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Newly elected Erin Carlstrom, a 29-year-old attorney, expected to have key role on split council

The election of Erin Carlstrom to the Santa Rosa City Council has created one of the youngest, most influential and most unpredictable politicians the city has seen in decades.

The day after her third-place finish in the race, the 29-year-old attorney is being viewed as someone likely to wield significant clout on the new council despite her relative political inexperience.

"We are entering a period of the council that really is uncharted territory, which gives someone like Erin a bit of running room for both sides," said David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State University.

McCuan views Carlstrom as someone whose is uniquely positioned -- given the broad-based support she received and her vow with Mayor Ernesto Olivares to change the tone on the council -- to fundamentally alter the polarized dynamics that has defined the council in recent years.

"Erin's election has the opportunity to change the combatants and the trench warfare that has characterized Santa Rosa politics," McCuan said.

The council has long been divided between members backed by business and development interests who generally support fewer regulations on business, and those who place greater importance on the environment and the input from neighborhoods.

How Carlstrom will navigate or even bridge this divide is still very unclear to many people, in part because during her campaign she positioned herself as someone offering something for everyone.

She impressed environmentalists with her commitment to urban growth boundaries. She got the backing of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce after stressing her commitment to job creation. She won the support of labor groups such as local firefighters union, publicly noting how public safety groups have given significant labor concessions to the city. And neighborhood groups appreciated her promise to listen to and value their input in the city's planning process.

"Her answers were effusive to all groups," McCuan said.

Carlstrom on Wednesday said it was too soon to speculate on how she would approach council decisions. She downplayed the notion that she will hold some pivotal role on new council


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