Civil rights activist and former mayor of Berkeley Gus Newport died June 17 at the age of 88.
Newport was originally from Rochester, New York, where he gained interest in political activism in the 1950s and 1960s, according to a newsletter from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. After working for the labor department, he moved to Berkeley in 1974 and acted as the city’s mayor from 1979 to 1986.
His accomplishments as mayor, according to Arreguín’s newsletter, include leading the city to divest from apartheid South Africa, provide domestic benefits to partners and expand rent control. He worked with leaders across the country — from Malcolm X to Harvey Milk to Bernie Sanders.
“We are eternally grateful for Gus Newport’s service to the Berkeley community and his unyielding commitment to human rights that has inspired countless people throughout the world to continue his legacy,” Arrgeuín’s newsletter states. “He will be greatly missed.”
In a statement, Arreguín said he often looked to Newport as an invaluable predecessor who left an unwavering impact on the city community.
As a leader, Arreguín noted how Newport’s commitments to justice have inspired others to do the same.
“He was a unabashed radical and visionary leader,” Arreguín said. “As a progressive but also as a bureaucrat he felt his role was to use his voice and his office to make change within while also calling for broader change outside of City Hall.”
Arreguín added Newport’s principles of “peace, love and justice” were spread throughout the world, not just within Berkeley, by his admirable passion.
Councilmember Sophie Hahn noted Newport exemplified the “core values” of Berkeley and his work was essential to fighting for underserved groups.
“He not only questioned the predominate – and discriminatory – systems of our nation, and our local community – but actually transformed them,” Hahn said in an email.
Having known Newport for 35 years, Councilmember Kate Harrison said the former mayor fought for equality throughout their relationship. Some of his notable accomplishments included rounding up 83% of voters to pass a measure strengthening the Police Accountability Board, as well as his contributions to the movement for racial justice in Berkeley.
Harrison called Newport a role model who made the political world a little less lonely, while providing others with the courage to speak out about systemic inequalities. Overall, Harrison said Newport was a kind person who empowered those around him, even young activists.
“(His death) reminds us that we have had people that were this strong and courageous in office,” Harrison said. “It’s important to remember that and it reminds us that we have an entire community of people who care about justice and equity.”