Keep Martinez’s Rich History Alive!

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Nancy Fahden – First Woman CC County Supervisor

Written by Pat Keeble, Former Political Editor of the Contra Costa Times

Martinez native Nancy Cardinalli Fahden had no intention of making history by becoming the first woman on the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors.  In 1976 she recruited a neighbor, Bill Wainwright, to run against an entrenched incumbent who was one of five middle-aged business men on the board.

But at the last minute Wainwright withdrew for business reasons.  There was no time to search for a new candidate.  So, Nancy put her own name on the papers and thus became a pioneer in the era of change that turned county government to progressive new directions.

Having her on the ballot was an outlandish idea to many.  There had never been a woman on the Board.  There were fewer than a handful of women on local city councils although it was okay for women, who were mothers after all, to be on school boards if they weren’t a majority. And besides, how could she defeat a popular businessman who had the ‘establishment’ firmly behind him?

She announced she would win by walking precincts which drew sneers and laughter from the supporters of the incumbent, Al Diaz, from San Pablo. Precincts hadn’t been walked for decades as Supervisors were successful by phoning like-minded business constituents for a little bit of money to buy some election flyers, newspaper ads featuring long lists of supporters, and hobnobbing with cronies at various fund-raising events.

The establishment didn’t take Nancy seriously.  But the voters on whose doors she knocked did.  She won easily and broke the dam for women in elective office in the county.

Two years later, Sunne McPeak of Concord managed the campaign for another newcomer, Eric Hasseltine, and two years after that McPeak ran against Warren Boggess and won herself. Two other newcomers had won in those years.  Together in a four-year period Nancy and her colleagues threw out a board dominated by long-time incumbent, middle-aged businessmen and initiated a complete overhaul of county government.  The fact that Fahden and McPeak were there also encouraged many women to run for posts on their city councils and along with younger, more progressive men, they significantly changed local government.

The newcomers, with Fahden in the forefront many times, were the opposite of business as usual.  They asked questions like “what will it do to the environment?”  When a big developer or industry came for approval of a big project, they wanted details on what the effect on the neighborhood would be, and whether there were safety issues involved or enough infrastructure to support it.

Fahden was also a pioneer in bringing back one of Martinez’s most enduring traditions.  She was the founder of the self-proclaimed “Women for the Waterfront”, including a number of prominent women, who decided to spend time at Granger’s Wharf cleaning it up while the Martinez City Council was paralyzed by a fight over what should be done with it and the rest of the city’s land bordering the Carquinez Strait.  In the process, the hardworking group uncovered two completely overgrown bocce courts close to where Italian-American fishing families had lived near Alhambra Creek.

Under Fahden’s leadership, the WFW dragooned some help including Paul Pagnini to clean up the courts.  Within a few years, captivated new players joined veteran players to form a bocce league which soon became the Martinez Bocce Federation. It was the first and is still the largest municipal league in the country and the world.  The MBF is one of the major players in making bocce ball a popular sport throughout the nation over the past 45 years.


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