Mostly clear

Seven candidates vie for four seats on Santa Rosa council

As the race for four seats on the Santa Rosa City Council enters the final stretch, political observers are focused less on Mayor Ernesto Olivares and Councilman Gary Wysocky and more on which candidates may ride their coattails into office.

Both incumbents are expected to hold onto their seats on the seven-member council, leaving the fight for third and fourth place as the real battleground where the balance of power on the next council will be decided.

"What we have is a pretty solid one and two, and then, frankly, what I think is a pretty fluid three, four and five," said David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State University.

For the past two years, the council has been deeply divided. Four members backed by business and development interests generally support fewer regulations on business, and three members have more environmental and labor leanings and place greater value on neighborhood input.

But unlike previous years, when the battle lines were more clearly drawn, this year there is "a lot of upheaval" and uncertainty in political circles over the current crop of candidates, McCuan said.

"It's unclear what the future direction of the council will be because the lack of succession and a clear farm team for each side," he said.

Incumbents in races across Sonoma County are expected to do well this year, in part because the economy is better than it was two years ago, said Steven Gale, chairman of the Sonoma County Democratic Party.

"I think voters in the cities are feeling like we've make it through some tough times," Gale said.

Among the five non-incumbent candidates, those who have been actively campaigning the longest, namely neighborhood activist Julie Combs and attorney Erin Carlstrom, are showing strong support because they've had a longer time to make their case to voters, Gale said.

But with two weeks to go, Gale acknowledges the race remains difficult to predict. "There is enough volatility to make the race very close," Gale said.

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