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Sawyer launches bid for Sonoma County supervisor


Santa Rosa City Councilman John Sawyer on Wednesday officially became a candidate for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, running for the seat to be vacated by Valerie Brown.

Sawyer, 56, a former mayor and longtime Santa Rosa small-business owner, filed to run in the 1st District, which encompasses Sonoma Valley, Oakmont and much of east Santa Rosa.

In announcing his candidacy, Sawyer emphasized his "deep roots" in the Sonoma County community, beginning with great-grandparents who settled in Bennett Valley in the 1890s and planted vineyards.

Casting himself as the business-friendly candidate, he said he has made economic development his top priority without sacrificing environmental principles.

"We need to remove unnecessary impediments to attracting viable businesses to Sonoma County that touch on the environment lightly, provide good-paying jobs and grow our economy," he said.

Sawyer is expected to face opposition from one of his colleagues on the Santa Rosa council, Susan Gorin, who said late Wednesday she will probably make decision on whether to run "in the next week, or so."

Gorin, like Sawyer, also has served as mayor, but ideologically is seen as more liberal and pro-environment.

Other declared candidates 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 past Sonoma planning commissioner who lives in Boyes Hot Springs.

A wild card is state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who is considered a potential candidate. Bramfitt said last week he had split with political consultant Terry Price, a long-time Evans ally who indicated she was thinking about running for the seat. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Gorin said whether Evans decides to run "is a consideration for sure," particularly because of the state senator's strong name recognition.

Gorin said it <NO1><NO>could make it tougher to raise campaign funds.

"If she decides to run I will have some hard decisions to make," Gorin said, adding, <NO1><NO>"it's entirely possible both of us might run."

Candidates have until early next year to declare their candidacy, and already it is shaping up as a fiercely contested - and expensive race - that could shape the political makeupe of the five-member board of supervisors and also determine whether the district is represented by someone living in the Sonoma Valley, or in Santa Rosa.

The primary election isn't until June, 2012 and unless one candidate captures a majority of the vote, a run-off between the two top candidates would be on the general election ballot five months later.

"All of these folks we're talking about have constituencies that have supported them in the past with real money," said political consultant Brian Sobel.

"My sense is someone who has public sector, elected experience will do well in that district," he said. "I think John Sawyer, who is moderate politically, will track well there."

Sawyer was first elected to the Santa Rosa council in 2004. For decades, he managed Sawyer's News, a downtown news stand and bookstore that was a Santa Rosa fixture until it closed in 2010.

Since then, he has done consulting for retailers and also worked at a jewelry store in Montgomery Village.

In trying to draw a distinction between himself and other candidates, Sawyer said he views business more favorably in general.

"Unless there's a reason to distrust them, I tend to trust business. It's what pays the bills in Sonoma County."

"If they follow the rules and meet county requirements, they should be welcome in the community," he said.

His advisers are identified with political campaigns with ties to the business community, including Sawyer's campaign consultant, Rob Muelrath, and "personal consultant" Herb Williams.

Sawyer said it is important to identify emerging technologies and businesses that would like to locate in Sonoma County.

He said one way to make it easier for business to become established is to ensure zoning regulations reflect the general plan, to provide a measure of predictability.

Santa Rosa, he said, has helped attract business in that manner, including a planned KIA car dealership off Santa Rosa Avenue.

Sawyer said it is important in Sonoma County to be sensitive to the environment, but added, "I'm not looking for perfection. I'm looking for business development that generates revenue for our community and it's rarely perfect."

Sawyer noted he has the endorsement of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

"I believe agriculture is the key to our history and future," he said. "Without agriculture and the open space it creates, I don't think we would have the quality of life we currently enjoy."

Sawyer, who has been in a committed relationship for 23 years, would be the first openly gay supervisor, if elected.

"I consider it a non-issue," he said of a candidate's sexual orientation. "One day it will be no more important than stating the color of one's hair."