PD Editorial: The danger of reaching across the aisle
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
There are always risks associated with forming new alliances, in hopes of ending long-standing divisions.
Both Mayor Ernesto Olivares and newcomer Erin Carlstrom took such a risk on Monday. In an unusual step amid the deep political divisions of today's politics — particularly within the Santa Rosa City Council — they endorsed one another.
In attendance at this unusual announcement was Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, as well as a representative for Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who read a letter from the congressman supporting the effort.
It's an unlikely alliance given that the 54-year-old Olivares comes from a council faction traditionally viewed as pro-business — not that any politician actually claims to be anti-business these days — while the 29-year-old Carlstrom comes from progressive, pro-neighborhood roots — not that any council members are actually against neighborhoods.
The problem of just defining their political bases underscores the challenge of getting at the source of the differences between these groups.
Whatever those differences, Olivares and Carlstrom, to their credit, put them down for the moment — at least, one presumes, for the duration of this election — in hopes of setting a new tone for City Council elections. We applaud them for their effort.
But, as we noted, it's not without risk, particularly for Carlstrom, a first-time candidate who's locked in an eight-way race without the luxury or either name recognition or incumbency, both of which Olivares enjoys.
“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.”
Carlstrom immediately suffered some backlash. Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre, who is not seeking re-election this year, pulled her endorsement of Carlstrom, saying she felt “betrayed.”
Others lashed out as well, including fellow progressive candidates. “I think it's really a marriage of convenience that makes no sense,” said council candidate Caroline Bañuelos.
Yes, Carlstrom and Olivares are guilty of trying to break ranks. Given the squabbling that has paralyzed the council on a raft of issues, it's needed.
It wasn't long ago that councils in other communities, Rohnert Park and Windsor among them, were as divided as the current Santa Rosa council members. But change started in those communities only when someone at some point took the risk of disappointing those in their base who wanted to perpetuate divisions and began working with those across the aisle. The result has been more municipal progress and less political bickering in both communities — and neither has a contested election this fall.
We don't equate a lack of candidates with progress. But we do see the disappearance of slate politics and factionalism as a step in the right direction.
It's a step that both Olivares and Carlstrom took on Monday. We'll see how this plays out. It's possible this may not end up going anywhere. But we hope voters will recognize the courage it required. If not, we're certain to see less of it.
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