Berkeley’s influence on Assembly race takes a twist

California State Capital. Photo by Thomas W. Toolan, Wikimedia Commons

California State Capital. Photo: Thomas W. Toolan/Wikimedia Commons

By Kate Darby

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s primary election for the District 15 Assembly seat, history is in the making in Berkeley. For the first time in several decades, this assembly race doesn’t include a candidate with direct ties to Berkeley City Hall, though one has garnered a slate of endorsements from familiar faces there.

Current District 15 Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley is termed out of office at the end of the year, opening the door to an energized contingent of candidates interested in her seat. The 64% majority Democrat district covers a swatch of the East Bay from north Oakland to Hercules, including the cities of Berkeley, Emeryville, and Richmond.

A total of eight candidates are running for the seat. The top two vote getters on Tuesday advance to November’s general election, regardless of party affiliation. Of the eight, five are Democrats, one is a Republican, one belongs to the Peace and Freedom party, and one is a “none.”

They come from Richmond, Oakland, Emeryville and San Pablo, with backgrounds in nonprofit youth management, small business ownership, federal Small Business Administration management, academics, civil rights law, civil rights organizing, and classroom teaching.

In a twist, none of the candidates have held elected office in Berkeley, or worked for, or been married, to an elected Berkeley official. This is a change from the past, where a string of interconnected Berkeley politicos held the Assembly seat.

The chain started with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who was elected to the Assembly in 1976, to Dion Aroner, his former chief of staff, elected in 1996, to Bates’ wife, former Berkeley mayor and current State Senator Loni Hancock, elected in 2002; to Skinner, a former Berkeley city councilwoman and close ally of Bates’, who was elected in 2008.

California’s term limits, first adopted in 1990 but modified in 2012, state that officials can serve a total of 12 years in the state legislature in any combination of two-year assembly or four-year senate terms. Both Bates and Hancock went from the Assembly to the State Senate. Aroner ran for State Senate in 1988, but lost to Don Perata.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner. Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner. Photo: Marc Thomas Kallweit

Skinner has already announced she is running for State Senate District 9 in 2016, when Hancock terms out.

While 2014 candidate Elizabeth Echols, who worked for the Obama administration as regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a senior advisor for clean tech and energy, was raised in Berkeley and has been endorsed by Bates, Hancock, and Skinner, as well as the state Democratic party, she doesn’t hail directly from city hall. A resident of Oakland, Echols has never held elected public office.

Tuesday’s race is competitive as gauged anecdotally by a recent upsurge in campaign literature, lawn signs, phone calls, and fundraising. Berkeleyside isn’t aware of any recent public polls.

Echols is among the leading candidates with strong backgrounds in community and public service. Others include Tony Thurmond of Richmond, who works as a youth education director for the Lincoln Child Center and served on the Richmond City Council and the West Contra Costa Unified School District (and is endorsed by Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom, among others); Sam Kang, a lead lawyer at the Greenlining Institute, a civil rights organization (endorsed by state insurance commissioner Dave Jones and Emeryville Mayor Jac Asher); Pamela Price, a civil rights attorney with her own firm (endorsed by former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Angela Davis); and Clarence Hunt, an Oakland small businessman.

These are the candidates raising the most money, according to campaign finance reports. From Jan. 1 to May 17 of this year, Echols’ contributions came to about $154,000, followed by Thurmond at $127,000, Price at $116,000, Kang at $91,000, and Hunt at $62,000. This doesn’t include some late contributions that haven’t been tallied  yet.

[See below for a list of all candidates with links to their websites for details on their positions, background and endorsements.]

It’s no surprise in this predictably left-leaning district that the front-runners are all Democrats with similar progressive takes on most issues, making it tough for voters hoping to hang their vote on substantive differences. This is also hard for candidates trying to distinguish themselves. Job creation, clean energy, improving schools, increasing affordable housing — all are shared themes.

