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Miracles do happen. After weeks of futility, the Petaluma City Council on Monday managed to break the deadlock and fill a contested vacancy on the council.

The compromise appointment was both surprising and welcome. Absent a seventh council member, a divided council faced two years of tie votes and turmoil — not the best option for a city that is broke and facing chronic revenue shortfalls.

For once, a majority of the council came to understand that the well-being of the city requires a council able to make decisions about the future.

The newest council member, Gabe Kearney, 29, will have to prove he is up to the task. But he brings a fresh perspective to the politics of a city dominated by the same personalities for a very long time.

People worried about his inexperience might ask themselves: Have his elders done such a bang-up job of managing local government that the council shouldn't try someone new? Just now, Petaluma is a city without the budget reserves necessary to buy a good used car.

Kearney is also free of the baggage associated with city's perennially angry politics. For years, the usual suspects have spit venom at each other. They are called the pro-business and slow-growth factions, but they are really the gangs of people who don't like each other.

On Wednesday, The Press Democrat Editorial Board praised the council's statesmanship but chided Mayor David Glass for failing to interview all the candidates for the vacancy.

Glass responded with a rant, telling editorial writer Jim Sweeney that the editorial was "pathetic," and inaccurate because it failed to acknowledge the applicants the mayor contacted by phone or e-mail.

Sweeney recounted all this on the Inside Opinion blog at http://watchsonomacounty.com.

In a comment added to the post, a Glass supporter endorsed his criticism and said The Press Democrat and its sister paper, the Petaluma Argus-Courier, are "the equivalent of Fox News."

The Press Democrat can be many things to many people, but Fox News?

Here was the trifecta of Petaluma politics in recent years — anger, hyperbole, insult.

(On Thursday, the Argus-Courier reported that Glass sent a formal apology for a pre-election rant against a city employee who doubles as an officer in a union representing city workers.)

Going back to the Lafferty Ranch and Rainier Avenue overpass controversies, this is how it goes with the political class in Petaluma. Every issue is transformed into a fight and an opportunity to demean folks with a different opinion.

If you don't recognize the hometown strain, it's the same sanctimony that paralyzes governments in Sacramento and Washington.

At 29, Kearney should understand how our world is changing. If you are 29 years old in Sonoma County, you know that it can be tough to find a job, and you know that it's expensive to live here.

This was a week of news that reminded us that it's not 1995 anymore. We learned that seven in 10 elementary school kids in Santa Rosa come from low-income families, and we learned that growing numbers of seniors who can't drive a car don't have a way to get to the doctor or the grocery store.

We shouldn't be surprised. For more than decade, demographers have warned that we need to prepare for a rapid increase in the number of children in low-income neighborhoods and for explosive growth in the number of people over 65.

But we seem more comfortable debating leaf blowers and traffic circles. Who speaks for the young people who need a job? Who speaks for the seniors who need housing, health care, home care and a ride to the doctor?

Businesses and nonprofits continue to feel the brunt of an ailing economy. A popular coffee shop in Santa Rosa closed on the same day we learned that downtown property values continue to decline. A Boy Scout camp that helped nurture generations of youngsters was put up for sale.

Meanwhile, public services are contracting as state and local governments wrestle with declining revenues and years of deficit spending.

Some of my best friends are, well, older. But I'm happy that we're beginning to welcome a new generation of leaders who have experienced their hometown economy in ways that their political elders have not.

Without jobs, without social services that give a leg up to the disadvantaged, without the services needed by a growing population of seniors, we're going to have a tough time.

Now we wait to learn if Councilman Kearney can bring to Petaluma politics a new — and more cooperative — approach.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. E-mail him at golispd@gmail.com.

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