Controversial candidate endorsements from the Sonoma County Democratic Party in the Petaluma City Council race have highlighted the Petaluma progressive political faction's apparent effort to gain back majority control of the council by pushing endorsements toward candidates that reflect their political views.
According to three Sonoma County Democrats present at last week's endorsement meeting who spoke to the Argus-Courier on the condition of anonymity due to fear of losing their political membership within the party, Petaluma Mayor David Glass and former Mayor Pam Torliatt used the democratic party to advance their own political agendas and "vendettas."
Following speeches by Glass, Torliatt and State Assemblyman Michael Allen urging delegates to endorse incumbent Vice Mayor Tiffany Ren? and newcomers Jason Davies and Alicia Kae Herries, the county Democratic Party chose to endorse the three progressive candidates, and not incumbents Gabe Kearney and Mike Healy and newcomer Kathy Miller, also Democrats.
"It wasn't about the Democratic Party at all," said one person who has been involved in the county Democratic Party for decades. "It became completely about local projects and advancing personal agendas. How you have a democratic endorsement without Gabe Kearney — one of the most active Democrats in the North Bay — is beyond me. But his lack of endorsement came because he doesn't vote right down the line with Petaluma's progressive faction when it comes to land use and development."
Kearney, who was endorsed by the county's Democratic Committee two years ago during his run for city council, was the only Democrat on the council to be selected by the Obama campaign to attend the Democratic Convention this year. He is also a longtime member of the Sonoma County Democratic Party and the Sonoma County Young Democrats.
The process for selecting candidates for endorsement by the county's Democratic Party starts with an initial committee that interviews each candidate. After the interviews, the three-person committee makes a recommendation to a larger committee, which can either follow the recommendation or make new suggestions. Afterwards, the recommendation is passed onto the entire committee for votes of endorsement.
The initial committee that interviewed all the candidates came back to the second, larger group, with a recommendation to endorse Kearney, Healy and Davies. Even so, the larger committee changed its recommendation to back Ren? and Davies, but did not endorse Herries.
"When it came up at committee, Pam (Torliatt) spoke and encouraged everyone to vote for Ren?, Davies and Herries," said another person who attended the meeting. "Glass spoke more negatively towards Kearney, citing Gabe's decision to not endorse him to the state's redevelopment Oversight Committee earlier this year as a reason for not wanting to endorse him now. It became about personality clashes between Torliatt and Glass against Kearney and it shouldn't have anything to do with who the Sonoma County Democratic Party endorses."
Glass responded that the initial committee that had recommended Kearney, Healy and Davies did not have a single Petaluman on it. The goal was to better represent Petaluma's values, he said.
"I certainly have the right to endorse my political beliefs," he said. "I said that I didn't feel it was an appropriate decision for Gabe not to endorse me for the Oversight Committee, but that wasn't all I talked about. I also talked about the strengths of the other candidates. I said what I said and I'm not shying away from it."