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November's race for the east county representative to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will be between Santa Rosa council members John Sawyer and Susan Gorin.

The two took an insurmountable lead Tuesday night in their effort to replace outgoing Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown.

In the end, the two were virtually tied, with Sawyer receiving 23.5 percent of the vote and Gorin had 23.2 percent.

Third place finisher Gina Cuclis had 17.1 percent, followed closely by Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders with 16.2 percent, Mark Bramfitt with 14.3 percent and Michael McClure received 5.7 percent.

An official final vote tally won't be completed for a few weeks as county election officials process and count ballots turned in at the last minute by absentee voters and those voting outside of their usual precincts.

For Sawyer and Gorin, their sharp differences in the years they've worked together on the council trailed them into the primary race for supervisor and likely foreshadow a bruising battle in the final round.

"We will mix it up for sure," Gorin said.

The November winner will make county history based on their Santa Rosa residential addresses. Traditionally the 1st District seat, which encompasses eastern Santa Rosa to the Napa County line, has gone to a Sonoma Valley resident.

The candidates living in Sonoma Valley trailed throughout the night's counting.

The other result of a Santa Rosa resident for that seat means the county board will have a majority of members who are based in Santa Rosa.

Sawyer said his showing represented a willingness on the part of 1st District voters to "trust that someone from the western part of the district is prepared to represent them."

At Murphy's Irish Pub in Sonoma, guests attending Cuclis' primary night party watched glumly as the early returns were projected onto a large screen.

She and her supporters clearly were disappointed.

"It's extremely disappointing when you consider the possibility of three of five supervisors being in Santa Rosa, and Sonoma Valley not having representation," said Anthony Geraldi, general operations manager for Sonoma County Airport Express.

Brown's pending retirement from the board led to the most sharply contested race for the 1st District seat in decades and raised the possibility of the district's center of political power shifting northwest.

Sawyer's campaign manager, Rob Muelrath, said the results reflected the four Sonoma Valley candidates carving up votes and leaving an opening for the two Santa Rosa-based entrants.

"The community will realize this is no longer a Sonoma Valley seat," he said.

The 1st District includes the Sonoma Valley east to the Napa County line, Sonoma and the unincorporated communities of Kenwood and Glen Ellen, as well as eastern Santa Rosa.

The district was expanded last year to include more of Fountaingrove and Bennett Valley, an addition of 3,750 Santa Rosa residents. A majority of the district's voters — 52 percent — now reside in Santa Rosa.

The three main Sonoma Valley-based candidates tended to emphasize the geographic differences in the race. Sanders raised veiled criticism of Gorin's decision to rent a home in Oakmont in order to be in the district.

But outside the Sonoma Veterans Building on Tuesday, Doug McKesson, a former Sonoma councilman and mayor, said geography was not a major reason why he supported Bramfitt in the race.

"You get elected to represent all of the people. It shouldn't be about showing favoritism," he said.

The county's deteriorating network of roads and unfunded pension liabilities currently totaling $353 million were major issues in the race.

The five main candidates supported changes to public employee pensions to deal with the unfunded liabilities.

Those changes included increasing the retirement age, spreading out the calculations for retirement pay to discourage "spiking," capping pensions and instituting a two-tier system in which new employees would receive less than current retirees.

Sonoma resident Kay Maynard said she voted for Bramfitt because Brown endorsed him and because she felt he was the most qualified for the job.

"I don't like some of the other candidates — intensely," she said.

Sawyer raised the most money of all the candidates, taking in $107,278 prior to May 24. Gorin was second, with $89,610, including a $10,000 loan.

A union-backed independent expenditure committee, the Coalition for a Better Sonoma County, poured $31,645 into advertising opposing Sawyer. The activity was financed by $30,000 from Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union, the county's largest labor group. The union, along with several other employee groups, supported Gorin.

The committee was responsible for probably the sharpest attack in the race, a mailer portraying Sawyer as a Pinocchio-like figure, alleging his public statements on economic issues did not match his votes.

Sawyer said it was necessary to respond to the "very late negative campaigning" with automated calls to voters.

Nevertheless, he said he hoped for a civil tone in a campaign with Gorin.

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