Distrust among some Petaluma City Council candidates and current office-holders prompted two contenders last week to skip an election forum organized by the mayor.
Mayor David Glass has endorsed two of the six candidates running for election on Nov. 6, Jason Davies and Alicia Kae Herries. Three seats are on the ballot, those of incumbents Gabe Kearney, Tiffany Renee and Mike Healy.
So when Glass coordinated a candidates' night last week at a senior living center, some of the candidates whom he doesn't support grew suspicious that the forum may be a set-up to showcase his preferred candidates.
The misgivings deepened when Healy, a longtime political adversary of Glass, repeatedly sought details about the forum's format and rules.
Receiving no firm answers, Healy backed out. Then followed Kathy Miller, who is running as a team with Healy. Kearney, Herries, Davies and Renee all attended, though Kearney said he also had misgivings without knowing the rules in advance.
For his part, Glass said in emails to concerned candidates that he arranged the forum, but the format and questions would be handled by radio host Steve Jaxon, whom Glass asked to moderate the event.
"With Glass injecting himself so forcefully in this campaign, I was not going to give him the presumption of fairness," Healy said in explaining why he skipped the event. "I would have been willing to go if they'd gotten back to me with details. But I asked repeatedly and just got silence."
Miller said she had another engagement she couldn't reschedule, but also acknowledged she was leery about the apparently unstructured format.
"Every other forum, we had really clear ideas of what would happen," she said. "Given what has been going on with the Democratic endorsements and his endorsements of some of the candidates who are running, certainly it raised a question as to whether the format was going to be impartial."
Glass and former Petaluma council member Pam Torliatt ruffled some feathers last month when they lobbied against Kearney during the Sonoma County Democratic Party endorsement process.
A party interview committee initially recommended Davies, Kearney and Healy. But after Glass and Torliatt argued against Kearney, the larger committee voted to endorse Davies, Renee and Herries, the most progressive of the six running. All are Democrats and the council seats are nonpartisan, but party endorsements can carry some sway.
Kearney said the Oct. 2 forum ultimately was fair, though a bit disorganized. Renee said she felt it was productive and informative.
No additional forums are scheduled. A forum from Sept. 27 is being televised on Petaluma Community Access television.