MEET THE CANDIDATES Elizabeth Echols has never held elected office, but she has experience at the federal level. She served at the helm of the west coast region of the U.S. Small Business Administration, appointed by President Barack Obama. Echols, however, doesn’t have much of a toe hold locally, but she is viewed as the choice of the Berkeley Establishment, which holds significant sway in the district’s largest area. In this race Echols has repeatedly attempted to burnish her environmental credentials, which is significant since Chevron’s Richmond refinery is within the 15th Assembly District. Tony Thurmond is opposite to Echols only when it comes to the general variety of their public service. Thrumond’s experience comes from four years on the Richmond City Council and a term on the West Contra Costa County School Board.
WHAT’S THE BEEF? During the primary and the earlier going of this race, the level of contention was all rainbows and unicorns. In fact, the seven-person primary, which Echols won with 31 percent of the vote, barely registered on the local political Richter Scale. In hindsight, a very close race in numbers and policy was bound to be a powder keg waiting to be lit and leave it to Big Oil, which menacingly hangs over part of this district, to blow up the race and potentially do damage to the entire Democratic Party in the East Bay. As of Oct. 28, an independent expenditure committee named, Alliance for California’s Tomorrow, has laid out $290,000 in support of Thurmond. The IE is funded in part by Big Oil, pharmaceutical companies and lenders, although recent contributions have come from health care interests such as the powerful California Nurses Association. IEs cannot coordinate their efforts for or against candidates, but Thurmond made a point of noting he has no connection to the group. News of IE may have severely undercut Thurmond’s credibility when it comes to the environment, but his record in Richmond shows he was willing to stand up to Chevron. Echols’ campaign quickly moved to highlight Big Oil’s backing of Thurmond’s campaign in a mailer tailored as a warning to voters. Mailers listed the IE’s name and framed as a scheme by outside special interests to influence the district, it asserted, but also included a quote attributed to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee chair. The local party endorsed Echols, but some members of the committee derided the mailer for unduly dividing Democrats in the district and argued the elected body had not authorized such an attack on one of its own. Meanwhile, conspiracy theories persists, including a purely Machiavellian maneuver by Big Oil to use its poor reputation in the district to torpedo Thurmond’s campaign by using the IE to attach some guilt by association to Thurmond.
PAST RESULTS 2014 June Primary: 1. Elizabeth Echols 21,664 (31.1%) 2. Tony Thurmond 16,963 (24.4%) 3. Pamela Price 11,989 (17.1%) 4. Rich Kinney 7,531 (10.8%) 5. Sam Kang 4,630 (6.7%) 6. Clarence Hunt 3,329 (4.8%) 7. Eugune Ruyle 2,426 (3.5%) 8. Bernt Wahl 1,132 (1.6%).
2012 General Election: 1. Nancy Skinner (D) 164,929 (86.8%) 2. Eugene Ruyle 25,167 (13.2%).
CAMPAIGN FINANCE (Through Sept. 30) Echols Cash Balance: $84,335 Since: $75,900. Thurmond $84,698; $86,849.
OUTLOOK Whoever wins will undoubtedly need to work well with Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta, the new top dog in the East Bay Assembly caucus. In fact, Bonta had already emerged as the leader of the caucus only after his first year in office, even though, colleagues like Skinner had much more seniority. Most indications, show Echols or Thurmond will have no qualms with a subordinate role. Nonetheless, this was already a tough race for two evenly-matched candidates, but the flood of IE money and Echols’ ability to clearly mark the mailers for Thurmond as from a tainted IE is probably too much for his campaign to overcome.
PREDICTION 1. Echols 2. Thurmond