Tony Thurmond and kids
Tony Thurmond won the District 15 Assembly seat with 54.3% of the vote. Photo: courtesy Tony Thurmond campaign

Tony Thurmond, a former Richmond city councilman, is driving up to Sacramento today to start his orientation as one of the state’s newest Assemblymen.

Thurmond won a resounding victory Tuesday in the race for the District 15 Assembly seat. He garnered  54.3% of the vote while his opponent, Elizabeth Echols, got 45.7% of the vote.

Thurmond swept the Contra Costa County vote with 61%, and just barely came out on top in Alameda County with 50.4% of the vote.

“We’ve run a campaign on issues about progressive values — education, and environment, and expanding healthcare for those who’ve been left out,” Thurmond said late Tuesday night when partial results showed him in the lead. “So I’m excited that the voters have responded.”

Supporters hugged and high-fived at Tony Thurmond's festive campaign headquarters on Election Night. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Supporters hugged and high-fived at Tony Thurmond’s festive campaign headquarters on election night. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Supporters hugged and high-fived at Tony Thurmond’s festive campaign headquarters on election night. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The election marks the end of Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s six-year run in the district. The position was previously held by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and State Senator Loni Hancock. Thurmond will be the first district representative in decades without close ties to Berkeley politics.

During the campaign, Thurmond said his legislative priorities will be two education-related bills. He plans to introduce a piece of legislation that uses state money to hire school district outreach workers to increase attendance, and another bill that would fund low-income students’ college educations provided they pay the state back after they graduate at rates lower than student loans.

On Tuesday evening, Thurmond’s campaign set up camp at 44 Restaurant and Bar in South Berkeley. At around 11:30 p.m., the mood in the packed room was already celebratory. Between bites of cake, volunteers and supporters hugged and high-fived.

Downtown, Echols was stationed at the United Democratic Campaign headquarters on University Ave., along with the No on R and Yes on BB campaigns. Her canvassers — including Skinner — were making calls up until the polls closed, and her husband and one-year-old daughter came later to watch the results roll in.

“I’m proud of the campaign we ran and so appreciative of all of the people who came together to build this grassroots campaign and put in their time and energy. It means the world to me,”said Echols, former regional director for the Small Business Administration under President Barack Obama. She said it’s too early to speculate about why she lost.

Echols, who has never held elected office, said she hasn’t thought about whether she’ll run again in 2016, or decided her next move.

“I certainly intend to continue to serve our community and work on the issues I care about,” she said.

Echols beat Thurmond in the June primary with 35% of the vote to his 23%.

Echols and Thurmond debated each other in Berkeley on Oct. 7. Photo: Lance Knobel
Echols and Thurmond debated each other in Berkeley on Oct. 7. Photo: Lance Knobel

In the final several weeks leading up to the election, the tone of the race turned antagonistic, with Echols sending out mailers calling attention to the independent expenditures with ties to the oil and cigarette industries supporting her opponent.

While Thurmond’s own campaign raked in $633,494 — compared to Echols’ $861,628 — the outside groups supporting him spent a substantial $612,312. Echols also received $188,803 from political action committees.

Bates, a big supporter of Echols, attributes her loss in part to the independent committees that supported Thurmond.

“There were unsavory groups that really wanted him to be elected,” he said. “They must have thought that she was a bigger threat to their concerns, that she’d be a more effective legislator on fighting those issues.”

But he praised Thurmond’s campaign and said he looks forward to working with the new Assemblyman.

“Having said that, he ran a really good campaign himself. He’s very articulate, he’s a good candidate,” Bates said.

Throughout the campaign, Thurmond said he was shocked to hear that oil and tobacco interests were supporting him.

Recent modifications to term limits mean Thurmond has the opportunity to keep the seat for 12 years.

Skinner, who early Tuesday was optimistic that Echols would win, said she was disappointed to come to the end of her term.

“I loved my job,” she said. “It’s a hard one to leave.”

Many people believe that Skinner will run for the state Senate District 9 seat in two years when Hancock is termed out.

District 15 includes Berkeley, Emeryville, El Cerrito, Albany, Richmond, Pinole, Hercules, San Pablo, North Oakland, Piedmont, El Sobrante, and Kensington.

A record $3.6 million spent in Berkeley campaigns (11.04.14)
Campaign donations reach record levels in Berkeley
Outside money, solar funds in Assembly race (10.22.14)
Op-ed: Big Tobacco and Big Oil have no place in Berkeley politics (10.16.14)
Once-courteous 15th Assembly campaign turns negative (10.10.14)
Berkeley’s influence on Assembly race takes a twist (06.02.14)

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...