The eight-way race for Santa Rosa City Council took a surprise turn Monday when two candidates most political observers expected to be rivals endorsed each other and called for a return to political collaboration in the city.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares, a 53-year-old retired police lieutenant, and Erin Carlstrom, a 29-year-old attorney, announced their respective endorsements at the La Rose Hotel in Railroad Square.
Carlstrom acknowledged the move was both confusing for her supporters and politically risky but said it was necessary to change the tone of city politics, something she says she is committed to.
"I know that this announcement tonight makes some of our friends and supporters uncomfortable," Carlstrom said. "I appreciate that and I understand where it's coming from, but change is uncomfortable."
Olivares said he made a commitment two years ago after becoming mayor to try to bring reconciliation to the City Council and the community, but it didn't work.
"To be honest with you, I didn't get very far with it. It just didn't get any legs under it," Olivares said.
The City Council remains deeply divided between four members who tend to favor boosting businesses and creating jobs and three who generally back protecting the environment and listening to neighborhood concerns. Open displays of political animosity are common on the council.
Olivares said he took note of Carlstrom's campaign slogan of "Together, a new future for Santa Rosa," began talking to her several months ago about what she meant and realized he could work with her, even on issues where they disagree.
He noted she had earlier Monday accompanied him to Sacramento for a talk he gave about gang prevention, and she was "learning" about the issue.
"My hope is the (public's) reaction is, 'It's about time we moved in this direction,' " Olivares said.
Reaction Monday in political circles was one of confusion and consternation.
Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre pulled her endorsement of Carlstrom, saying she felt "betrayed" and calling it a "slap in the face" to those groups who have supported her and other "progressive candidates," such as Councilman Gary Wysocky, Julie Combs and Caroline Ba?elos.
"I think it's really a marriage of convenience that makes no sense," Ba?elos said.
Wysocky, who appointed Carlstrom to the Measure O Oversight Committee, said he's been bombarded by questions from supporters wondering what the move portends for the election.
"I'm surprised as are many of my supporters," he said. "There is a lot of confusion as to why she would endorse someone who does not share her positions."
But there also was plenty of political support for the move, with Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane praising it as a "great step in the right direction."
"This is not about rhetoric. This is about relationships, and relationships are based on respect," said Zane, who attended the announcement.
Zane, who had endorsed both candidates, noted she often disagrees with fellow Supervisor David Rabbitt but often works most closely with him crafting compromises on key issues.
"We have to learn to look at each other as human beings that care about the same things and find out what it is that we have in common, rather than what divides us," she said.
Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, also was on hand to support the move, while a representative of Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, read a supportive letter.