Three candidates are vying to become Sonoma County’s next clerk-recorder-assessor and elections chief, turning what is often a sleepy contest for the public office into one of the hottest showdowns on the county’s June 5 ballot.
The field now includes Ray Leonard, the department’s longtime administrative services officer, who the Board of Supervisors passed over when it named Bill Rousseau to the top job in 2012.
Leonard will face two other internal candidates: Deva Marie Proto, the chief deputy clerk-recorder — and Rousseau’s endorsed successor — as well as Rod Marusic, an assessment process specialist.
Other major county posts up for election this year, include the sheriff, also featuring a three-person field — resulting in the first contested race for the office in a quarter century. Supervisors David Rabbitt and James Gore and District Attorney Jill Ravitch also are up for re-election, but they appear to face little or no competition at this time.
The bid for Leonard represents an about-face, after he said he had no plans to run when Rousseau announced his retirement last fall. But Leonard, 54, said some of his colleagues and supporters elsewhere in the county have encouraged him to consider seeking the office, and he decided with his family that “this was the time to do it.”
Leonard said he would draw on his 14 years of experience in the department — and 22 years with the county — as he focuses on recovery from the October wildfires, upgrading the county’s aging election system and community relations.
“My role in working with all four divisions has given me the ability to learn what each division needs,” Leonard said. “We can really benefit from an engaged staff that will work with our community in helping them recover and helping get a new election system that can serve everyone.”
Six years ago, Leonard was the chosen successor of Janice Atkinson, the outgoing clerk-recorder-assessor and registrar of voters, but supervisors chose Rousseau over Leonard and two other candidates from outside the county. Rousseau served the remainder of Atkinson’s term and then ran for election unopposed in 2014.
So far, only Leonard has filed the paperwork required to formally enter the race this year, according to county elections officials. But Proto and Marusic, who both announced their candidacies shortly after Rousseau’s retirement notice, said they would file in the coming days.
Since Rousseau won’t seek re-election, the filing deadline for race is March 14. For county races where the incumbent does file, the deadline is March 9.
Proto, 36, said she wasn’t surprised to be vying against Leonard in the race and that it hadn’t changed her campaign’s approach. In addition to Rousseau, she said she has endorsements from all five county supervisors, which she called “very flattering.”
“It’s a reflection of my work ethic and my commitment to this county,” Proto said. She has held her current post for about 5 years and worked for the county for a decade. Her priorities include tax reassessments of burned properties, updating mailing addresses and voter registration of fire victims and overseeing the county’s transition to a new voting system.
Leonard said he has support from Atkinson, outgoing Sheriff Rob Giordano and some other local elected officials, including Windsor Mayor Deb Fudge. Marusic has yet to earn any high-profile endorsements, but he said he’s pursuing support from local union leaders and others.
Elections technology will be a key focus for whichever candidate ultimately succeeds Rousseau. The county has begun the process of replacing its aging voting system and the registrar’s office is seeking public input as it prepares to select a more modern system through a competitive bidding process. The goal is to have new technology in place to count ballots next year in advance of its full deployment for the primary and general elections in 2020.
Marusic, 53, was an inventor and private-sector employee in multiple fields before joining the county a decade ago. In addition to replacing the voting system, he said he’d also like to improve taxpayers’ knowledge about services available to them and improve relations between the department’s leadership and the rank and file.
“Our office here, I believe, lacks a dialogue, lacks a connection between working personnel and management,” Marusic said.
“Right now there are little sparks of things improving. But I’ve been here for 10 years, and it was like this when I started.”