In a development that may upturn Cotati's election season, the son of the late California conservationist John Olmsted is jumping into the race as a write-in City Council candidate, billing himself as a "fresh voice" who understands the needs of a small town.
"I hope to bring some middle ground to the council," said Alden Olmsted, a photographer and filmmaker. "I think there's a disconnect between the current City Council and the people of Cotati."
The 41-year-old Sonoma native and seven-year Cotati resident will face a major hurdle because he's not on the ballot and is launching his candidacy with barely a month to go.
"He has a huge disadvantage by being a write-in, especially this late, but he in theory will add a voice and if he chooses to walk and talk, he'll take some votes from people," political consultant Brian Sobel said.
Olmsted's impact may stem from his having taken a position notably opposite three of his opponents: He supports Measure U, a voter initiative that would ban roundabouts or "any similar traffic feature" from the city forever.
Opposing the initiative are candidates for re-election Mayor Susan Harvey, 57, and Councilman John Del'Osso, 51, and first-time candidate Wendy Skillman, 46, an attorney and planning commissioner.
They say the initiative's passage would hamper the city economically, would be counter to its general plan and would derail a $3.5 million downtown revitalization plan the council approved in December and which features two roundabouts.
Olmsted said he would prefer the initiative wasn't "all or nothing," but city attempts to install roundabouts on Old Redwood Highway have harmed the community.
"Why has the city been pushing for over seven years something that causes such divisiveness in such a small town," he said.
A fifth candidate, George Barich, 54, who was ousted from the council in a 2009 recall vote after 10 months in office and then ran unsuccessfully to regain his seat, also supports Measure U, which has become the election's main wedge issue.
Olmsted's entry moves the race off its previous axis, which had resembled the city's loudest political confrontation, with Barich squared off against the rest of the field and Measure U cleanly dividing the field.
While his candidacy appears to overlap with Barich's, Olmsted said it is of a very different flavor.
"As far as I've heard, my position is nowhere near as polarizing," he said. "From what I know, my position is much more middle ground, although I guess we do agree on the roundabout issue."
Barich rails at his opponents, especially Del'Osso and Harvey, calling them "bought and sold" politicians with no new ideas.
"People are angry and frustrated with the status quo who have no business sense and real solutions," he said in an email. "Some people are actually claiming they recalled the wrong person and intend to do something about it this election."
His opponents say Barich's aggressive, personally pointed style is something voters should take into account.
"Anyone can say whatever they want, that's fine, but I think it's kind of character-defining," said Del'Osso, who was appointed in 2011 after the death of a Mayor Robert Coleman-Senghor.
Del'Osso and Harvey profess to ignore Barich's jabs. And they and Skillman rebuffed his request to interview them in the monthly Cotati Independent newspaper that he publishes.