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Former Press Democrat columnist and SMART rail spokesman Chris Coursey announced Wednesday he's running for Santa Rosa City Council.

The public relations consultant said that after years of reporting and commenting on issues affecting the city, he now wants to take a direct role in finding solutions.

"I'm reporting for civic duty," Coursey said. "I want to be involved in my community in a way that can effect change."

The election isn't until November 2014, but Coursey said he thought it wise to get an early start to his first campaign for public office.

Coursey is the first candidate to announce a campaign for one of three seats up for grabs on the seven-member council. Incumbents Robin Swinth, Jake Ours and Scott Bartley, Santa Rosa's mayor, have not announced whether they plan to seek re-election.

Coursey, 58, worked for The Press Democrat for 27 years, from 1980 to 2007, when he took a position as community outreach manager for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District.

He left that job in 2011 to become a freelance writer and public relations consultant, returning to Pressdemocrat.com as a blogger. He gave up that position recently in preparation for his council run, he said.

He first gave public service serious thought last year when a vacancy was created by Susan Gorin's election to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, he said. Someone suggested he run for her seat, but he decided the time wasn't right.

The idea came up again earlier this summer and, after speaking to politicians such as Gorin and City Councilwoman Julie Combs and campaign consultants including Terry Price and Herb Williams, he decided he was ready, he said.

His campaign consultant is Stephen Gale, the head of the Sonoma County Democratic Party and chairman of the city's Public Utilities Commission.

Coursey said he doesn't consider himself connected to any particular political camp, but rather as someone who can appeal to all residents.

"I think the citizens of Santa Rosa and voters have made pretty clear that they would like to see a council that focuses on solutions that work for everybody," he said.

And yet as someone who has written about the city's civic life for years, he has taken strong positions on a range of issues.

An avid cyclist, Coursey has advocated for greater connectivity in the city, including bicycle and pedestrian pathways. He's also a strong proponent of the SMART train and believer in transit-oriented development. He supports the reunification of Old Courthouse Square and the annexation of Roseland, and said his campaign will focus on identifying funds for those efforts, as well as parks and street maintenance.

He also said he's got ideas for how to grow the economy and create jobs, such as working to fill up some of the city's vacant office space and leverage the restoration of rail freight service to boost manufacturing jobs in the area, he said.

"I think that we can grow the economy with good jobs and with environmentally sound policies," he said.

Coursey has been married twice, losing his wife Theresa to cancer in 2010. He has four grown children: stepson Andrew Gilbert of Portland, Ore.; stepdaughter Diana Gilbert of Windsor; and Colleen and Alex Coursey, both of Santa Rosa.

He has been dating 3rd District Supervisor Shirlee Zane for about two years, he said. He described her as his "girlfriend." The two live separately.

Interests of the county and city frequently intersect on policy issues. Zane, for example, forcefully urged the Santa Rosa City Council to join the county's public power agency, Sonoma Clean Power.

But Coursey said Zane's influence over him would be no greater than other residents.

"If she shares her opinions with me about issues, I'll give her the same consideration I'd give any of my constituents," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.

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