Two years ago, the balance of power shifted in Santa Rosa politics. Now a fierce battle is under way to try to shift it back.
In 2008, after decades of control by largely pro-development City Council majorities, candidates focused on environmental and quality-of-life issues took the helm of the city.
Now, on the heels of two years of deep budget cuts and even deeper council divisions, the question that only voters can answer is whether the new majority can hold onto its gains in the face of a trio of pro-business candidates determined to retake the lost ground.
"This is a philosophical fight over the direction of a community," said local political analyst Brian Sobel. "I think it mirrors what is going on in a number of other races."
With campaign literature clogging mailboxes and disclosure reports revealing the people and money backing the candidates, the battle lines in the seven-way contest are becoming clearer by the day.
"One side says you embrace business, and through business you create jobs and bring money into the community. And the other side says being careful and protecting the environment and being cautious is more sustainable in the long term," Sobel said.
In 2008, an alliance of local labor and environmental groups and a base energized by an historic national election helped the more liberal candidates build on prior gains to win their first-ever majority on the council.
Gary Wysocky and Marsha vas Dupre joined Susan Gorin and Veronica Jacobi to form a 4-3 majority that often clashed with John Sawyer, Jane Bender and Ernesto Olivares. Now, Gorin and Jacobi are seeking re-election, and Bender's retirement is leaving a third seat up for grabs.
Gorin, Jacobi and retired teacher Larry Haenel, whose views place him firmly in the Gorin-Jacobi camp, are digging deep to preserve their hard-won gains.
They've won endorsements from a large number of groups with significant sway in liberal Sonoma County, including the Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Action and Concerned Citizens for Santa Rosa.
Meanwhile, a variety of business, development and public employee organizations are rallying around a slate of three candidates working with veteran political consultant Herb Williams to regain power and alter the leadership in what they say is a city adrift.
The signs for Scott Bartley, Jake Ours and Juan Hernandez succinctly sum up their campaign message with the slogan "Want jobs?"
The trio and their backers are sharply criticizing Gorin's leadership and Jacobi's grasp of economics as they focus on a campaign emphasizing economic development, job creation and changing the atmosphere at City Hall.
They claim the current council majority has turned away projects such as Lowe's Home Improvement that would have generated jobs for residents and tax revenue for the city. The council "rhetoric" of preferring "high-paying, green jobs" shows how out of touch some council members are, said Bartley, an architect.
"A vital society needs a complete spectrum of jobs," Bartley said.
To that end, the trio claim they are better suited to attract new businesses to the community. Bartley and Hernandez, owner of a small computer business, note that they have experience running businesses and managing employees, experience the incumbents lack.
They say that as council members they would attend trade shows to help bolster efforts by staff to recruit new businesses and send the message that Santa Rosa is "open for business."
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