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Staff Profile: Shirley Dean

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted December 09, 1998

This is one of a series of articles on the "other lives" of campus staff.

Shirley DeanSome do a double-take when they spot Berkeley mayor Shirley Dean in the corridors of Sproul Hall. But she belongs there.

In 1956 she graduated from Cal, and for more than a decade she's worked for Undergraduate Admission and Relations with Schools -- on a half-time appointment since winning her first mayoral election in 1994.

For the happily workaholic Dean, mornings begin in her Sproul cubbyhole, where she serves as an analyst for UARS Director Bob Laird -- staffing two faculty committees, reading applications, visiting high schools, answering letters from disappointed parents and serving on the office's publications team.

Afternoons find her at City Hall and evenings in meetings, meetings, meetings. Around midnight she usually gets to bed.

"Shirley does a really good job for Undergraduate Admission," says Laird, "and she is impeccable about separating her university responsibilities from those she has as mayor of Berkeley."

Dean started her political career by organizing the Bonita-Berryman Neighborhood Association, which led to her appointment in 1971 to the city's Planning Commission. She served on the City Council for 15 years between 1975 and 1994. This Nov. 3 she was elected to a second four-year term as mayor by a 54.6 percent majority.

When she first ran for the office, Dean recalls, "I had no idea of the enormous pressures and expectations I would face."

But her role in local government is exhilarating, she says. "Local government is where the 'rubber meets the road.' I'm face to face with people and their problems."

Despite a more-than-full-time schedule as mayor, Dean has kept her campus job, she says, because she enjoys her connection with the world of work. "It's good to get out of the City Hall atmosphere," says Dean. And few citizens do business there between 8 a.m. and noon in any case, she adds.

Income is another reason she's still on the campus staff. At the last election, Berkeley voters raised the mayor's salary to $34,00 a year -- from the $21,000 she made previously.

How does she manage her dual career? Thanks to a terrifically supportive family, she says. Her husband, Dan Dean, a retired Berkeley High School counselor, is affectionately known as "the mayor's driver."

Dean first became mayor in 1994 in a close runoff election. Her resounding victory last month makes her feel she now "owns" the job. "It's a great feeling," comments Dean. "I think the message of the election was, 'Get on with the basics of the city. Take care of Berkeley.' There's a lot I want to accomplish, and now I feel more empowered."

High on her list of priorities are overseeing completion of seismic retrofits of City Hall and the main library and construction of the public safety building and bike/pedestrian I-80 overpass.

She'd also like to see a real train station in Berkeley, a new downtown hotel and department store, underground utilities, a rail line on the Bay Bridge, a seamless public transportation system and playing fields for children.

"I want to keep the forward progress going," she says. "I don't want to hear, 'we can't do it.' I want to hear, 'how are we going to do it?'"

Dean says she has a strict rule about keeping her campus and civic jobs separate. "My mayor's hat comes off when I go to work. And when I meet with the chancellor as mayor, I have no qualms about disagreeing with him. We are totally honest with each other."

At 64, Dean has no interest in retiring, but if she ever slows down, she'd like to write the inside story of Berkeley politics, pen an epic novel, quilt, learn photography and get back to painting, drawing, cooking and gardening.


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