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AC Endorsement: Miller, Kearney, Healy for Petaluma City Council

There is no question our politics have become polarized, from Washington to Sacramento to Petaluma’s City Hall. Policy making was once about compromise and give-and-take. Now too often it has now become a zero-sum game — in order for one side to get what it wants, the other side must lose.

Politics have also become meaner, more personal and more toxic as we increasingly live our lives online. Offline, we are able to talk to each other face-to-face, hear different viewpoints, meet our politicians and see that they are human. Online, we hide behind anonymity, we drop bombs and inflame and troll, we seek out only viewpoints that validate our own.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have lived almost exclusively online, increasing this polarization. We aren’t able to attend an in-person local City Council meeting or press the flesh with the candidates running for office to see that maybe they are decent people.

In these hyper-polarized times, one leadership quality is increasingly rare and especially valuable: the ability to compromise. We need to elect representatives who will listen to all viewpoints, who will look toward the center, not just the fringes of their base, who can deescalate the bruising partisan battles.

In the race for Petaluma City Council, three candidates stand out for their ability to see the middle ground. Incumbents Mike Healy, Kathy Miller and Gabe Kearney have effectively represented the interests of a broad majority of Petaluma residents and deserve to be reelected.

The incumbents have the added advantage of experience and knowledge of the inner workings of the city. This is especially important in uncertain times with Petaluma facing a budget crisis, a housing crisis, a climate crisis and a public health crisis all at the same time. We need leaders who are already up to speed and can continue to find solutions to these challenges.

Healy, the council’s longest serving member, has represented Petaluma residents for two decades. A lawyer, he is steeped in knowledge about all of the issues the city council faces, often citing an obscure legal precedent or an old staff report to solve a problem.

As the most senior Petaluma politician, he has represented Petaluma over the years on many different regional boards, including transportation, water, clean power as well as the League of California Cities. He understands Petaluma’s place in the region and he knows the key players who can help the city.

Miller, who has served on the council for eight years, is the lone representative who lives on the east side of Petaluma. As a member of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, she has effectively lobbied for funding to widen Highway 101 through Petaluma while adding soundwalls and leaving space for the Rainier crosstown connector.

The lawyer and mother is a big advocate for bike paths and parks. She was instrumental in achieving the Petaluma Community Sports Fields, which provides a place to play for many local youth sports leagues on the east side of town.

Kearney recently ran afoul of state campaign finance regulators with 16 violations, a lapse in judgment that should give voters pause. He attributed the misstep to a paperwork error, and is working to resolve the matter. At a time when government transparency is under attack, it is especially disappointing to see, but it should not unravel his many years of service to the city.

Kearney adds diversity to the mostly white city council. A Latinx member of the LGBTQ community, he is also 20 years younger than the next youngest council member. He has been active in the Democratic Party and in Petaluma politics since the age of 18, when he lost his first council race but served on several city and county boards.

A state emergency management coordinator, he understands Petaluma’s public safety needs. He also understands the need for climate action to mitigate worsening disasters.

These three incumbents understand that developments, when done right, can enhance the city. They work with developers to extract the most benefits for Petaluma, like much needed affordable housing, bike paths, parks and traffic mitigation.

All three incumbents are liberal Democrats, yet in Petaluma they are considered “moderate” because of their ability to strike a balance. They face a challenge from a slate of self-styled progressive candidates who all have good ideas to contribute to the city, but their rigid ideology does not represent a majority of Petalumans.

Brian Barnacle stands out for his passion for local government and his dedication to finding solutions for Petaluma. The environmental and urban planning consultant has good ideas for reducing the city’s carbon footprint and building affordable housing, and he has a bright future in local politics. However, the lawsuit challenging the Corona Station project that he filed against the city that he is seeking to lead is costing Petaluma money and jeopardizes affordable housing and a second SMART station.

Lizzie Wallack, an architect and mother of two, has a solid progressive platform centered around housing, economic development, transportation, social justice and climate action. A relative newcomer to Petaluma, her candidacy would benefit from some experience serving on a city board or commission.

A former physician, Dennis Pocekay has valuable public health experience. He has compassionately given his time as an activist for several progressive causes, including North Bay Jobs with Justice and the Rapid Response Network assisting undocumented residents.

Robert Conklin, a father, union leader and east side resident, appeals to working class voters. Conservationist Susan Kirks is an advocate for the environment and wildlife of Petaluma.

To rein in divisiveness in politics, we need moderate politicians who will work for the best interests of all residents. In this race, the three incumbents have the experience to lead the city through challenging times.

The Argus-Courier recommends Mike Healy, Kathy Miller and Gabe Kearney for Petaluma City Council.

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