Record low voter turnout is predicted for June 3. This usually means only the most motivated voters make it to the polling booth or drop their ballot in the mailbox, said Jack Citrin, a professor of political science at UC Berkeley and the director of the university’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

And they’re usually long-certain of their choices, and not easily swayed by last-minute campaigning, he said.  “They are the habituals. [They] certainly tend to be more loyal to the party, and older too.”

Take a look at all eight of the candidates for Assembly District 15 for more on their backgrounds, positions, and endorsements.

Clarence Hunt, Democrat, small business owner

Eugene E. Ruyle, Peace and Freedom Party, retired anthropology professor

Tony Thurmond, Democrat, youth education director

Elizabeth Echols, Democrat, presidential jobs advisor

Pamela Price, Democrat, civil rights attorney

Sam Kang, Democrat, civil rights organizer

Rich Kinney, Republican, city council member (San Pablo), teacher

Bernt Ranier Wahl, no party, scientist-entrepreneur-professor who ran ran  for Berkeley mayor in 2012.

In addition to the assembly primary election, several state and county races and measures are on the ballot.

Don’t know where to vote? Find your polling place on the Alameda County election’s website.

[Correction: Jeff Adachi is the lead public defender in San Francisco, and one of the candidates for the assembly seat is Pamela Price. Jac Asher is the mayor of Emeryville. The story has been updated to include these corrections.]

Do you rely on Berkeleyside for your local news? You can support us by becoming a Berkeleyside Member. Choose either a monthly payment or a one-time contribution. Help make your independent local news source sustainable for the long term. 

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • guest

    If you’re happy with everyone on the Berkeley city council you have the most schizophrenic political beliefs on earth.

  • guest

    So why don’t you link us to the right ones, John? Why would you expect anyone trust your summaries when you clearly have an axe to grind?

  • Guest

    Agreed. None of what I read about any of them told me much, but Kang’s at least rose above meaningless electioneering fluff.

  • Grumpy

    And also, “gauge”, not “gage”.

  • Margie

    Why didn’t the writer mention that Echols used to be a Google executive, according to her website?

  • emraguso

    Thank you.

  • X

    Yes, by all means, let’s assess candidates based on their physical appearance.

  • Completely_Serious

    Last night we got a robo-call for Clarence Hunt. He claims to have single-handedly created 12,000 jobs! That’s a lot of jobs!

    One job he didn’t create in CA15 was the robo-call job. Caller ID said it came from Las Vegas. That’s not in CA15, but it is a low tax, low worker’s right, no sales tax jurisdiction. Hmmmmm.

    Personally, I liked the Echols material that came in the mail. But if she’s got the Machine behind her, I can’t support her, either. If endorsements matter, hers hurt, at least in my mind.

    And Thurmond gets no vote from me based on the company he keeps — Harris and Newsom.


    I’m nostalgic for a centrist political discourse in the East Bay.

  • mayIsuggest

    This would have been more useful to me last night, when I filled in my ballot. I heard on NPR this morning 50% of ballots were expected to be mail in, so I suspect many people are in my position. To the writers at Berkeleyside and elsewhere, may I suggest covering this a bit earlier next cycle.

    At the state and national level, you can’t hide from election coverage months or even years ahead, and nobody wants that here, but a little bit of local coverage in the weeks before the election would be quite helpful.

  • mabel

    If Harris and Newsom aren’t centrists, who is?

  • guest

    Centrists? Slimy nepotists is more like it.

  • bgal4

    What specifically are you happy about? Why are you satisfied with the state of the city?

  • emraguso

    Unofficial results show Echols (35%) in the lead, followed by Thurmond (22%), followed by Price (15%). The top two will advance to November’s election. See more results at

  • emraguso

    Unofficial results show Echols (35%) in front, followed by Thurmond (22%), followed by Price (15%). The top two will advance to November’s election. See more results at

  • EBGuy

    My guess is that the public employee union money will flow to Thurmond (and independent expenditure committee proxies) and Echols will have access to some deep (business) pockets. Maybe we’ll actually get some real debate about the pension black hole. Welcome to the (top two) future.

