In what is supposed to be a nonpartisan, local election, the race for the three open Petaluma City Council seats has become a political battle for majority control of the seven-member body, drawing active participation from political heavyweights throughout the region.
While incumbents Tiffany Ren?, Mike Healy and Gabe Kearney are all vying to maintain their council seats, challengers Jason Davies, Alicia Kae Herries and Kathy Miller are also seeking election. Healy is looking to serve a fourth term, Ren? a second, and Kearney is looking to return to the seat he was appointed to after David Glass vacated his council seat to take over as mayor in 2010. Davies ran for council unsuccessfully in 2010 while Herries and Miller — both attorneys — are running for the first time. Miller is a former planning commissioner and Herries is a current planning commissioner.
All the candidates are registered Democrats and most are running on slates with endorsements from a variety of elected Democrats and Democratic organizations. Herries and Davies are endorsed by progressive Democrats Mayor David Glass, former Mayor Pam Torliatt, council member Teresa Barrett and progressive Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen who is in a race to represent Petaluma in the State Assembly.
Healy, who is endorsed by Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman, encouraged Miller to run for city council and the two are running together as a slate. They share a more business-oriented focus on jobs and retail development, having been strong supporters of the Target and Friedman's Home Improvement shopping center developments. They also strongly support the Rainier crosstown connector which has been a politically controversial project.
"I asked Kathy (Miller) to run on a slate with me because we both hold similar priorities," said Healy in a candidate interview in September. He added that those priorities include the completion of the long awaited Rainier Crosstown Connector and the pursuit of revenue by being open to large-scale development along with local, small business development.
Most progressive council candidates have expressed support for smaller, transit oriented business development, but tend to part company with the business-oriented slate of Healy and Miller on issues of large-format retail development like Target. Herries and Ren?, for example, both opposed the Target shopping center development and voted against the Friedman's shopping center development as well. Many progressives who also opposed those developments stressed the need to protect local, small business interests, noting that "big-box" stores can often "cannibalize" profits from smaller stores by offering lower prices.
While Herries and Davies have both been endorsed by the same progressive political leaders, they differ on their positions towards retail development and the Rainier connector. Davies has expressed conditional support for the city's approval of both shopping center developments, while expressing concerns about their potential to divert profits away from local businesses. Unlike Herries, who has expressed opposition to the Rainier connector, Davies said he supports the project but has reservations about how it will be funded.
Davies, who along with Herries and Ren? recently participated in a progressive campaign rally and precinct walk dubbed the "Petaluma Push" with Allen, Glass and Torliatt, said that he developed an affinity for the progressives because of a shared active stance against the Dutra asphalt plant.
Incumbents Kearny and Ren?, who in past elections were both identified as progressives, are running more independent campaigns this year. Ren?, who ran on a slate with Glass in 2008 but does not have an endorsement from him or Torliatt this year, is still widely identified as a progressive, with endorsements from active progressive Democrats like former council member David Keller, Assemblyman Allen and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.