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Political fight looms over Santa Rosa district elections

The most sweeping change in years to the way Santa Rosa city councilmembers are selected heads to voters this fall, and rival campaigns already have begun marshalling their forces for and against the idea of electing City Council members by districts.

Both sides have formed committees to raise money for the coming fight, recruited former mayors to support their positions, and are benefitting from the talent of some of the city's top political consultants.

"This has the chance to re-shape Santa Rosa politics in the near term and could be the biggest change in more than a generation," said Sonoma State University Political Science Professor David McCuan.

How much money will be pumped into the efforts remains to be seen, with disclosures about the committees' spending and donors yet to be filed.

But the first batch of filings offers glimpses of some of the key players in the debate, and through them a rough outline of the politics of the opposing camps is beginning to emerge.

A committee calling itself Santa Rosans for District Elections, Committee for Measure Q, filed organization papers with the city clerk Aug. 14. Alexander Mallone, former secretary/treasurer with the North Bay Labor Council, is listed as treasurer.

Mallone referred questions to Rick Meechan, an attorney and co-founder of the Coalition for a Better Sonoma County. He said the committee is made up of a small group of labor and neighborhood activists and social justice advocates.

District elections would give more power to neighborhoods by requiring city council members be elected from one of seven districts instead of the city as a whole, Meechan said. That would make city council members more accountable to voters and reduce the influence of money in local politics, he said.

"If we had district elections, we'd have more people power," Meechan said.

Opponents contend that district elections will reduce voters' representation on the council. Instead of seven council members listening to their concerns, they would have only one.


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