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Democrats stop short of immediate demand for Efren Carrillo's resignation


Political support for embattled Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo crumbled further this week as the Sonoma County Democratic Party said Carrillo should resign if the recent criminal allegations facing him turn out to be accurate.

The party said Carrillo's July 13 arrest raised "grave concerns" for the alleged victim — a female neighbor who made two predawn 911 calls to report a man, later identified as Carrillo, who police said tried to enter her home through a bedroom window.

In a written statement Wednesday, the county's Democratic Party stopped short of calling for Carrillo's immediate resignation, but said the 32-year-old supervisor must explain himself, starting with his court case.

"Efren Carrillo is entitled to present his defense in a court of law," the party's statement said. "However, if the details of this case have thus far been portrayed accurately, we believe that Supervisor Carrillo's behavior fails to meet the standard of conduct we expect from our elected officials, and he should resign."

The carefully worded three-paragraph statement was approved Tuesday night in a meeting of the party's central committee. It represents the local party's first official reaction to Carrillo's arrest last month on suspicion of burglary, a felony, and prowling, a misdemeanor.

For Carrillo, a Democrat, and until recently a rising Latino star in the state party, it is the latest blow to his political standing and any bid to remain in elected office.

On July 30, his four fellow county supervisors condemned in a public meeting the conduct that led to his recent arrest.

The following day, two influential labor coalitions called on Carrillo to resign, saying he had displayed "a pattern of poor choices and bad behavior" that have brought "shame and discredit" on the county.

July's arrest was the second in 10 months for Carrillo, who was wearing only underwear and socks when police encountered him near his home. On Labor Day weekend in 2012, he was arrested in connection with a bar fight in downtown San Diego, though charges in that case were ultimately dropped.

The comments by Carrillo's colleagues and by groups that have supported and donated to his campaigns may carry the most weight.

The reaction by the Sonoma County Democratic Party likely is more symbolic, an assessment that Stephen Gale, the party chairman, acknowledged. The party endorsed Carrillo's opponent in his first successful run for county office in 2008 and did not endorse a candidate in his run for re-election last year.

"Being realistic, I don't expect that Carrillo will read our statement and that he will resign," Gale said. "If he chooses to resign, I think he'll resign for his own reasons, and those will be based on reaction from the public and his constituents and those who would be voting for him in future."

Gale said the party would be looking to the legal process and Carrillo's own statements about his arrest to determine whether or not a full-throated call for resignation would be made.

"The threshold is really not a legal standard. It's a standard of conduct," Gale said. "We're extremely concerned based on the information that's available so far."

Some central committee members said they felt the party needed to stake out a position sooner rather than later.

"I think it was important to stand with the woman involved and say that if this is accurate, he should resign," said Julie Combs, a Santa Rosa councilwoman who serves as an alternate on the central committee and who participated in the meeting.

"We can't go further than that right now because it's a big 'if,'" Combs added. "Efren has a right to due process. He has a right to state his side."

Other party leaders said the statement was premature.

"It's important to show restraint and not rush to judgment at such an early stage in the process," said Eric Koenigshofer, a former county supervisor, central committee member and political adviser to Carrillo. "Nobody really knows what happened yet."

Carrillo is next due in court Aug. 30 to learn what charges, if any, prosecutors will file.

Gale defended the way the statement was carefully crafted, a reflection, he said, of the twin arguments that dominated the central committee's roughly two-hour, closed-door discussion about Carrillo's situation. He described the meeting as well-attended and "somber."

"I didn't have the sense that anyone took pleasure in the discussion we were having to have," he said.

The conversation focused on Carrillo's alleged behavior, whether the party should make a statement and what that statement should be, Gale said.

"There was a strong sense, based on what we know, that the supervisor should resign," he said. "And there was an equally strong sense that we may not know everything."

The committee ultimately voted 17 to 3 in favor of the statement released Wednesday. Gale said supporters and opponents of Carrillo were on both sides of the vote. He and other committee members refused to provide additional details on the roll-call vote, citing party rules for closed-door meetings.

Five members who abstained from the vote are alternates for state and federal elected officials whose districts include the county. A source who participated in the meeting described their sideline stance as somewhat routine.

Before the meeting, the committee received about a dozen letters from individuals and organizations, Gale said. Most called for Carrillo's immediate resignation, including one from the Sonoma County Latino Democratic Club, Gale said.

The Latino club is set to take up the issue itself next week, Gale said.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.