East Bay Assembly Race Shaping Up as One of State's Costliest

Candidates in one state Assembly race in the East Bay raised more than $1.2 million in 2017. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

A race to fill an open state Assembly seat in the East Bay is shaping up to be one of the costliest local elections in California.

Campaign finance reports filed ahead of this week's deadline show seven Democrats running in the 15th Assembly District raised more than $1.2 million in 2017, more than any Assembly race in the state.

When Assemblyman Tony Thurmond announced a run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, it opened up a chance to represent one of the state's most liberal districts, which stretches north from Oakland to Hercules, and includes the cities of Berkeley and Richmond.

"It's a plum district for Democrats," said Larry Tramutola, a political strategist based in the district. "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."

The opportunity to hold the seat for up to 12 years in the Assembly has drawn a handful of local elected officials into the race, including Richmond vice mayor Jovanka Beckles, Oakland councilman Dan Kalb, El Cerrito councilwoman Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, Berkeley councilman Ben Bartlett, East Bay MUD Director Andy Katz and Berkeley Unified School District board member Judy Appel.

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But the lion's share of fundraising has come from Buffy Wicks, a former campaign strategist for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Wicks raised a daunting $520,124 since announcing her candidacy in 2017, a haul typically seen from legislative incumbents as opposed to a newcomer like Wicks.

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

Two of the nine Democrats currently running for the seat will advance to general election after the June 5 primary.

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