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Possible candidates line up for Assembly seat

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Friday March 23, 2001

The primary’s not until March 2002, but a gaggle of State Assembly wannabes are already crowding ‘round the starting gate, elbows set to jab, coffers ready to fill – term limits loom that will eject Dion Aroner from the 14th District Assembly seat next year. 

A wrinkle in the plans of some among the hopefuls, however, could be redistricting: the boundaries of the district could change before next year’s elections. 

The district runs from North Oakland through Emeryville and Berkeley and up through Albany and El Cerrito to San Pablo and Richmond. The district is heavily Democrat and most observers see the Democratic primary as the race to be won. 

Among those eyeing the seat are Jane Brunner, vice mayor of Oakland, Mark Friedman, El Cerrito city councilmember, John Delrymple, executive director of the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council, Charles Ramsey, West Contra Costa School Board director and Kriss Worthington, Berkeley councilmember.  

Supervisor Keith Carson, who ran  


against Aroner for the State Senate seat in 1998, says he won’t run and AC Transit Director Greg Harper says he’ll only run if Aroner asks him to do so. 

Jane Brunner 

Brunner, 53, won a hard-fought race for her first term on the Oakland City Council – she ran unopposed the second time. In her first race, she had the blessing – and benefit of the fund-raising capacity – of now-State Sen. Don Perata.  

“I haven’t announced,” Brunner said, when asked if she were going to make the run for assembly. “I’m considering it.” 

Like all the others thinking about the race, Brunner characterizes herself as a progressive and points to issues she’d tackle in the Assembly: affordable housing, sustainable development and schools. 

Brunner is known in Berkeley where she taught special education for a number of years. Later she became an attorney and worked for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers. Along with her duties on the City Council, she practices law with the Oakland firm of Siegel & Yee. 

She said her decision rests on whether it looks like she could raise the money she’d need for the race – Aroner spent around $300,000 when she first won her seat in 1996, after her former boss, Tom Bates, was displaced by term limits. 

“I’ll make the decision if I get a good response,” Brunner said. 

John Delrymple 

Berkeley resident John Delrymple is better known in Contra Costa County, where he heads up the Central Labor Council. 

Is he running? “I’m considering it,” he said. “I’m talking to folks about it.” 

Delrymple touts his ability to bring people together. “I’ve had very practical experience in building coalitions,” including bringing labor and environmentalists together, he said. 

Delrymple, 48, saids in Sacramento he would emphasize education, transportation and affordable housing issues. He co-chaired the Measure M committee that successfully won a school bond measure in the West Contra Costa School District. He has worked on healthcare issues, including the single-payer health care initiative. 

Before taking the helm of the Central Labor Council, he was director of the Health Care Workers Union, SEIU 250 for 12 years. 

Mark Friedman 

El Cerrito City Councilmember Mark Friedman, who turns 50 today, ran for the Assembly in 1996 and came in third, 2,000 votes after Aroner and 150 votes after attorney and TV personality Jim Rogers. Will he jump into the fray again? “I don’t know,” Friedman said. “I’ve certainly given it a lot of thought.” 

Friedman, who directs the Alameda County Children and Families Commission, says he’s torn between his job where he feels he can accomplish what he wants to do and what he feels he could accomplish in the Assembly.  

On the commission, he’s responsible for the distribution to early childhood programs of funds from Proposition 10 – tobacco tax money. “It’s a chance to make a real long-term difference in the lives of children born in Alameda County,” he said. 

Like Brunner, Friedman says he would “articulate progressive policy.” He’d concentrate his attention on health care, the environment and tax policy.  

An eventual decision to run would also depend on who else is in the race. Friedman said he doesn’t plan to get into a situation where the progressive vote is splintered. 

On the El Cerrito City Council since 1997, Friedman has served a one-year rotation as mayor. He was chief of staff for former Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan and worked for three years as an aide to Don Perata when he was a supervisor. Perata is now in the State Senate. 

“I’m a proven consensus builder,” Friedman said. “I have the ability to bring people together.” 

