagan vetoed Dellums' Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate overrode Reagan's veto, the first override of a presidential foreign policy veto in the 20th century, according to his history page.
In 2006 at the age of 70, he returned to Oakland replacing termed-out Jerry Brown as mayor. Homicides and violent crimes dropped on his watch, according to the East Bay Express.
Dellums joined a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm in 2011 headed by former Republican congressman and football player, J.C. Watts - a move some on the left criticized. He had been a lobbyist before becoming Oakland mayor as well.
Asked to describe his approach to politics when he was first starting out, Dellums responded in a book called, "Lying Down With the Lions: A Public Life From the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power," this way: “I’d listen and try to understand what people had to say, but then I’d act on my own beliefs. That’s the only way anyone should run for office.”
KTVU's Dave Clark and Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.