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Healdsburg Mayor Gary Plass has raised more than $10,000 in his bid for re-election, outpacing the five other candidates combined in the City Council race, most of whom planned to collect and spend less than $1,000.

To Plass, the contributions are a way to pay for the hefty cost of mailing his campaign fliers to voters, something his rivals are not doing.

"If you are going to take on the responsibility of running, you have the duty to tell people who you are and what you are about," he said, adding that running for office is not just about coming up with snippets "about what may or may not be true."

But other candidates downplay the need to raise money to reach the town's 6,300 registered voters and even question the wisdom of taking campaign contributions.

"If you take their contribution, you sort of sell out. There's an ownership there, and I don't like it," said candidate Vern Simmons, who said he neither receives nor asks for money.

"I'm just as happy doing my own thing, walking and talking to people and not having as many fliers," said Simmons, who is making his first bid for a council seat.

The only other candidate to collect significant contributions is Shaun McCaffery, whose latest disclosure statements showed he collected just over $4,000, including $850 he loaned to his own campaign.

The other candidates -- incumbent Tom Chambers, challengers Dennis Brown and Tim Meinken -- all are running campaigns on less than $1,000, according to statements they filed with the city clerk.

Three of the five City Council seats are up for election this year.

Chambers, who is running for a third term on the council, acknowledges that incumbency has its advantages. He said people know him and it's a small enough town that he can reach voters by walking neighborhoods and attending events.

He questions whether people really want to get another political flier in their mailbox.

Chambers has raised $975 in contributions, but expresses ambivalence about accepting money.

"Clearly when people are giving you money, you feel you have a connection to that person. The less of that you have, the better off you are," he said.

Other candidates also equate their small campaign war chests with virtue.

"As a first-time candidate, I wanted to be able to position myself so I don't have any obligations to anybody, other than my own self and conscience for what I did," said Brown, who said his first try for elected office is self-funded.

Meinken said: "I wanted to run an independent campaign, be a new voice in the city and didn't want to have any indebtedness to any particular group."

When McCaffery ran unsuccessfully for a council seat two years ago and lost, he spent more than $14,500, virtually all of it his own money. Most went to a kick-off party and two separate mailers to voters.

This time, he is financing his run primarily with contributions that will pay for signs, fliers and door hangers, but no mailer.

"I'm not beholden to anybody," he said. "The people I've taken contributions from are really involved in the community."

His financial supporters, he said, come from divergent viewpoints, whether they are builders and contractors, or environmentalists concerned about growth.

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"They want to see me in there. They realize I'm someone who can work with people from both sides of the aisle, so to speak," he said. "I'm one of those people willing to bring those folks together and come up with a compromise."

Plass is unapologetic about the money he's raised, saying it pays for campaign materials that help inform voters. He said he hasn't abandoned the grassroots approach of knocking on doors and talking to people.

In previous Healdsburg council races, he noted, both he and other candidates spent much more than he is spending this time around.

"In this world, it takes money to get your message out," Plass said. "It's part of the American system of running for office."

More information on the candidates' campaign contributions and expenditures is available at www.ci.healdsburg.ca.us and clicking on "your government," and "election information."

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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