Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo stood before a crowd of more than 200 people Wednesday morning and announced his intent to run for re-election in 2016.
As word of his remarks surfaced hours later, however, Carrillo quickly backpedaled from his announcement, saying in an interview that his comments — at a monthly meeting of the Sonoma County Alliance, the business coalition — were merely in jest.
“I was at the breakfast, and I thought I’d go a little ‘off-mic’ in my introduction,” Carrillo said by phone after the meeting. “I did announce myself as District 5 supervisor and also candidate for 5th District supervisor in 2016.”
The remarks were not serious, he insisted.
“I was just having a little fun,” Carrillo said. “I have not made any plans to run or not to run.”
Still, the self-introduction, which came before an audience including elected officials, aspiring local politicians and business leaders at the banquet room in the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club, appeared to strike many people as genuine. It came in the course of about 20 other candidates introducing themselves, and Carrillo’s remarks drew strong applause, according to people who attended the breakfast.
“It sounded like a formal announcement to me,” said Eric Ziedrich, president of Healdsburg Lumber Co. and one of three candidates running for two open seats on the Healdsburg City Council. Ziedrich introduced himself within minutes of Carrillo. “He certainly got support from the room.”
Others said that given the number of people introducing themselves and in some cases, sharing their political aspirations for city council, school board or other elected office, Carrillo’s remarks didn’t come off as a clear declaration that he will run for a third term on the Board of Supervisors.
“I really didn’t take it as a formal announcement,” said Lisa Wittke Schaffner, former chief executive officer of the Sonoma County Alliance, who is seeking to regain her seat on the Sonoma County Board of Education. “I’ve known Efren for a long time, and I thought he was joking.”
Carrillo’s comments are likely to add to the speculation about his political career, which has been shadowed by his arrest last year and subsequent trial on a misdemeanor charge of peeking into the home of a female neighbor in the pre-dawn hours last July 13 while clad only in his underwear and socks. He was acquitted of attempted peeking, but his admissions of a long-term drinking problem and hope to have sex that night with his neighbor, a woman he barely knew, diminished what once looked to be a bright future in the Democratic Party. It also led to widening calls for his resignation, including a unanimous one from his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors.
Carrillo — who has apologized for his behavior, which he called “a foolish and unfortunate act” — has said he has no plans to resign. He has not publicly shared whether he would seek another term representing his west county district, which stretches from Sebastopol north along the coast to Mendocino County. In the brief phone interview Wednesday, he stressed that he had not made up his mind.
“My focus right now is the day-to-day work in my district and as supervisor,” he said.
But some said they left Wednesday’s meeting with the conclusion that he intends to run again.