The most destructive wildfires in California history forged a new leader in Sonoma County, raising the profile of a man who became sheriff on a promise that he would serve as a caretaker and later surrender his post.
Just two months into the job, Rob Giordano’s plain-spoken command presence has propelled him from virtual anonymity to the face of Sonoma County before a national audience.
It’s also set him apart from his predecessor who was criticized for remaining tight-lipped and less visible in tumultuous times.
Giordano’s upfront and forthright response to the disaster has ranged from multiple daily press briefings and untold interviews to an extraordinary verbal sparring match with the head of the federal immigration enforcement agency.
His approach to the job, especially amid the unprecedented wildfire crisis, has drawn accolades from elected officials, residents and rank and file deputies.
Now, many are urging the 49-year-old lawman to reconsider his pledge, made when he was appointed in August to succeed Steve Freitas, who retired a year and a half before the end of his second term in office. Giordano said at the time that he would not run in the 2018 election to decide the next sheriff.
The county’s senior supervisor, Shirlee Zane, the board chairwoman, is among those calling on Giordano to change his mind and run for the post to maintain continuity as the county embarks on a multiyear recovery.
“Post-fire, all bets are off because our world as a county has changed,” Zane said.
In an interview Friday, Giordano stuck to his word, saying the department has depth in leadership without him and that it’s not the time to discuss an election “while we’re still looking for bodies.”
But he acknowledged mounting pressure from supporters inside and outside the department who want him to run for the office.
“There are a lot of calls on our Facebook page, a lot of calls in public for him to run,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman. Some deputies “are talking to him about it. It’s going to be a hard sell.”
Two high‑ranking department commanders — Capt. Mark Essick and Lt. Carlos Basurto — are seeking the job, as well as Santa Rosa Councilman Ernesto Olivares and retired Los Angeles Police Capt. John Mutz, marking the first contested election for sheriff in more than 25 years.
But in the hallways at headquarters, Giordano said, when offered a handshake or thanks, employees sometimes slip in a request that he join the field. A T-shirt created by a group of Santa Rosa friends and now on a sale as part of a fundraiser to benefit fire victims carries his visage above the slogan, “There’s only one Rob for the job.”
Even out of uniform, Giordano said people recognize him and he’s getting strong support for his role in the crisis.
“Hey, it’s the sheriff,” he said, recounting interactions that are now common, some followed by a request for a selfie. “I can’t go anywhere without handshakes, hugs, pictures, thanks,” he said.
The public attention and higher profile are part of his job in the current crisis, he said, and something he’s prepared for in the past several years as a ranking sheriff’s official.