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Two political rivals from Santa Rosa are maneuvering for potential runs for the 1st District seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Susan Gorin confirmed Friday that she is considering a bid for the seat now held by Valerie Brown, who is retiring at the end of 2012 after 10 years as a supervisor.

"I'm not ready to go public with my plans. I'm still in the talking stage," said Gorin, 58, who has served as mayor and as a city planning commissioner and school board trustee. She said she is gauging support among her backers, including labor and environmental groups, health care advocates and some business groups. She expects to make a decision within the next month.

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa Councilman John Sawyer appears to be on the cusp of becoming an official candidate. Sawyer, 56, a former businessman, said previously he was thinking about entering the race. He plans to make an announcement next week.

The potential moves are seen as a significant shakeup in Santa Rosa politics that could pit sitting council members against each other in a contest for a much-prized higher office. Santa Rosa council members are paid less than $10,000 a year, while supervisors make about $134,000 annually, plus about $15,000 in cash and car allowances, while also receiving about $7,000 in health benefits and more than $63,000 in county-paid retirement benefits.

"It's a professional leap from part-time work to a full-time political job," said Brian Sobel, a former Petaluma city councilman and current political consultant. "There's a great deal of autonomy because, as a supervisor, you are the only elected official at the county representing an entire district. From that standpoint, they have a lot of latitude."

Gorin and Sawyer are in their second terms on the Santa Rosa council. Gorin's term expires at the end of 2014; Sawyer's is up at the end of next year.

A win by either in the supervisorial race would shift the political base of the 1st District away from its historic center of Sonoma Valley.

The two are seen as staunch rivals representing the county's dueling political camps, with Gorin, the liberal, pro-environment figure and Sawyer, the centrist, business-friendly representative.

In a heated city election contested along those lines last year, Gorin defended her council seat but was bounced from the majority in favor of a four-member alliance featuring Sawyer.

Any race that includes the two likely would result in some level of "spill over" into matters before the city council, said Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan.

"This can't help but affect the ongoing battles at the city of Santa Rosa," he said.

Others political observers disagreed, saying Gorin and Sawyer likely would avoid sparring inside City Hall.

But most experts agreed that entry of one or both council members would dial up competition for the 1st District, including the scramble for campaign cash and endorsements.

Declared candidates in the race include Mark Bramfitt, an energy consultant and board member on the Valley of the Moon Water District and Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, and Gina Cuclis, a communications consultant and former Sonoma planning commissioner who resides in Boyes Hot Springs.

With a third candidate, the contest would likely go to a runoff. And if Gorin and Sawyer run they would be regarded as heavyweights, political observers said. Gorin likely would cut into the support base sought by Cuclis and Bramfitt, while Sawyer could claim many of the business-backed endorsements, observers said.

"A Gorin-Sawyer battle swamps much of the resources and attention given to a Sonoma-based candidate," said McCuan, the SSU political scientist. "That will make some people in Sonoma Valley uncomfortable."

Both Santa Rosa officials face obstacles. The tradeoff for their years of political service is that they come with a longer list of "negatives," controversial votes and stances that could turn voters toward a lesser known politician.

Gorin faces a more immediate obstacle. Because her Fountaingrove house sits just inside the county's 3rd District and would remain there even after county redistricting this year, she would have to move into an area of east Santa Rosa within the 1st District.

"If I decide to run, it's find a house and move quickly. I will have to do that," Gorin said.

She said she and her husband have been considering downsizing to a smaller home in Santa Rosa. She conceded that a move that would qualify her to participate in the 1st District race could stir controversy.

Political observers concurred.

"It's going to be a campaign issue. There's going to be blowback," said Sobel, the Petaluma-based political consultant.

The 1st District seat has traditionally been held by someone based in Sonoma or Sonoma Valley, although redistricting has pushed the district farther west into Santa Rosa. It currently includes all of Sonoma Valley and extends north to east Santa Rosa, including Oakmont, Bennett Valley and Rincon Valley. By next year, because of redistricting, it is set to include more of the northeastern corner of Fountaingrove.

The race likely will challenge candidates on both sides of the geographical divide, observers said.

If they run, Gorin and Sawyer "have work to do in Sonoma Valley establishing name ID, connecting with people," said Sobel. "Conversely, the candidates in Sonoma have to do the work in Santa Rosa."

While they contemplate their chances, Gorin and Sawyer both disputed that any race involving them would turn into a referendum on Santa Rosa politics, which many see as divisive of late.

"I think it would focus on the individuals and the jobs that they have done and will do (in office)," Gorin said.

Sawyer struck a similar tone.

"I think that no matter what happens in this race, I believe that both the candidates and the results could be historic," he said. "When was the last time there was this much interest by Santa Rosa candidates to serve in 1st District? I can't remember."

<NO1><NO>The 2012 ballot also will include two other supervisorial district seats: the 3rd, held by Shirlee Zane, and the 5th, held by Efren Carrillo.

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