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Political onlookers foresee moderate council

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 8:36 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 8:36 a.m.

Tuesday's election installed a firm moderate majority on the Petaluma City Council, with voters appearing to have chosen the three business-friendly candidates over the three backed by the town's progressive faction — a move seen by some local observers as the public saying it's had enough of political partisanship and acrimony.

Incumbents Mike Healy, Gabe Kearney, and newcomer Kathy Miller, who ran on a slate with Healy, were leading the six-candidate race for three open seats Wednesday morning, accounting for more than 58 percent of the votes with all 24 precincts reporting.

Local political analyst Brian Sobel said that when three candidates with similar views are chosen, it's never by accident. “Voters in Petaluma are very sophisticated,” said Sobel. “They know what the issues are and who the candidates are. People are tired of the ‘my-way-or-the-highway' councilmembers.”

Healy and Miller agreed with Sobel's assessment, with Kearney adding that the results are a clear direction from voters that they want councilmembers to look at individual issues without tying them to political parties or factions.

Mayor David Glass, who endorsed and campaigned strongly for the progressive candidates' slate, disagreed. He said that Petaluma voters chose the three candidates who promised things they couldn't deliver and were endorsed by the Petaluma Police and Fire Departments, without thinking about what they were really voting for.

“I get concerned when voters choose candidates they think are working for public services but they are actually voting to keep powerful unions' pensions in place,” said Glass Wednesday morning. He added that candidates who campaigned on delivering the Rainier Crosstown Connector need to deliver the project and not make what he called “empty promises that have no chance of being achieved.”

As of press time Wednesday morning, the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters was reporting it had more than 35,000 absentee ballots left to count countywide. Vice Mayor Tiffany Renée, who was in fourth place and trailing Kathy Miller by more than 1,000 votes, remained a long shot to win the third council seat.

Healy, who is currently serving his third term on the council, garnered the most votes, capturing 25 percent of Petaluma's support. Kearney, who is completing a two-year appointment on the city council, grabbed almost 17 percent of the city's votes by Wednesday morning, while Miller rounded out the top three at press time with approximately 16 percent of the vote.

Renée was in fourth with 14.5 percent of the vote, while Jason Davies and Alicia Kae Herries, who comprised the progressive slate and were endorsed by both Glass and former Mayor Pam Torliatt, rounded out the bottom with 13.8 and 13.2 percent of the votes respectively.

The election outcome is expected to install a moderate majority on the city council, with Healy, Miller and Kearney joining Chris Albertson and Mike Harris. Mayor David Glass and councilmember Teresa Barrett remain the progressive votes on the council. But Healy said that because there aren't a lot of hot-button issues set to come before the council in the near future, such as big-box development proposals, he thinks council meetings will be much more calm than they've been in the recent past

“It's not like there are a lot of major projects brewing in the pipeline, so I think it's going to be a calmer atmosphere at the council,” said Healy Wednesday morning. “I really see Gabe (Kearney), Kathy (Miller) and me as the center of the council, politically. I hope that we can get into a really honest dialogue over issues that come before the council. That's kind of been missing in the recent past.”

Kearney, a liberal democrat who served as a delegate at the national Democratic Convention earlier this year, received appointment to the City Council in 2011 after Glass' seat became vacant when he became mayor. During his tenure on the council, Kearney's votes have swung back and forth between progressive and moderate interests, with Kearney saying he votes his conscience on each issue instead of being aligned with one faction of the council — a trend he says will continue into his second term.

“We have a group on the council that will be able to work together and have good discussions to move things forward in Petaluma,” Kearney said. “Even if we don't agree, and there are times where Healy, (Mike) Harris and I have voted differently, we still can do it a friendly manner. That's what's important.”

Miller, a relative newcomer to politics who formerly served on the Planning Commission as its chair before that body was disbanded and reorganized by a progressive majority on the City Council in 2009, is a civil attorney and mother who was up early making breakfast for her kids on Wednesday. Though she can be expected to vote in line with Healy on future issues, Miller said that she and all the councilmembers have their own opinions.

“Everyone is not going to agree on everything,” Miller said. “I don't see it as always being a 5-2 vote on everything. Everybody on the council is thoughtful and will make what they think is the best decision.”

Renée, who was seeking a second term on the council, fell out of favor with some of her former progressive backers in town after she voted to appoint Kearney to the council in 2010 and chose to run for congress earlier this year. Renée said Wednesday morning that the county still had between 6,000 and 7,000 absentee ballots to count, leaving her in contention.

“I expect to close that gap,” she said.

Healy disagreed. “I would be shocked if the results in the Petaluma council race change,” he said.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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