BERKELEY -- Four Democratic Party candidates competing for the District 15 state Assembly seat showed remarkable agreement when responding to questions at the Jan. 23 Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club meeting. None of the hopefuls were able to capture the club endorsement, which requires a 55 percent vote.
The seat being vacated by termed out Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner represents an area roughly from Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland hills, west to Emeryville and north to Hercules, and is bordered on the west by the Bay and to the east by regional parklands.
Among the four candidates, two have held public office: Tony Thurmond served on the Richmond City Council from 2005 to 2008 and on the West Contra Costa School Board from 2008 to 2012. Berkeley resident Andy Katz is president of the East Bay Municipal Utilities District board, where he has had a seat since 2006.
Candidate Elizabeth Echols, an Oakland resident, was the U.S. Small Business Administration regional director from 2010 to 2013, and Emeryville resident Sam Kang is lead attorney for the Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit social justice advocacy organization.
While Wellstone interviewed only Democratic Party candidates -- about 65 percent of the district's registered voters are Democrats -- San Pablo City Councilman Rich Kinney, a Republican, is running for the seat, as is retired anthropology professor Eugene Ruyle, a Peace and Freedom Party candidate who ran against Skinner in 2012. Candidates can't officially begin to file for office until Feb. 10.
The two top vote getters in the June 3 primary, irrespective of party affiliation, will square off in the Nov. 4 general election.
In their responses to questions posed by the club, the four candidates said they supported single payer health care and a complete moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals into shale rock to release natural gas or oil.
All vowed to dismantle Proposition 13 by making corporations pay higher taxes while protecting homeowners.
"When voters passed Proposition 13, they didn't think they were protecting big corporations, like the Richmond-Chevron refinery and the Beverly Hills Hotel," Katz said. "They thought they were protecting seniors, people who were struggling to live in their homes, people who were struggling to make ends meet."
Kang pointed to Silicon Valley companies that he said hide assets off shore and pay inadequate property taxes.
"Guess who makes up the difference. Me and you," he said. "If we fix this problem it will be tens of billions of dollars extra flowing into the state coffers -- we won't ever have to talk about deficits."
Thurmond likened the effects of Prop. 13 to Chevron Corporation's status in Richmond, condemning the oil company for "crying poor and trying to have their property taxes reassessed so they pay less toward school districts, less toward county and city government."
And Echols said, "We need to make sure corporations are paying their fair share." She argued for closing tax loopholes and "going back to funding services that this state desperately needs."
While candidates didn't disagree on issues, they tried to distinguish themselves by their accomplishments.
"I was the deciding vote to stop Chevron from processing heavier crude in our community," Thurmond said of his time on the Richmond council. Kang talked about the advocacy work he and his organization did, recognizing the danger of subprime mortgages four years before the housing crisis.
Echols highlighted her role heading a nonprofit organization that trained low-income students in web design that she said led to "great jobs in the technology industry."And Katz described his role on EBMUD, protecting tenants from having their water shut off when their landlords were facing foreclosure.
While none got the nod from Wellstone, most have racked up impressive endorsements. Echols supporters include State Sen. Loni Hancock and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, as well as the California Federation of Teachers.
Thurmond has the backing of U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Richmond, Oakland Deputy Mayor and former Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, and the California Nurses Association.
Katz is endorsed by former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, the Sierra Club, and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees locals 1444 and 2019. Kang has endorsements from former Assemblyman Warren Furutani, San Francisco City Assessor Carmen Chu and former El Cerrito Mayor Ann Cheng.