Sheriff’s Capt. Mark Essick and Santa Rosa City Councilman Ernesto Olivares have emerged as the front-runners in a three-way race to become the next sheriff of Sonoma County, according to The Press Democrat Poll.
Essick and Olivares each drew the same amount of support — 24 percent — among respondents in the telephone poll, which surveyed 500 registered Sonoma County voters in the first week of May.
The third candidate in the race, retired Los Angeles Police Capt. John Mutz, trailed with just 10 percent of those surveyed saying he was their top choice for sheriff.
The largest group of respondents, 28 percent, said they were still unsure which of the three candidates would earn their vote in the June 5 primary.
The results indicate the first contested race for sheriff in Sonoma County in a quarter century is likely headed for a runoff in November. To win outright next month, a candidate would need at least 50 percent plus one vote, and the poll results suggest that won’t happen, said David Binder, whose San Francisco-based firm conducted the survey for the newspaper.
“When nobody has 30 percent of the vote, you still have to say it’s wide open,” Binder said. “Clearly Olivares and Essick are the front-runners.”
The Press Democrat Poll surveyed voters on a series of issues crucial to Sonoma County, including the race to lead the county’s largest law enforcement agency. It is the newspaper’s first poll since 2003, when The Press Democrat surveyed local voters one month before a historic statewide vote to recall then-Gov. Gray Davis.
The new poll, conducted May 2 to May 7, connected with 500 Sonoma County voters by landline and cellphone. It targeted voters who had cast ballots in the November 2016 election and at least one other election since November 2012.
It had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
In the sheriff’s race, voters will choose between three men who are all campaigning to improve police-community relationships and uphold the department’s work with the county’s 2-year-old Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach. But the men have disparate backgrounds and visions for leadership of the Sheriff’s Office.
Essick, 48, is a veteran of the Sheriff’s Office who started in 1994 as a correctional deputy and rose through the ranks, serving the bulk of his career in the field services division working as a detective, patrol sergeant and since 2015 as a captain overseeing some of the agency’s core functions including its patrol, dispatch and court divisions, as well as the Windsor and Sonoma city police departments staffed by deputies.
Olivares, 60, has served on the Santa Rosa City Council since 2008 when he retired as a lieutenant with the Santa Rosa Police Department. He travels around the state to help communities convene discussions about violence prevention and keeping youth out of gangs.
Mutz, 69, retired as a captain with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1999, after serving as station commander of some of the city’s central bureaus. In the last 20 years, he has worked as an executive coach for private industries such as banking. He has also worked as a mediator and facilitator for agencies dealing with community conflict, such as the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.
The Press Democrat Poll: Sonoma County sheriff’s race
If the election for Sonoma County sheriff were held today, who would be your first choice?
Mark Essick: 24 percent
John Mutz: 10 percent
Ernesto Olivares: 24 percent
Survey respondents by age
Under 35: 19 percent
35-44: 14 percent
45-44: 11 percent
55-64: 21 percent
65 and over: 32 percent
Prefer not to say: 3 percent
Survey respondents by ethnicity or race:
White or Caucasian: 76 percent
Latino, Hispanic or Mexican: 11 percent
Mixed race: 6 percent
Native American: 2 percent
Black: 2 percent
Prefer not to say: 2 percent
Asian or Pacific Islander: 1 percent
SOURCE: The Press Democrat Poll/David Binder Research