Who Will Join Buffy Wicks in East Bay D15 Assembly Runoff?

by on May 8, 2018

Wicks is Ahead Amidst Scramble to Make Runoff

As voting starts in the hotly-contested East Bay D15 Assembly race (covering El Cerrito, Richmond, Berkeley, and parts of Oakland), Buffy Wicks appears to be leading the field. Wickes has raised the most money, has the largest grassroots field campaign, and has the best mail pieces. She also has the most prominent endorsements (Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom among them).

Wicks has brought her community organizing background to the Assembly race, and has held over 130 house meetings. Her national connections to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean are boosting her support.

Even supporters of other candidates think Wicks will lead the field in June. But finishing first in the June primary is no guarantee of election in November. Far from it. This D 15 field is filled with candidates who know how to win elections, and there will be a much larger voter turnout in November.

For over a month I have regularly asked people who are politically engaged about who they are supporting in the AD 15 race. Without exception, not one person could name any candidate except Buffy Wicks, and that’s because they had either got a mailing from her or otherwise heard from her campaign.

These people had not decided to vote for Wicks, but they did not know the other candidates. The politically active AD 15 is filled with people focusing on Donald Trump and national politics who will not pay close attention to the Assembly race until their absentee ballot arrives.

So the next two weeks will be critical for deciding this race.

As I previously wrote, the D15 race features an “All-Star Field.” My early assessment of the race  saw Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto and Dan Kalb as joining Wicks in the top three candidates, with Judy Appel and Jovanka Beckles just behind.

I see the candidates differently today. Here’s my current view of the race.

Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto

I placed Pardue-Okimoto in the top tier due to her strong financial support from the California Nurses Association. In February there were already large billboards for her on Interstate 80, and I foresaw the nurses’ support overcoming Pardue-Okimoto’s limited political experience and lack of name recognition (she was first elected to the El Cerrito City Council in November 2016).

But since February I have seen or heard little from Pardue-Okimoto other than CNA-funded mailings that I did not find persuasive. One has two large photos of Fiona Ma and El Cerrito Mayor Gabriel Quinto; the latter does not influence voters outside El Cerrito and Ma’s influence anywhere in D15 is unclear. The other mailer highlighted the candidate’s position as a registered nurse, arguing that Pardue-Okimoto “could do so much more by taking the fight to keep Berkeley hospital) Alta Bates open to Sacramento.”

That’s an important issue but I don’t think many voters feel they have to elect a nurse to keep Alta Bates open. I’ve seen few house signs for Pardue-Okimoto. Not a single person I asked about the race over the past month had even heard of her.

For those reasons, I no longer see her finishing in the top-two.

Dan Kalb

Since my February story Kalb has secured the coveted Sierra Club endorsement, long one of the most influential in Berkeley. Kalb’s chances have also been helped by the anticipated low voter turnout, which adds the impact of his having his entire Rockridge City Council district inside AD 15 (though my original sense that Kalb would overwhelmingly sweep Rockridge has been revised since I learned Wicks lives there and has her own strong support base).

The combination of Kalb’s Oakland support and environmentalist support throughout the district could carry him to second place. This could depend on the level of campaign advertising Kalb can put forth in the next few weeks.

Judy Appel

Appel’s campaign has secured the California Teachers’ Association endorsement as well as nearly all other teacher and education endorsement. She has key Berkeley endorsements (Mayor Arreguin, former mayors Bates and Hancock) and a lot of individual donors and house signs.

I’ve noted in San Francisco races how voters like to elevate School Board members to higher office (3 current SF Supervisors were on the School Board), and the same is likely true in Berkeley.

Appel will clearly win Berkeley. The question is whether she can get enough votes in her core city to to make up for her lack of name recognition throughout much of the district. If Appel can expand her campaign advertising to reach voters district –wide in the next two weeks, she could connect to enough non-Berkeley voters to make the runoff.

Jovanka Beckles

Richmond City Councilmember Jovanka Beckles bills herself as “Corporate Money Free” and “People Powered.” And if Pardue-Okimoto were not in the race, Beckles would be both the leading Contra Costa County candidate and the leading candidate of color in the race: the same combination that elected Tony Thurmond to the Assembly (Thurmond gave up his seat to run for Superintendent of Public Instruction. He has endorsed Pardue-Okimoto.)

With Pardue-Okimoto strong in El Cerrito, Beckles’s core base is limited to Richmond plus the district-wide support garnered by the progressive “Our Revolution.” Beckles has a lot of lawn signs to promote name recognition, but unless she has recently raised new money to get her name out to parts of the district outside her base she faces a struggle against the other four leading candidates.

Beckles is backed by both SEIU-CA and Equality California, but those groups have not—through the last reporting period—contributed the levels to Beckles that they have done in other races. If they want Beckles to make the runoff, these groups and her other allies must do more.

What Are the Issues?

This field of “progressive” Democrats will not vote the same in Sacramento on all issues.For example, Buffy Wicks is much more aligned with Scott Wiener’s recently defeated SB 827—-expanding housing on transit corridors— than the other top candidates.

Further, on the various candidate websites only Jovanka Beckles highlights her support for repealing Costa-Hawkins. No other candidate even mentions the issue. Democratic Assemblymembers helped kill a Costa-Hawkins repeal bill in January, and a repeal initiative is headed to the November ballot.

Democrats in the State Legislature most often differ from each other on housing and tenant issues. Recall that it was a Berkeley State Senator who cast the key vote to enact Costa-Hawkins, despite his action sharply raising rents in his home district.

So if you wonder whether it makes any difference who AD 15 elects, it does.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His upcoming book on the urban housing crisis, Generation Priced Out, is out in October from UC Press.

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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