With Tony Thurmond’s decision not to seek re-election, race for the AD15 seat is getting crowded

Tony Thurmond has decided not to seek reelection of the Assembly District 15 seat but to run for the state superintendent of public instruction position. That has prompted numerous candidates to run in his stead.

Tony Thurmond’s announcement that he will be stepping away from the Assembly to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2018 has prompted a number of people to declare their candidacies for the seat.

On Tuesday, Berkeley School Board member Judy Appel formally announced that she will run to represent the 15th Assembly District seat, which includes Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, Emeryville and Piedmont in Alameda County, and Richmond, El Cerrito, Kensington, El Sobrante, San Pablo and Hercules in Contra Costa County.

She joins an already crowded race that includes Oakland resident Buffy Wicks, a former White House official who advised Barack Obama in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, Richmond City Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, and Andy Katz, who sits on the board of the East Bay Municipal Utilities District.

Others possible candidates include Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett, Emeryville Mayor Dianne Martinez and former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.


One name that won’t be on the ballot is that of Mayor Jesse Arreguín. Although he did contemplate running for the Assembly seat, he ultimately decided he could better influence policy as mayor than being one of 80 Assembly members, he said.

Thurmond was first elected in 2014.

The large number of candidates reflects the reality that there are limited opportunities for local politicians to move “up,” and they must jump when a state seat becomes available, said former City Councilman Laurie Capitelli who is now serving as president of the Berkeley Democratic Club.

“It’s musical chairs and there are fewer and fewer chairs,” said Capitelli.

Appel has been elected twice to the School Board in a city-wide vote, which means she already has name recognition among Berkeley voters. She served for 10 years as the executive director of Our Family Coalition, which advocates for LGBTQ families. Appel said, if elected, she would fight for education equity, access to health care, affordable housing, fair pay, and stopping the school-to-prison pipeline.

Wicks has never been elected to office and only moved to Oakland recently. However, she has many Democratic Party supporters, including Obama, who she should be able to tap for help. Wicks is one of the three organizers credited with the design of Obama’s 2008 grassroots campaign. She served as deputy director of the White House office of Public Engagement. She also coordinated Hillary Clinton’s California campaign for President.

The other candidates have extensive government experience. Kalb is serving his second term as an Oakland City Councilman. Beckles has been on the Richmond City Council since 2010 and is a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. Katz has served on the EBMUD board for 11 years.

The last time there was an open seat for the 15th Assembly District was in 2014, when Nancy Skinner was termed out. (She won election to the State Senate in 2016.) Eight candidates ran to replace her; Thurmond won.