‘A life of leadership’: Former Oakland mayor, US representative Ron Dellums dies at age 82

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Former Oakland mayor and UC Berkeley alumnus Ron Dellums, 82, died from cancer Monday after a lifetime of public service.

Dellums was elected to Berkeley City Council in 1967 and later represented California’s 13th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 to 1998, serving as chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Finally, he served as Oakland mayor from 2007 to 2011.

“He’s a brilliant guy. … Coalition builder, anti-war activist, civil rights activist … certainly a giant of his time,” said public policy professor Dan Lindheim, who worked with Dellums as Oakland city manager and as a policy adviser in the House of Representatives. “He defined the left wing of the debate in Congress.”

Dellums ran for Berkeley City Council on what was mainly an anti-war platform. He went on to become a leader in other left-wing circles, including becoming an environmental leader, feminist leader and “one of the first people” to support LGBTQ+ individuals in the military “before anybody even talked about that,” according to Lindheim.

Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett honored Dellums, who was his uncle, in a Facebook post early Monday morning, lauding him for being an inspiration in his life.

“My uncle and second father,” Bartlett said in a Facebook post. “I thank you for guiding me and being there every step of the way. You taught me to be a friend to all people.”

Dellums was able to gain influence in District 13 for not only the 27 years he served in Congress, but also through his successor, current U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Lindheim said.

“Congressman Dellums was a statesman and a warrior for peace,” Lee said in an email. “That principled leadership was evident in every aspect of his life. When I worked in his office, Congressman Dellums was one of the only members of Congress willing to hire an African American woman for a senior staff position on Capitol Hill.”

After Dellums left Congress, he worked on HIV- and AIDS-related issues in southern Africa and soon became the head of former president Bill Clinton’s commission on HIV and AIDS, according to Lindheim. Lindheim added that Dellums also headed the anti-apartheid movement and was credited by Nelson Mandela as an important American in bringing down South African apartheid.

Dellums also continued to influence others after his political career ended by teaching students at Howard University to make change in their communities, according to Lindheim.

“Dellums changed the course of history through his career in public service and this loss will be felt here in the Bay Area and across the country,” campus administration said in a press release. “He lived a life of leadership and service — a hallmark of UC Berkeley alumni — and was a kindred spirit when it came to a deep belief in free speech.”

Contact Anisa Kundu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anisa_kundu.