  • Whoa Mule

    Your guess would be wrong. Echols and Thurmond are both endorsed by lots of employee’s unions. They both claim to be endorsed by BPOA and California Federation of Teachers. It’s a Syrian style election.

  • EBGuy

    I stand by my prediction below that Echols will run more centrist than Thurmond. Will be interesting to see how they try to differentiate.

  • mabel

    Pamela Price and Sam Kang got respectable numbers–I imagine their supporters will move to Thurmond for various reasons. Price was endorsed by Gus Newport.

  • Donor

    And Berkeleyside provides zero coverage of Tuesday’s election results? Shame on you — too much focus on food and crime. What are you thinking?

  • emraguso

    We actually did provide the results of the election in the comment below, on the night of the election. Did you know we have one full-time staff writer? We think it’s much more critical to provide coverage of city council meetings and other issues in town — much more broadly than food and crime — than to repeat coverage you can easily find elsewhere. That just would not be a good use of our resources and would not serve our readers.

    If you think we’re only writing about food and crime, please spend some time on our “all the news” page:

  • Donor

    Emilie Raguso, The day after the election the Berkeleyside feed ran 5 stories: one on a gelato shop, one on the Alembique Apothecary, you wrote about a knife-wielding incident, and the 2 other stories were about the city council’s inaction on a minimum wage task force, and a piece on BOSS, a local nonprofit. No mention of the election or its results — and this is the first time there’s been a really open seat, not contested by an elected incumbent of some sort, in memory. Turnout was shockingly low — and local media like Berkeleyside’s failure to engage with the election, in terms of interviewing candidates, analyzing issues — played into the apathy reflected in the turnout. I do rely on Berkeleyside for my local news — I certainly don’t rely on the Voice or the Chronicle, where there is almost no news of Berkeley. Nor on KPFA. And I support you financially because I learn from Berkeleyside. But I’m very disappointed when you ignore electoral politics. Please do a better job in the future, I depend on you.

  • emraguso

    Hello! We definitely do appreciate your thoughts on this. We totally agree that electoral politics are hugely important, and have been writing about them for many months as they pertain to specifically Berkeley issues. We’ve already posted dozens of stories and several community op-eds related to the November 2014 election ( We will continue to cover Berkeley elections closely. For regional stories, however, we just don’t have the resources if other media are covering those races. It sounds like it was your experience that regional media did not cover the races well enough in advance, which is unfortunate. Every day we make difficult choices about what we can or must cover. We’ll certainly keep your feedback in mind for the future. Thank you for your support, and for taking the time to share this suggestion.

  • emraguso

    Also, for what it’s worth, we also covered City Council from 5:30 PM until midnight Tuesday via live tweets. We have since posted numerous stories about council and have more coming. It’s probably not the most accurate thing to generalize from a single day of our coverage. That said, I agree that those are both big topics for us, because people have shown in many ways that they are interested in those areas. We regularly cover many other topics issues though. Sorry we let you down on election day, but please know we are doing our best and do take your concerns to heart.

  • Donor: You are leaving a comment on a story about electoral politics, which shows that we did at least provide some coverage of the Assembly race. And we have already started covering the 2014 Berkeley elections (see:, and will continue to do so extensively, just as we did in 2012.

    You picked one day of our coverage which, ironically, I thought demonstrated fairly well our breadth of coverage for just 24 hours — a local crime, food, Berkeley business round-up, a local educational nonprofit, and the hot-button issue of increasing the minimum wage.

    I would like to tell you we will do more on regional politics, but it would not be true. We simply don’t have the capacity. We need to draw the line every day on what we cover as we are a tiny, under-resourced operation with just one full-time reporter. We really appreciate your financial support. We just need a lot more people like you, then we can all watch our coverage soar!

  • We should have had Tuesday’s results, you’re right. I guarantee that we’ll be all over the Berkeley races in the November election.