Veteran Sonoma County Sheriff's Capt. Mark Essick raced to a decisive win in Tuesday's primary vote in the first contested race for sheriff in a quarter century.
Essick shot ahead of his two opponents with 57 percent of the vote, according to election results released by the county Registrar of Voters Office.
Former Los Angeles Police Capt. John Mutz had 24 percent of the vote and Santa Rosa City Councilman Ernesto Olivares trailed with 18 percent of the vote, according to returns posted early Wednesday with all 405 precincts reporting.
Essick had 36,501 votes, Mutz 15,448 and Olivares 11,399.
“I am super excited. I’m glad that the message I had about my experience and willingness to change and moving us forward — it seems that really resonated with folks,” said Essick, who celebrated Tuesday night with family and supporters at the Flamingo Hotel ballroom in east Santa Rosa. “I’m optimistic and excited about the future.”
To win outright and avoid a November runoff, a candidate needed to get at least 50 percent plus one vote.
Essick, 48, of Cloverdale was backed by current Sheriff Rob Giordano and the unions representing sworn staff in the jail and the field. He has worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 24 years, starting in the jail and moving through a variety of assignments including internal affairs. He currently oversees some of the department’s core functions, such as patrol and dispatch.
Tuesday’s primary was the first contested election for Sonoma County sheriff in more than a quarter century, and the three candidates vying for the job all ran on platforms of improving police-community relations.
“He has a significant lead,” said Olivares, who was with supporters at the Epicenter sports and entertainment complex in west Santa Rosa. “I don’t know what else might change (in the vote). But I think the important thing I see from this is there was a dialogue about the Sheriff’s Office that hasn’t been had since 1990.”
Several voters who cast their ballots at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in north Santa Rosa Tuesday said they chose Essick because he was highly regarded by people they trust or they believed someone already working for the Sheriff’s Office is better prepared to become sheriff than anyone else.
“He seems like the best guy for the job,” said Chris Tower, 39, an engineer who lives in Larkfield. “He already knows the system.”
Essick said he is committed to increasing transparency about police practices, improving the diversity of Sheriff’s Office personnel and ending a controversial method of subduing unruly jail inmates that is the focus of an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit.
Trailing behind was Mutz, 69, an unfamiliar name before the campaign who has lived in Sonoma County for about seven years. He retired as a captain with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1999 and then worked as an executive coach for the private sector.
Mutz campaigned on a promise to bring a culture shift to the department, and he drew endorsements from the Sonoma County Democratic Party and local progressives such as Santa Rosa attorney and former state Sen. Noreen Evans and Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Julie Combs. He also was backed by key Latino community leaders including Santa Rosa attorney Alicia Roman, who served on a community board advising the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach.