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Valerie Brown's endorsement of a relatively unknown candidate to replace her on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors prompted questions about its significance and the suggestion that it may have been a "safe choice."

Two candidates who did not receive Brown's blessing said it may have little impact on voters, and another said she would have welcomed the incumbent's nod.

The candidate Brown announced last week she was backing, Mark Bramfitt, an energy consultant and Valley of the Moon Water District board member, downplayed it.

"While I'm grateful, I don't think we should overblow its importance," he said.

David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist, said Brown's nod to Bramfitt sidestepped the competition between two Santa Rosa City Council members seeking the 1st District supervisorial seat.

McCuan called it a "safe choice," avoiding council members Susan Gorin and John Sawyer.

Brown, a former Sonoma mayor and state assemblywoman, is retiring after 10 years as a supervisor.

"I don't think it's significant. There are now six candidates in the race," Gorin said. "It's about who is best to represent the diverse interests in the 1st District."

Gorin and Sawyer have the most name recognition in the race, but Brown said last week she is backing Bramfitt out of concern that Sonoma Valley could lose influence at the county level with a Santa Rosa-based supervisor on the board.

Brown's endorsement could carry weight with voters given her long tenure as a supervisor and the number of candidates who are vying to replace her, McCuan said.

"Voters are searching for clues on how to vote. Someone who's been around as long as Supervisor Brown can provide an important degree of information about the candidates, either for or against," he said.

Brown can endorse Bramfitt "without having to ruffle feathers or get involved in the warfare of broader Santa Rosa politics," McCuan said.

Gorin said two e-mails that she sent to Brown's assistant seeking an audience with the supervisor were ignored. "I got the message," Gorin said.

Sawyer said he did not seek Brown's endorsement, which he said could influence voters who've already made up their minds to support a Sonoma Valley candidate.

"For voters that have decided to open up their realm of possibilities to all candidates, I think that recommendation probably does not carry as much weight," he said.

Gina Cuclis, a Boyes Hot Springs communications consultant who serves on the county's Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Advisory Board, said she also did not seek Brown's endorsement.

Cuclis and others contend that Brown promised Bramfitt years ago that she would support him in exchange for him not entering the race for county supervisor until she decided to step down.

"It was expected," Cuclis said of the endorsement.

But Bramfitt said that four years ago he was still working for PG&E and had no plans to run for office. He said Brown told him she wanted to see him run a campaign before she decided whether to endorse him or anyone else.

"I wasn't a shoo-in for her endorsement in any way, shape or form," Bramfitt said Tuesday.

Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders, who entered the race after Brown announced her endorsement, said it is significant in that Brown is promoting a Sonoma Valley candidate — even if it's not Sanders.

Asked whether she would have welcomed Brown's support, Sanders replied, "Absolutely."

Keith Rhinehart, a former United Parcel Service supervisor and substitute teacher who lives just north of Santa Rosa, also is vying for Brown's seat.

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