Illustration By Clara Hollowgrass
Twelve candidates vie to fill Tony Thurmond’s seat in the State Legislature for Assembly District 15. Thurmond is running for state superintendent of public instruction in 2018. The primary election for the seat will be held on June 5, and the top two candidates will run against each other in November.
Assembly District 15 consists of Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville and Piedmont in Alameda County, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington, Richmond and San Pablo in Contra Costa County.
Candidate Buffy Wicks has worked in politics for twenty years. She was senior campaign organizer for President Obama from 2008 to 2012. “I’m excited about what can be done at the state level. I think California is uniquely situated to address some of the more challenging things we face in terms of healthcare and education and housing,” said Wicks.
Another candidate, Ben Bartlett, currently serves as Berkeley’s District 3 Council member. “I think being born and raised here and having such a deep history in this area, [Bartlett is] truly very connected to and really understands the community that he’s hoping to represent,” said Lauren Casey, Bartlett’s campaign manager. She had mentioned previously that his family are descended from slaves and he grew up with politically involved parents. His mother was a member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and his father contributed to community organizing initiatives in the Bay Area.
A third candidate, Judy Appel, currently serves as Vice President of the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education. According to her website, she cares about equity in education, civil rights for marginalized people such as the LGBT+ community, and criminal justice reform.
Eleven out of the twelve candidates are Democrats and have similar political ideologies. In spite of their similarities, the candidates have explained that their own core issues, political backgrounds, and upbringings distinguish themselves from their opponents.
Pranav Jandhyala, a member of the Berkeley College Republicans, is the only Republican candidate.
The candidates have received many endorsements, including Senator Kamala Harris for Wicks and CNN Commentator Van Jones for Appel.
As election day approaches, Wicks plans to continue to campaign in as many ways as possible. Currently, Wicks and her team are knocking on doors, hosting campaign house parties, and talking to more voters. She has held 127 house parties and gathered five hundred volunteers thus far.
“I believe in grassroots organizing, and I believe in engaging people in the political process … it’s how we make change in this country,” Wicks said about her campaign approach.
Despite the progress, Wicks said that it has been a trying experience. She is mother to a seventeen-month-old, wife to a husband with a full-time job, and has a day job apart from her campaign.
Several candidates have expressed a common goal to get more people involved in the political process.
“Getting people to talk action and be involved and to stand up for the things they believe in is a victory no matter what,” said Wicks. Casey also described Bartlett’s goal at the end of this election cycle as not just to win the seat, but to raise awareness about certain issues.