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When Rob Giordano was appointed sheriff in August by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors he told the board he would not run for office or get involved in the political process. He’s kept half that promise.

Giordano has endorsed Capt. Mark Essick, one of three men running this year to succeed him. He said he would also campaign on behalf of his longtime friend, a 24-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office and the only internal candidate vying for the job.

“I realized it wasn’t fair for me to say ‘Vote for who you want to vote for’ when I do have an opinion,” Giordano said Friday in an interview. “I owe people my truth.”

“It’s clear to me Mark is the best person for this job,” he said.

The other declared candidates in the June primary are Santa Rosa City Councilman and retired Santa Rosa Police Lt. Ernesto Olivares and retired Los Angeles Police Capt. John Mutz.

Essick also has secured endorsements from the majority of the Board of Supervisors, including Shirlee Zane, David Rabbitt and James Gore.

“I think it’s important to have the confidence of the deputies, and Mark has that,” said Zane, the longest-serving board member. “He also has the confidence of (Giordano), who’s not running despite my encouragement.”

Giordano, an assistant sheriff at the time, was appointed to serve out the remainder of Sheriff Steve Freitas’ second term after he retired in July for health reasons. He managed the county’s largest law enforcement department, with 650 employees and a $180 million annual budget, through deadly wildfires and changes in immigration policy at the county jail.

Essick, 48, has also had visible roles representing the Sheriff’s Office in the past. He was a member of the community task force created in the wake of the 2013 Andy Lopez shooting, when the 13-year-old was killed by a sheriff’s deputy. He also stood in for the sheriff at subsequent meetings of the advisory panel for the county’s independent law enforcement oversight agency.

“He was the one who had to publicly take hits during a difficult time,” Zane said of Essick. “He understands how frustrated the community can be and what they expect of the sheriff.”

Olivares, 60, plans the officially kick off his campaign at an event Monday evening at Franchetti’s Restaurant. He has garnered endorsements from Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and fellow Santa Rosa councilmen John Sawyer and Tom Schwedhelm.

Mutz, 68, has been an outspoken advocate of police reform in the wake of high-profile police shootings over the past decade. In 1991, he was the LAPD commander in charge of the embattled Foothill division where Rodney King was beaten by four police officers. After he retired in 1999, Mutz, developed a mediation program for racial profiling cases for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Olivares and Mutz have pressed their case that an outsider is needed to drive reforms and offer fresh leadership of an agency that runs two jails, a coroner’s division and patrols 1,550 square miles of the county.

“We see this around the country — it’s a call for cultivating a change in police culture and reconciling the distrust that has occurred over time between police and our community,” Mutz said. “This won’t happen from within.”

For Olivares it’s about giving residents of the county a choice after a quarter century of uncontested elections for sheriff. “Our community has been asking for a contested election,” he said. “I bring the fresh look of an experienced outsider.”

But Giordano on Friday credited Essick and others on his leadership team with tireless work supporting his own frequent public appearances and accessibility during the October fires.

“These past months have really opened my eyes to the true role of a leader,” Giordano said.

He and Essick have worked together at the Sheriff’s Office for more than two decades. When Giordano was promoted to sergeant, Essick worked under him as a deputy. Separated by one rank, they rose together up the command chain.

“I truly appreciate (Giordano’s) leadership style,” Essick said. “I owe him a debt of gratitude.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com.

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