The eight-way race for Santa Rosa City Council took a surprise turn Monday when two candidates most political observers expected to be rivals endorsed each other and called for a return to political collaboration in the city.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares, a 53-year-old retired police lieutenant, and Erin Carlstrom, a 29-year-old attorney, announced their respective endorsements at the La Rose Hotel in Railroad Square.
Carlstrom acknowledged the move was both confusing for her supporters and politically risky but said it was necessary to change the tone of city politics, something she says she is committed to.
"I know that this announcement tonight makes some of our friends and supporters uncomfortable," Carlstrom said. "I appreciate that and I understand where it's coming from, but change is uncomfortable."
Olivares said he made a commitment two years ago after becoming mayor to try to bring reconciliation to the City Council and the community, but it didn't work.
"To be honest with you, I didn't get very far with it. It just didn't get any legs under it," Olivares said.
The City Council remains deeply divided between four members who tend to favor boosting businesses and creating jobs and three who generally back protecting the environment and listening to neighborhood concerns. Open displays of political animosity are common on the council.
Olivares said he took note of Carlstrom's campaign slogan of "Together, a new future for Santa Rosa," began talking to her several months ago about what she meant and realized he could work with her, even on issues where they disagree.
He noted she had earlier Monday accompanied him to Sacramento for a talk he gave about gang prevention, and she was "learning" about the issue.
"My hope is the (public's) reaction is, 'It's about time we moved in this direction,' " Olivares said.
Reaction Monday in political circles was one of confusion and consternation.