Don Jelinek, a former Berkeley City Councilman, author, and a crusading lawyer who worked for civil rights in the South, represented the Native Americans who took over Alcatraz in 1969, and defended prisoners who survived the Attica Prison uprising, died June 24 of lung disease. He was 82.

Jelinek was one of Berkeley’s most visible progressive politicians, serving on the City Council as part of Berkeley Citizen’s Action coalition from 1984 to 1990. He ran for mayor against Shirley Dean twice, losing both times. In the first race in November 1994, Jelinek captured 49.2% of the vote against Dean’s 45.5%. That forced a runoff, which Dean won. Jelinek and his supporters blamed the loss on the December runoff date when most UC Berkeley students were out of town.

Even off the council, Jelinek exerted great influence in Berkeley politics. He was a frequent advisor to the five sitting BCA councilmembers, meeting with them frequently to strategize legislation, according to Kriss Worthington, who said he never would have run for election without Jelenik’s encouragement.

“Long after he left the council he was still an incredible resource,” said Worthington. “He combined common sense and progressive ideas to focus the loose knit coalition of progressive council members. He was a calm force for “Yes, do progressive things but do them in a smart way.”

Read the complete obituary here.

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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...

2 replies on “Former councilman, civil rights crusader Don Jelinek dies”

  1. I am very sorry to hear about Don’s death. I knew him when he was on the council, and he was a very likable guy, as well as a dedicated and hard working progressive.

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