The race for AD 15 offers a clear choice
Dynamic. If I had to chose just one word to describe Tony Thurmond, that’s the one I’d pick. Thurmond is certainly electrifying. He can entrance a crowd. When my kids, at 12 and 9 already jaded by a life lived amidst politicians, saw him give his speech at the Democratic pre-endorsement meeting back in February, they were enthralled, inspired. Move over One Direction, here is Tony Thurman. He has passion. He has heart. He cares.
A month later, over coffee here in San Leandro, I come to understand what my children saw in Thurmond. I was suspicious at first, I thought he might be a performer, a preacher type that knows what to say to make people clap and sing hallelujah (and yes, I’m fully aware of the racist connotation of that thought). But on a one-to-one basis I noted no deceitfulness, no attempts at an emotional seduction. This is a man who knows who he is, has accepted himself and knows what he wants. He is a man with a mission.
His mission, put simply, is to help children. He wants to improve their lives, light up their paths to success, give them opportunities. His story is, by now, well known in political circles and still compelling. He was born in California to a Panamanian mom and an army dad who left for Vietnam and never came back. His mother died when he was a child, and he was raised in Philadelphia by a young cousin. As a Hebrew Pentecostal Afro-Latino growing up in a black working class neighborhood, he was somewhat of a misfit, and yet found a sense of community and belonging that he continued to seek as an adult. He finally found it in Richmond. He lives there with his two beautiful girls. When all is said and done, what he wants is for them to be proud of their daddy.
Currently, Thurmond works as Senior Director of Community and Government Relations at the Lincoln Child Center, where he creates and oversees programs for truancy prevention, parenting education, school-based mental health services and support services for foster youth and families. His work with imprisoned youth led him to establish a business academy where they can learn skills that will actually lead to a job when they get out.
Thurmond learned early that while he could help kids one-on-one and affect perhaps hundreds through his job and volunteer activities, his impact would be much greater in government. He served a term in the Richmond School Board and another in the City Council, but it’s in the Assembly where he believes he can have the most impact. The right policy, the right state law could improve the life of millions.
We talk about other issues, he’s pro-environment, anti-fracking, pro-abortion, pro single-payer healthcare, pro-civil liberties. While his goal of helping kids is central, he believes they should not be abandoned as adults. “Give people training and a job, and they won’t go back to jail,” he says. He takes crime seriously, in Richmond violent crime has been radically reduced by getting cops off their cars and into the streets, getting to know the neighbors, building trust. He works well with the police, who have endorsed him. He says they respect him because he’s a straight shooter. Then again, the East Bay Express just called the Richmond’s Police Chief “the most progressive police chief in the Bay Area” in an article titled When Liberals Take Control of Police.
If elected, Thurmond will bring another quality to the job: an ability to speak with anyone as an equal. Just as important, he is able to listen and translate other people’s experiences into something that he can process and act upon. Thurmond oozes humanity in the very best sense of the word.
Thurmond’s opponent in the Assembly District 15 race is Elizabeth Echols. She is a nice lady and has had an impressive career as Director of Public Policy at Google and later as Regional Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. I have served in the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee with her for almost four years. I like her, but in all that time, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a word during a meeting, express an opinion, advocate in favor or against a policy, a resolution, a position. She has not stood up for anything, literally. I am afraid that if elected to the Assembly, she will repeat that pattern. AD 15, a district with a diverse, educated and socially committed population, deserves a representative who will stand for them.
I have confidence that Tony Thurmond is that person.