Behind the Scenes
Here at Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club (ACDLC), we see the value in everyone. We want to be a catalyst for positive change, and since our beginnings in 1950s, we’ve been driven by the same ideas we initially founded our Public Services Organization upon: support, empowerment, and progress.
Founded in the mid-1950s, the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club is among the most established and respected political organizations in the San Francisco Ba...y Area, and it has played a significant role in local politics over its 60 year history.
The club was founded at a time of tremendous political change at the national, state, and local levels. In 1952, when Adlai Stevenson, the energetic and charismatic governor of Illinois, ran for President of the United States, he inspired millions across America to become politically active and involved in the affairs of government. That year in California, a group of progressive Democrats including future California State Controller and U.S. Senator Alan Cranston founded the California Democratic Council (CDC) to galvanize the formation of Democratic clubs. The CDC coordinated statewide conventions of Democratic clubs to provide forums for networking and the exchange of ideas. Nowhere in the California was the rise of Democratic clubs more evident than in the East Bay, where local redistricting played a significant role in encouraging many individuals, especially Democrats, to become more active in electoral politics. These developments on the national, state, and local levels paved the way for the establishment of the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club.
The club was formed in 1954-55 by a few attorneys in private practice in Alameda County, including Winton McKibben and William Francis Levins. A native of Illinois and a graduate of UC Berkeley and University of San Francisco School of Law, McKibben had worked on many Democratic campaigns since high school. McKibben was inspired by Stevenson's message and continued to work on local, state, and national campaigns in the 1950s. The club had its start when McKibben and Bill Levins invited several friends, mostly other young lawyers in private practice in the East Bay, to lunch to discuss current political issues. These informal gatherings occurred monthly at various restaurants in Oakland. Among those who regularly attended these luncheon meetings were Bob Grey, Fred Cunningham, and Lyle Cook. Spearheaded by these individuals, the club soon became an affiliate of the CDC, and the luncheon meetings grew from about 5 people at the first few meetings to 10 and 15 people over the next few years. Over time, these luncheon meetings became larger and more structured, and the club began annually electing several officers to manage the club's affairs. The club also began regularly inviting prominent Democratic lawyers, politicians, and community leaders to speak at the luncheons.
Early on the club began endorsing and supporting candidates for public office. One of the club's first major successes was its support for Nicholas Petris in his first campaign for state assembly in 1958 (which he won), and later in his successful campaign for state senate in 1966, which seat he held until his retirement in 1996. Another success was in 1970, when the club bucked the Democratic establishment by endorsing Ron Dellums for U.S. Congress in his bid to unseat the incumbent Democrat, Jeffery Cohelan. To support him financially, the club held a "spaghetti feed" fundraiser at the Sequoia Lodge in Oakland. Unfortunately, the electric stove could not get hot enough to boil the water, so there were a lot of hungry people waiting for a long time that night, but the fundraiser was nevertheless successful and Mr. Dellums went on to win the seat in Congress, which he held until he resigned in 1998. In the early 1970s, the club also supported Kenneth A. Meade in his successful campaign for state assembly in 1970, and Tom Bates in his successful campaign for Alameda County Board of Supervisors in 1971. Both Meade and Bates replaced Republican incumbents.
Shortly after its founding, the club's membership grew to include not only lawyers in private practice but also in the public sector. Non-lawyers also have long been involved in the club. In 1975, the club officially recognized non-lawyers as members when the club amended its by-laws to allow associate membership status to any registered Democrat in Alameda County (known as the "Joe Close" clause, named after club member Joe Close). Voting membership has always been limited to duly licensed California lawyers in Alameda County who are registered Democrats.
Most recently the Democratic Lawyers Club was instrumental in providing a key forum for former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and City Council Member Rebecca Kaplan to debate former Senate Pro Tem Don Perata for a chance to win an important endorsement that could determine the heated election in 2010. Jean Quan used the forum and related publicity to help propel her to an eventual successful run for office. In 2011, Kamala Harris won the ACDLC endorsement early in her successful campaign for attorney general. In 2012, Eric Swalwell made national news winning the ACDLC endorsement over Pete Stark!
In 2014, the Democratic Lawyers Club provided an early endorsement for the current Mayor of Oakland Libby Schaaf. On August 28, 2014, the ACDLC membership voted during the Alameda County Democratic Party Oakland Candidates Forum on the Oakland Mayoral Race - Libby Schaaf - Endorsed. Mayor Schaaf continues to be an active member of the ACDLC and has served with distinction on the ACDLC Board.
Learn more about our mission, our vision, and how we go about making the changes we want to see on our FaceBook page.