Following an election that shifted power back to candidates supported by local business interests, retired Santa Rosa police lieutenant Ernesto Olivares is poised to become the next mayor of Santa Rosa.
All signs point to the 53-year-old councilman being elected to the post by a majority of his fellow council members at the Dec. 7 council meeting, when new council members take office.
"It seems like Ernesto would be the natural choice," said Scott Bartley, who was elected to the council on Nov. 2. "I certainly think that he would be more than capable in the position."
Olivares, who was elected in 2008, as well as council members John Sawyer and Jane Bender have been in the minority on the council since the 2008 election gave progressives a majority for the first time.
Mayor Susan Gorin, Gary Wysocky, Marsha Vas Dupre and Veronica Jacobi have held a 4-3 majority for the past two years. But in a tough year for incumbents across the nation, Jacobi lost her reelection bid, and victories by Bartley and Ours shifted power back to business-backed candidates.
While any council member can be selected by the council to serve as mayor, the shift all but assures it will be one of the four in the new majority. Incumbents Sawyer and Olivares have the most experience, and Sawyer says he does not intend to seek the post.
It also means that Wysocky, who has served for two years as vice mayor and was expected to be well positioned to succeed Gorin if the environment and labor-backed bloc had retained power, has lost his change to wield the mayor's gavel.
Sawyer served as mayor for six months in 2008 after the death of Bob Blanchard, and he said he won't be seeking the post this time around.
"I know in my heart that Ernesto, given his experience both as a city employee and as a manager and his relationship with the organization and public safety and all of his experience with the community, that he would make an outstanding mayor and I would support him any way I could," Sawyer said.
Olivares was characteristically concise when asked how he felt about the opportunity.
"If it happens, it'll be a great honor," Olivares said.
Olivares speaks far less than most of his colleagues on the council, and when he does his remarks are to the point. Supporters say his brevity is an asset that reflects his strong preparation for meetings and his desire to not waste staff time.
"His silence is fascinating to watch and I'll try to emulate it, because when he does say something it's considered," Bartley said.
Mayor Susan Gorin said she'll hasn't spoken to Olivares about his interest in the post and will wait until she does before deciding whether to support him.
"He still is learning a lot about the operations of the city beyond his obvious strengths as a retired law enforcement officer and gang task force coordinator," Gorin said. "He is still very, very quiet and succinct."
Remarks by Wysocky suggested he's not quite sure where Olivares stands on many issues.
"If Ernesto Olivares is elected mayor, I look forward to learning his positions on policies and projects," Wysocky said. "I'm hopeful we'll be working together on areas we agree on."