The Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association has endorsed Capt. Mark Essick as its favored candidate for sheriff, choosing a high-ranking department veteran out of the field of five law enforcement officers seeking support from rank-and-file deputies.
Essick narrowly won the union’s backing over another insider candidate, sheriff’s Lt. Carlos Basurto, who serves as the chief of police in Windsor. The nod gives Essick an early advantage soliciting other endorsements and campaign donors in the rare, contested race to lead the county’s largest law enforcement agency. It’s been more than 25 years since voters had more than one candidate to choose from for sheriff.
Essick, 47, said the deputy sheriff’s association support was necessary for him to continue his bid for office next year, with Sheriff Steve Freitas set to retire at the end of his second term in December 2018.
“Some voters will look at (the endorsement) and say, ‘We need a fresh set of eyes,’” Essick said. “Well, I am a fresh set of eyes. I’ve worked here for a while, and I’ve seen the things we need to change but in my current role I can’t be that change agent because I have a boss.”
Essick and Basurto, with 87 and 84 votes, respectively, received far greater support than the other three men who declared their interest in becoming the next sheriff at a meeting in May before a packed audience at the union hall. The candidates were notified about the outcome of the vote May 26.
Among the other candidates, retired Sonoma County Sheriff’s Capt. Dave Edmonds received 13 votes; four people voted for Santa Rosa City Councilman Ernesto Olivares, who retired as a lieutenant from the Santa Rosa Police Department in 2008 and was the first person to declare his bid for the elected post; and one vote was tallied for John Mutz, who retired in 1999 as a captain from the Los Angeles Police Department and has since worked as an executive coach and in mediation.
Basurto on Thursday said he was encouraged by the close outcome and confirmed he will vie for the post. The primary for the contest will be held next June.
“I’ve decided to run because of the outpouring of support from various parts of the community,” Basurto said.
The early endorsement was something a county-appointed group linked to law enforcement oversight had hoped to prevent.
The advisory council working with Jerry Threet, director of Sonoma County’s new law enforcement auditor program — the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach — urged the unions representing Sheriff’s Office employees to “refrain from any actions that would prevent or discourage qualified individuals who would allow for a robustly contested Primary and General Election Campaigns for Sheriff in 2018.”
Council member Jim Duffy said he proposed the resolution to make clear his belief an early endorsement “is an effort to clear the field.”
“It seems really early to be lining up behind somebody when we have an opportunity for there to be a real race, and I think it would benefit the sheriff’s department for there to be a race,” Duffy said.
Threet said he will not take a position on the issue.