Race to replace Assemblyman Tony Thurmond attracts large amounts of cash

Buffy Wicks, the former campaign strategist for President Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton who has never held elected office, has raised $520,124 in campaign financing for her run for the Assembly seat being vacated by Tony Thurman.

That is more than three times as much as the amount raised by Berkeley Unified School Board District member Judy Appel, who raised $163,873, according to campaign finance records. It is also more than three times as much as Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, who has raised $156,098, according to campaign finance records.

Andy Katz, an East Bay Municipal Utility District commissioner, has raised $127,249; Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett has raised $106,608; El Cerrito City Councilwoman Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto has raised $100,629; and Richmond Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles has raised $82,868.

Altogether, seven Democrats running for the District 15 seat have raised $1.2 million, making it one of the costliest races this year, according to campaign finance reports filed on Jan. 31. Two other candidates, Owen Poindexter and Cheryl Sudduth, did not file electronic campaign finance statements. Poindexter said in an email to Berkeleyside that he has raised $17,573.

“It’s a plum district for Democrats,” Larry Tramutola, a political strategist based in the district, told KQED News. “History has shown us that if you can get elected to this Assembly seat, you’re probably there until your term limits expire or you desire to go to higher office.”

District 15 spreads over large swaths of Alameda and Contra Costa counties and name recognition, mainly generated through numerous mailings, will be critical in winning. Wicks has never held office, and most of the other candidates have only won in city districts. Appel, though, had to run citywide to be elected to the Berkeley School Board.

Tramutola said while Wicks’ fundraising prowess is impressive, she will have to work hard to make her name known to voters.

“It is an extraordinary amount of money,” Tramutola told KQED News. “I think that her challenge is she’s not well known. She will have to spend a lot to get her name known.”

All nine of the candidates are planning to attend an endorsement meeting on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the South Berkeley Senior Center at 2939 Ellis St., Berkeley. They will be presenting their views to Berkeley Citizens Action, the Berkeley Progressive Alliance and the Berkeley Tenants Union. The event is open to the public although voting is limited to members.

Some of the notable donors to Wicks’ campaign include Doris Fisher, a founder of the Gap, and her sons John and Richard. They donated $4,400 each, as did Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Tom Steyer, the former hedge fund manager and environmentalist, his wife, Kat Taylor, and Craig Newmark, the founder of Craig’s List. Wicks received funds from many people involved in politics, including Anne Filipic, the COO of the Obama Foundation, who gave $500; Gaby Giffords, the former U.S. Congresswoman, who gave $2,200, Jennifer Cox, the chief of staff for Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan, who gave $250; and Jeffrey Giertz, the communications director for Corey Booker, the U.S. Senator from New Jersey, who gave $200. The Govern for California political action committee also gave $4,400. Stephen Silberstein, a major donor to UC Berkeley, gave $4,400. Warren Spieker of Spieker Realty Investment gave$8,800.

Appel received contributions from 347 entities. Matt Gonzales, a former San Francisco supervisor who is currently a public defender, donated $1,000. The Re-elect Scott Weiner for State Senate 2020 fund donated $500. Stephen Silberstein donated $3,000. Jonathan Logan, a major donor to the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, whose foundation employs Appel, donated $4,400. Pasquale Scuderi, an assistant superintendent at BUSD, donated $100. Appel lent $15,000 to her campaign.

Bartlett got donations from 178 people or groups, including $8,800 from Scott Patterson, a video game software executive, $500 from James Wunderman, the president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, $500 from Sean Luse, the COO of Berkeley Patients Group, $250 from David Mayeri, the head of UC Theatre, and $100 from David Hochschild, a California Energy Commissioner. Lighthouse Public Affairs, which handles the PR for Mill Creek Residential, which hopes to build an 18-story building on Shattuck Avenue, donated $1,000, according to campaign finance records.

Dan Kalb got donations from 292 people or groups. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf donated $1,000. Floyd Huen, the husband of former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, donated $250. Sun PAC, a solar energy political action committee, donated $1,000. John Cheney who works with Enera Power Company gave $4,400. He also got $1,000 from Lighthouse Public Affairs. Kalb loaned $34,250 to his campaign.

Katz got 416 contributions, including $250 from former Berkeley City Councilman Gordon Wozniak and $1,500 from Dan Shugar, the founder of NextTracker, a company that makes solar cells that can turn to follow the sun’s trajectory. Katz loaned his campaign $50,000 and his family members contributed another $27,050, according to campaign finance records.

Pardue-Okimoto got 154 contributions, including $8,800 from the California Nurses Association PAC, $4,400 from the Tony Thurmond for Assembly fund; $2,500 from the California Refuse Recycling PAC, $4,400 from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 4447; and donations from other unions.

Beckles got 271 contributions, including $2,500 from the Melvin Willis for Richmond City Council 2016 campaign fund, $1,000 from Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington, $1,900 from Marilyn Langlois, the founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, $1,000 from Nico Enea from Bloom Industries, $1,000 from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 general fund, and $500 from Dan Siegel, an Oakland attorney, according to campaign finance reports.

Thurmond is giving up his seat to run for state superintendent of schools. The top two winners in the June 5 primary will face off against one another in the Nov. 6 general election.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add additional contributors and to restate the correct amounts Kalb and Katz raised. It has also been corrected to say Appel has raised the second highest amount of money, not Katz.