The contestants for the 1st Supervisorial District snapped and sniped furiously at each other Thursday while differentiating themselves on issues from a living wage ordinance to medical marijuana to reviving a stalled improvement project along Highway 12 in The Springs.
Susan Gorin and John Sawyer, both Santa Rosa City Council members, faced off at a forum in Sonoma, the figurative heart of a district that will soon be represented for the first time in two decades by someone not living in Sonoma Valley.
They clashed hard and often, with Gorin often taking the lead. She struck first, in her opening statement, with a reference to Sawyer's newsstand shop on Fourth Street, which he shuttered in 2010.
"While John was inheriting a business and closing it, I was spending thirty years becoming a part of this community and working to serve it," she said.
When his turn came, Sawyer shot back: "Right out of the chute my opponent becomes negative, and that's not surprising."
In front of a spare crowd of about 25 people, they continued in that vein through the night, finding in almost every question an opportunity to badmouth one another.
"She's district shopping," Sawyer said of Gorin's move this year from Fountaingrove, four blocks outside the district, to Oakmont, which put her within the district's boundaries. "I wonder, if there had been an opening in the 5th District if she would have moved there."
At another point, Gorin said, "I've worked with John for six years, and quite frankly, I think you deserve something better."
The 1? hour event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women and held at the Sonoma Community Room. Moderator Edie Mendez posed the questions, many submitted by the audience.
Gorin has the backing of environmental and labor groups, while business and agriculture interests, and public safety unions, are in Sawyer's camp, though the candidates' support does cross those lines.
The ties to those allies showed clearly Thursday.
Gorin supported a living wage ordinance for government contracts such as those passed in Sonoma, Sebastopol and Petaluma. Sawyer didn't.
"It puts an onerous responsibility on business owners who can least afford it," he said.
Gorin said: "Isn't it fair, isn't it just, that people receiving government funding ... be paid a living wage?"
She also supported a policy of project labor agreements that would require union rules, benefits and oversight for large county construction projects.
"What it does is it levels the playing field. … they bring in projects under-budget, with better conditions of work, and they create local jobs," she said.
Sawyer retorted: "It's clear my opponent has consumed the union Kool-Aid."
The agreements would exclude local, non-union workers from projects they were otherwise qualified for, he said.
Sawyer described himself as "sensitive to business," saying a strong economy "pays the bills."
On a question about how environmental policies they have backed in Santa Rosa would translate to more rural areas, Sawyer said, "It's elemental to have a functioning economy and all the gears running very, very smoothly" to help pay for environmental initiatives.
And he said he and Gorin ran "virtually parallel" on such initiatives that the city has pursued.
Gorin responded that, "The reality is you have not taken one leadership role in any environmental initiative," and pivoted from that into an answer about developing energy independence and supporting local food producers.