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Barrett elected mayor as progressive wave sweeps Petaluma

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Teresa Barrett, a progressive city councilwoman, will become the next mayor of Petaluma, scoring a decisive election victory Tuesday over challenger Mike Harris, a former councilman.

With ballots in all 22 precincts counted, Barrett led the race for mayor with 52 percent of the vote. Harris trailed with 43 percent, while political newcomer Brian Powell had 4 percent.

Besides choosing a new mayor for the first time in eight years, Petaluma voters flocked to the polls Tuesday and selected three City Council members in an election that will determine how Sonoma County’s second-largest city develops over the next two years.

“I certainly think it’s a call to look at how we are developing,” said Barrett, 70. “People are concerned with how we are growing.”

The race became a referendum over how Petaluma should develop in the future. The progressive-leaning Barrett favors a measured approach to new construction while Harris, 47, a Republican-turned-independent, is more development-friendly.

With more provisional and mail-in ballots still to be counted, it seemed unlikely that Harris would overcome the more than 1,500 vote deficit. Harris, who lost the 2014 mayoral election to David Glass by 84 votes, said he called Barrett Wednesday morning to concede.

“I offered her my congratulations and wished her well,” said Harris, an executive for a financial company. “She has my full support to move Petaluma forward.”

The race was marked by an influx of outside spending for the first time. A coalition of big oil companies spent about $62,300, mostly on mailers to support Harris. It may have had the opposite effect, Harris said.

“Unfortunately, we had outside influence, but hey, that’s politics,” he said.

Barrett said she wants to investigate a series of robo calls that residents reported receiving in the campaign’s final days urging them not to vote for Barrett and council candidate D’Lynda Fischer.

“The robo calls really did backfire,” she said. “I really want to pursue that and not let it drop. I don’t want that in local politics. It’s just ugly.”

Turnout was high in several polling places across the city, fueled in part by an opportunity to weigh in on national politics, where President Donald Trump and Republicans faced a challenge from Democrats for control of Congress. At a polling place at City Hall, spa consultant Karen Ray cast a ballot for Rep. Jared Huffman, a Democrat who faced scant opposition.

“Mainly, I want to get the president out of office,” she said. “I wanted to send a message of Democrat support.”

Young people turned out to weigh in on the mayoral race. Conor Bihn, 25, a restaurant worker, said he voted for Barrett because he likes her progressive political stance on environmental issues.

“I just feel like her policies are more in line with my beliefs,” he said. “I think she will be great for the city.”

Dave Schaefer, 59, a civil engineer, said he voted for Harris because of his work with nonprofits in Petaluma.

“He’s vested in the community,” he said. “He doesn’t have a hidden agenda.”

At Casa Grande High School, with two separate precincts sharing the multi-purpose room, volunteer Elizabeth Sheehan said they experienced a “huge rush” of voters swarming the building around 6:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the polls were even open.

“We had lines waiting for a booth,” said Sheehan, who has been volunteering at polling locations for 10 years. “We had people sitting at tables, on the floor, up on the stage.”

Results were slow to trickle in Tuesday night, and the race was not determined until early Wednesday morning. Barrett said she was elated by the result.

“I was pretty surprised,” she said. “I didn’t expect to win by that big a margin. It feels great.”

Harris, who was taking down his campaign signs Wednesday, said he will stay active on community boards like the Chamber of Commerce and Petaluma Educational Foundation. He said he does not plan on running for office in the near future.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “I really enjoy working with nonprofits and staying involved in the community.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)