CONCORD -- When Dan Helix decided to campaign for a four-year term on the City Council, he told his wife of 59 years this: "I'd rather wear out than rust out."
Helix, a retired Army general, finished first in the election of 11 candidates running for two seats, bringing him into a select group of Bay Area politicians who have been elected as octogenarians.
At 83, Helix is certainly among the oldest city council members in the Bay Area, and might be the oldest. Nat Bates, re-elected Tuesday to the Richmond City Council, is 81 and has served since 1967. Thomas McLaughlin, who was elected to the Livermore school board on Tuesday, is also 81.
Former San Pablo mayor and Councilman Joe Gomes was 92 when he retired from council in 2008, serving contiguously since the late 1970s. In Alameda County, the average age of the five-member Oro Loma Sanitary District board is 79.8. The president of this San Leandro-based district, Howard Kerr, is 89, and the rest of the board is 86, 83, 79 and 62.
But to some -- Helix among them -- age is just a number.
"How old was President Reagan?" longtime Concord Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister said when asked about Helix. "Every person is different. He's got energy, he's knowledgeable, he's up to speed on information."
That energy was on display at age 50, when Helix decided to go to Army parachute school. While most servicemen earn "jump wings" in their late teens or early 20s, Helix finished
"He's a standup guy," said friend and campaign contributor Howard Jenkins. "When he decides it's time to do something, he just does it."
Unlike Kerr, Bates and Gomes, Helix is not a longtime elected official. Helix, a Berkeley native who moved to Concord in 1955, served two terms on the council from 1968 to 1976 and then left city politics. He returned in 2010 to fill a Concord council vacancy left by Mark Peterson, who was elected to become Contra Costa County's district attorney.
Helix marvels at how governing has changed over the past 34 years. It was once common, he said, for council members to eat steak dinners and imbibe after meetings, all on the taxpayer's dime; agenda items would be openly discussed before meetings so each knew how the other would vote (a legal no-no). In one instance, Helix said, the entire council and their families traveled to Hawaii for a conference. The tab was picked up by taxpayers.
"It was a totally different time," Helix said.
In this term, Helix said his focus will be on the Concord Naval Weapons Station, where massive commercial and housing development is planned. While on then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's military base retention council in 2004, Helix wrote the report declaring the weapons station as excess to the Navy, paving the way for the city to get the land.
He said his "dream" is to lease to developers the weapons station land the city is set to obtain. Such a lease, Helix said, would provide a steady stream of revenue to the city for years to come.
"The weapons stations makes this time unique and historic in Concord's history," he said. "To be able to create something for the future is truly exciting to me. It really gets me ginned up."
David DeBolt covers Concord and Clatyon. Contact him at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.