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COURSEY: The next campaign is under way

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 12:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 12:56 p.m.

Just when you thought campaign season was over, another one has begun.

This could be in reference to any number of political contests, including the 2016 presidential race, in which I've already heard Paul Ryan declared the front-runner for the GOP nomination. But let's set our focus on a more local level, and on a much closer horizon.

The 2013 race for the Santa Rosa City Council.

In case you haven't noticed, this campaign is already under way. In the 10 days since the last election, it has been mentioned four times on this newspaper's editorial page (and it's mentioned again right here). Behind the scenes, candidates are lining up and the voters are beginning to narrow their picks.

Those “voters” are the six members of the City Council who will remain after Councilwoman Susan Gorin in January takes her seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Gorin will leave the council with two years left on her four-year term, and the rest of the council will then have 30 days to fill that seat by appointment, or schedule a special election.

And, since this is, after all, Santa Rosa, lines already are being drawn in the sand.

An editorial just a few days after the election suggested the council should appoint someone from the west side of town, a section of the community that has been so woefully underrepresented in city politics that Measure Q appeared on this year's ballot in an attempt to remedy the situation. Measure Q failed with less than 40 percent support.

Subsequent letters to the editor have expressed support for the appointment of Caroline Banuelos or Don Taylor, both of whom appeared on this year's ballot for City Council and failed to win office by way of the general election.

Other names are being bandied about behind the scenes.

So what's the council to do?

Luckily, we have a recent example to guide us here because just five years ago the council was faced with a similar dilemma. In 2007, Councilman Mike Martini resigned his seat with 18 months remaining on his term.

Then, a special election to fill the seat was estimated to cost about $200,000. Assuming the price hasn't dropped in the past five years, let's go out on a limb and say this council – like that one – will be loathe to spend that kind of money to put this issue before the voters. So, like they did in 2007, council members will have to come to an agreement on an appointee.

Now, just as then, the council is divided into two factions. And now, just as then, the person appointed by the remaining six will be perceived as bearing the weight that will tip the balance of power between those two factions. So now, just as then, there will be plenty of jockeying for position between the two factions, and plenty of politicking both privately and publically for those wanting to see that balance tipped one way or the other.

For example, the business community will argue that Taylor, a west-side restaurant owner, came in fifth in the race for four seats on the council this year, and thus should be the first person chosen to fill the open seat.

And for another example, the environmentalist community will argue that Banuelos, a city planning commissioner who finished just behind Taylor in last week's voting, would bring experience and ethnic diversity to the council.

Interestingly, these arguments were also made in 2007, when Taylor and Banuelos were among the throng that sought Martini's job. They had both run unsuccessfully for council seats in the 2006 election, with Taylor finishing just out of the running.

In that 2007 exercise, Taylor had the support of some council members, but couldn't get the majority needed for the appointment. The council, fearing that incumbency would give too big of an advantage to whomever they appointed, eventually decided to ask those seeking the seat to promise not to seek election when the term expired. Twenty-one applicants made that pledge.

After a series of public interviews, the council unanimously chose Carol Dean, a resident of the West End neighborhood who had twice run unsuccessfully for council. Eighteen months later, Dean broke her pledge not to seek election to the council in 2008, and she lost again.

Also in 2008, Councilman Lee Pierce – who had been the primary advocate for appointing Taylor in 2007 – asked the council to adopt a policy of choosing the losing candidate who garnered the most votes in the last council election to fill any vacant seats. The council deadlocked 3-3 on the idea, with Dean abstaining, and the issue was dropped.

Until now.

Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.

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