In February, a number of candidates running for Assembly District 15 made pitches to progressive groups in Berkeley. From left: Dan Kalb, Cheryl Sudduth, Jovanka Beckles, Judy Appel, Owen Poindexter, Andy Katz, Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto and Ben Bartlett. Buffy Wicks had a family emergency and could not attend. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

There are 12 people running to replace Assemblyman Tony Thurmond for Assembly District 15. District 15 includes Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Piedmont in Alameda County, and El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington, Richmond and San Pablo in Contra Costa County. With such a crowded field, we bring you a short primer on some of the key issues. The primary will be held June 5. The top two vote getters will face off in November.

A Republican joins the race

There is now a Republican running to replace Assemblyman Thurmond, who is stepping down so he can run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Pranav Jandhyala, a UC Berkeley sophomore who is the founder of BridgeUSA, a nonpartisan group that works to bring groups with differing political persuasions together, is now a candidate.

Jandhyala formed the group after “sustaining a concussion at the Milo Yiannopoulos protests last year,” according to the Daily Cal, which first reported his candidacy. Jandhyala is also a member of the Berkeley College Republicans and was one of those who invited Ann Coulter to campus in 2017. He was also part of the Berkeley Patriot, which invited Yiannopoulos back in September to put on “Free Speech Week.” That event was eventually canceled.

Two others also recently announced their candidacies, bringing the total number of candidates to 12. They are Sergey Piterman and Raquella Thaman.

The Obama effect

Much has been said about Buffy Wick’s connection to Barack Obama, as she ran his grassroots campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and worked in his office of public engagement. Her connection to high-powered Democrats will be on display on Saturday when former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly will help open Wicks’ campaign headquarters at 2930 Shattuck Ave., right off of Ashby Avenue. The two are vocal gun control advocates (Giffords survived an assassination attempt in 2011 in Tucson), and are on a visiting and speaking tour of the Bay Area. The event kicks off at 9:30 a.m., with the pair speaking at 10 a.m. Wicks will talk after that.

Polling data shows many undecided

While a recent poll conducted by Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett’s campaign “shows a wide-open race,” Bartlett “holds a slight lead,” according to documents released this week.

Lake Research Partners, a Berkeley public opinion and political strategy research firm, concluded: “While none of the AD-15 candidates are well-known district-wide, Ben Bartlett’s political base in Berkeley gives him a narrow lead over the other candidates, with 10% of the vote on the primary ballot, followed by Jovanka Beckles with 7%, Judy Appel with 6%, and Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto with 6%.” The kicker: “The largest group of voters is undecided at 58%.” While Bartlett’s advantage is slim, his campaign sent out an email with “Very Good News” in the subject line. Read the memo.

Richmond Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles. Photo: Courtesy Jovanka Beckles

Endorsements keep rolling in

Since candidate name recognition among voters remains low, the race to get endorsements is on. Many voters base their decisions by relying on the suggestion of officials they already know. It would be difficult to keep up with all the endorsements, but here are a select few. Not all the candidates have endorsements listed on their websites.

Richmond Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles: Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington, Berkeley City Councilwoman Kate Harrison, Gayle McLaughlin, former Richmond mayor, Tom Ammiano, former CA State Assemblyman, Bobby Seale, co-founder Black Panther Party, Berkeley Tenants Union, Berkeley Citizens Action.

Berkeley Unified School District Director Judy Appel: Former Berkeley Mayor and State Senator Loni Hancock, Berkeley City Councilwoman Lori Droste, Berkeley Vice-Mayor Linda Maio, Berkeley City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, Ty Alper, president of the Berkeley School Board, Beatriz Leyva-Cutler and Karen Hemphill, Berkeley school board members, The Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Van Jones, CNN commentator.

Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb: Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Berkeley City Councilwoman Kate Harrison, Albany Mayor Peggy McQuaid, Noel Gallo, Oakland City Councilman, BART President Rebecca Saltzman, The Sierra Club

Buffy Wicks: U.S Senator Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Rep. Ro Khanna, Howard Dean, former presidential candidate, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, Shoshana O’Keefe, zoning adjustments board commissioner, BART Director Lateefah Simon.

Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett: Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, former Rep Ron Dellums, Elihu Harris, former Oakland mayor, Karen Hemphill, BUSD school board member, Christina Murphy, Berkeley Rent Board commissioner, Mansour Id-Deen‏, president of the Berkeley chapter of the NAACP.

East Bay Municipal Utility District Board Member Andy Katz: Emeryville City Councilman Scott Donahue, AC Transit Director Greg Harper, Albany City Councilman Nick Pilch, Berkeley residents Alan Saldich, boona cheema, Steve Wollmer.

El Cerrito Councilwoman Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto: Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, El Cerrito Mayor Gabriel Quinto, El Ceritto City Council members Janet Abelson and Paul Fadelli,  California Nurses Association, California Legislative Black Caucus, United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...