Sheriff-elect Mark Essick was running on about three hours sleep but already making plans for the future Wednesday morning after Sonoma County voters handed him a victory in Tuesday’s primary election.
No longer worried about an autumn runoff, he had been on the phone with other county leaders talking of what lay ahead and feeling energized, he said.
“I’m just so happy,” said Essick, currently a sheriff’s captain. “I’m just elated that this worked out this way. I’m just really excited about the future.”
Essick took an early and commanding lead in the sheriff’s race as Tuesday’s ballot returns came in and finished the night with 57 percent of the vote in a three-way contest that most observers — including Essick himself — had assumed would lead to a November runoff election.
Instead, Essick garnered more than twice the votes cast for the nearest runner-up, John Mutz, a retired Los Angeles Police captain, who took 24 percent of the vote. Santa Rosa Councilman Ernesto Olivares, a retired Santa Rosa police lieutenant, took 18 percent of the vote.
Just a year ago, Essick said, polling showed him with next-to-no name recognition as he headed into the early stages of the campaign — a time before wildfires would change Sonoma County’s complexion and voters’ perspectives on first responders.
When the October firestorm swept through the region, Sheriff Rob Giordano emerged as the picture of a compassionate leader and calm, determined resilience. And though he declined to run for re-election himself, he endorsed Essick.
“I’m totally speculating here,” Essick, 48, said Wednesday, “but the fires changed a lot of politics in Sonoma County and just the focus of the public’s attention. Rob did such a great job leading the office at that time that he really came out of that a hero, and for him to say, ‘I’m not going to run for sheriff — it’s not something for my future — but I’ve got a guy, his name is Mark,’ that was a huge boost. I don’t discount that at all.”
But Essick, a Cloverdale resident, said he also worked hard at public events and forums to answer questions directly without reverting to buzzwords, and earned public support and endorsements that way.
“I’m certainly not trying to gloat at all, but I think it goes toward people saying, ‘You know what? Mark’s got a vision for the future in the sheriff’s office. He knows what works. He knows what needs fixing, so to speak,’ and they endorsed me.”