Jacqueline McCormick, who is running for mayor, stands outside her house with her dog, Divotte. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The interior of Jacquelyn McCormick’s Berkeley hills home looks like it could be in the glossy pages of a lifestyle magazine.

An enormous mirror reflects the image of visitors who walk into the entry hall of the house, the remnant of the four-acre Henry Taylor estate that once sprawled across the ridge. To the right is a spacious living room (a former ballroom in the estate’s heyday), with a large fireplace, a comfortable seating arrangement, a grand piano, and art work done by McCormick’s stepdaughter, Alexandra Salkin.

The fact that the interior of McCormick’s home is arresting isn’t so surprising, given that she became an interior designer in 2002 after a long career managing commercial real estate for banks. What’s surprising is that McCormick, 58, has done much of the work on the house herself.

When she and her husband, Michael Salkin, a former UC Berkeley economist turned portfolio manager for Morgan Stanley, bought the house on The Uplands in 2004, it was a mess. The house hadn’t been touched since the 1930s and there was six inches of standing water in the basement. McCormick got busy. She painted the living room walls and fireplace with a lime wash, which produced a pleasing variegated effect. She found a bathroom console at Omega Salvage and put the legs on herself. She added molding to the kitchen and installed a slate mosaic around the stove.

“I did most of the work,” said McCormick, who spent years flipping old houses when the real-estate market was more robust. “This is Jacquelyn’s blood, sweat, and tears.”

Working hard, getting her hands dirty, and focusing on the basic bricks that make up a house are the same traits McCormick plans to use in her campaign for Berkeley mayor. McCormick is challenging Mayor Tom Bates, a 10-year incumbent running for his fourth term. As a former assemblyman, state senator, and husband of former Berkeley Mayor Loni Hancock, Bates epitomizes the insider, and McCormick hopes to make that the wedge issue that wins her the race.

“It’s a long shot,” said McCormick. “I know that. It is going to be a Herculean effort, but I have the energy and perseverance to fight for it because I believe the community deserves it.”

McCormick is part of a group of Berkeley residents who feel that Bates and his allies on the City Council make law in an autocratic way, without consulting the citizens. They also believe the city government has been lackadaisical about the city’s finances, first by sweetening benefits for employees in the mid-2000s and then refusing to grapple with the city’s enormous liabilities.

“Tom is not inclusive,” said McCormick. “He basically doesn’t include any input from the public. He has an agenda and that’s the one that is being followed. It is not a citizen-centric leadership and that is what I want to bring.”

McCormick is the coordinator for Berkeley Budget SOS, a group formed to call attention to the city’s financial situation. She was one of the organizers who helped gather 4,000 signatures to put the FACTS initiative on the November ballot. FACTS stands for “fiscal accountability, clarity, transparency, and sustainability.” The initiative requires the City Council to produce a biannual report that lays out the city’s liabilities. It would also prohibit the city from putting and bond or tax measures on the ballot unless it has completed the reports.

McCormick was opposed to Measure R, the 2010 ballot initiative that laid out the conceptual framework for the Downtown Plan, as well as Measure T, which would allow medical cannabis dispensaries to build large-scale spinoff sites to grow marijuana. She believes the city council should more closely follow the advice of the city commissions.

She is opposed to the proposed sit-lie ordinance because she thinks it impinges on people’s civil rights and there are already laws in place to prompt people to move along. She wants to look for untapped revenue centers in the city’s operation, like its recycling department. The city might consider culling out materials from people’s throwaways that could be sold, she said.

“I think she brings a lot of energy and intelligence and a lot of independence,” said Dean Metzger, a long-time critic of Bates and what he considers to be his pro-developer policies. “She is a person who would up the quality of life in Berkeley as opposed to the current regime in Berkeley that only wants to build, build, build, and destroy, destroy, destroy.”

But McCormick’s involvement in local politics is relatively recent and her inexperience will be a major hurdle in her campaign. She came to politics when she heard that Caltrans wanted to build a stoplight at her corner of The Uplands and Tunnel Road and that led her to getting involved with the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association. She has served on that board since 2009. But she has never held public office or served on any of Berkeley’s citizen commissions, although she is a regular attendee of the city council meetings.

In 2010, McCormick ran against Gordon Wozniak in the District 8 race, coming in third after Wozniak and Stewart Jones of the Green Party. Transforming those 878 votes into a November mayoral victory will be tough.

“I don’t think she has any chance,” said Wozniak. “Jacquelyn is smart. She presents herself well. She had not had much experience and she didn’t really know the issues when she ran against me. I would say it’s a big step running for mayor. It’s a big job. You have to run citywide. I don’t think Jacquelyn knows the issues that well or has done enough public service to even know the different communities. I don’t think she will do very well.”

McCormick said she will counteract her relative inexperience by running a grassroots campaign.

“I recognize people need to get to know me and there’s a short period of time to get that done,” said McCormick. “It’s going to take an army. It is going to be an organization that goes down literally to the block level. Can we build it? I don’t know but we sure as hell are going to try.”

Sophie Hahn announces candidacy for City Council [05.09.12]
Berkeley’s Mayor Tom Bates announces his re-election bid [04.26.12]
Unfunded liabilities prompt initiative, council resolution [05.15.12]

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...