THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY campaign for the state Assembly seat currently held by Loni Hancock of Berkeley has produced a diverse set of resumes from four qualified candidates.

East Bay Regional Park District Director Nancy Skinner, an early proponent of California's landmark global warming legislation, would bring solid environmental credentials to Sacramento. Kriss Worthington, an 11-year veteran of the Berkeley City Council, melds his progressive politics with political realism and understands the financial plight of local governments. Phil Polakoff, a Berkeley physician, would bring a doctor's perspective on medical care to the state Capitol.

But the candidate for the seat in Assembly District 14 who impresses us most is Richmond City Councilman Tony Thurmond, who has overcome personal challenges to be a leading advocate on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged.

Thurmond was 6 years old when his mother died of cancer. He moved from the Bay Area to Philadelphia, where he was adopted and raised by a cousin and her husband. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology from Temple University and dual master's degrees in law and social policy and social services from Bryn Mawr College.

His own experience has clearly shaped who he is today. As executive director of the nonprofit Beyond Emancipation, Thurmond and his group helped Alameda County foster youths make the transition to adulthood. Beyond Emancipation runs a health center, provides housing and links former foster youths to education, job training and mentors.


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It's that sort of community activism — not just talking the talk, but walking the walk — that prepared Thurmond well for the Richmond City Council and makes him a strong candidate for the state Assembly.

In his short tenure on the council, he has advocated for affordable housing for police, firefighters and teachers who work in the city; worked to unify East Bay leaders on efforts to reduce violence along the Interstate 80 corridor; supported a proposed city ban on polystyrene food packaging; advocated tax incentives for companies that hire Richmond residents; and pushed for reducing emissions at the Chevron refinery.

While Thurmond is from Richmond, the other three Democratic candidates are from Berkeley. Many think of this as a Berkeley district, but it actually has more registered voters from Contra Costa than from Alameda County. As a result, all four candidates must be mindful of the diverse nature of the district, which stretches over the East Bay hills as it takes in communities from Pleasant Hill through Lamorinda to Berkeley and north through Richmond to San Pablo.

Because of term limits, Hancock must leave the Assembly and is vying for a seat in the state Senate. We like each of the candidates for different reasons, but Thurmond stands out from the pack.