Charles Ramsey 

Richmond resident Charles Ramsey, an attorney, is the only one who comes out and says it: “I’m a candidate.” He’s already started collecting endorsements. They include Richmond City Councilmembers Irma Anderson and Tom Butts, as well as former Berkeley Councilmember Mary Wainwright.  

Ramsey, 38, grew up in Berkeley – he’s the son of Henry Ramsey who served on the Berkeley City Council – and graduated from Berkeley High School. Two of his possible opponents characterized Ramsey as “conservative,” but that’s not how Ramsey sees himself. “I’m a progressive,” he said, pointing to stands he’s taken on the school board, where he’s in his second term. He opposed the superintendent’s call to bring in strike-breakers during a teacher’s strike; he supports distribution of condoms in schools; he’s proud that the district gives life-time health-care benefits and domestic partner benefits to its employees. 

He says his support for vacancy decontrol is “progressive.” Vacancy decontrol, which is state law, means that when a tenant has voluntarily vacated an apartment, landlords may charge whatever the market will bear. Vacancy control “is an attempt to equalize the situation,” he said. For example it would help seniors who are property owners in need of a second income. 

On the other hand, “I do not support landlord gouging,” he said. 

Ramsey dropped out of the assembly race in 1996 after an arrest for solicitation of a prostitute. “I thought I’d better focus on my family,” he said, noting he’s married with two children. “I took care of home first.” 

Kriss Worthington 

Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington, 46, says his top issues are health care, education, jobs and housing. “These are the bottom line liberal-progressive issues.”  

He said he would work on these issues in Sacramento, as he does on the local level, but he hasn’t decided whether he’ll run.  

Like Friedman, he says he won’t run against like-minded candidates for fear they would split the vote. “On the other hand I don’t want to hand the seat to someone who does not reflect the voters of the district,” he said. 

He said he hopes progressives will get together and select one candidate that can beat any conservatives in the race. That candidate wouldn’t have to raise as much money as the others, he said, as long as progressives come out to volunteer to walk precincts and work in the campaign. He points out that he won a hard race in 1996 with less money than his opponent. 

Worthington said he’s torn when he thinks about leaving politics on the local level: “I love working on the nuts and bolts – putting trash cans where they need to be,” he said. 


There’s one wrinkle that could curtail the plans of at least two hopefuls: Ramsey, who lives in Richmond, and Friedman of El Cerrito. As a result of the census, the Assembly and Senate districts could be restructured. Usually, the party in power tries to draw assembly lines in its favor. Three among the potential candidates told the Daily Planet they have heard whispers that the following redistricting scenario is a possibility, although those working on the plan to reshape the district at the Assembly level say they won’t begin their work until the census figures are in. 

The scenario described is this: the West Contra Costa portion of the district - El Cerrito to RIchmond – would be lopped off and Lamorinda, which includes Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga, would be added. This would dilute the Democratic stronghold of the 14th Assembly District, but not enough for the Democrats to lose. 

The purpose of the shift would be to add the more liberal Antioch to the conservative 15th Assembly District now occupied by Republican Lynne Leach. 


Not in the running 

Among the surprises in next year’s Assembly race is who’s NOT running – or probably not running: Mayor Shirley Dean and Councilmember Linda Maio. 

It’s been rumored for at least a couple of years that Dean was preparing for an Assembly race, but Monday, she said “No.” 

Then she backtracked, just a little: there’s “maybe a little crack” of a possibility. “I’m still kind of looking,” she said. 

Dean says she can address locally, the issues she holds dear – energy, health care, transportation. “If anything is going to happen, it will happen on the local level first,” she said. 

Similarly, Maio said “I’m not (running).” Then she said, “I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure I’m not.” She said that were she to land a seat in the Assembly, she could “probably get a lot done on affordable housing.” 

But it’s the local level “where the activism is,” she said. “That’s where life happens.” 

And will she challenge Dean for mayor in November 2002? “I’m thinking about it.”