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Central Santa Rosa council race finds Chris Rogers fending off challenger

Santa Rosa City Council: 2020 district races

Monday’s story is the second of a four-part series looking at the races to fill four seats on the Santa Rosa City Council.

The Nov. 3 election represents the second half of a transition to district-based contests for City Council that began in 2018 under threat of a lawsuit over alleged voter disenfranchisement of minority populations. All four races are contested, and two will make history: No council member has been elected from Roseland or the city’s broader southwest corner. That will change this year.

District 1 (Sunday): Roseland, South Park and other parts of southwest Santa Rosa

District 5 (Today): Central Santa Rosa, including most of downtown and the West End historic district

District 7 (Tuesday) West and southwest Santa Rosa

District 3 (Wednesday) East Santa Rosa including Oakmont

Santa Rosa Councilman Chris Rogers has a rival in his race for a second term, squaring off against political newcomer Azmina Hanna to represent a newly formed district that includes much of downtown and surrounding historic neighborhoods.

The nonpartisan match-up presents a clear contrast between Rogers, a politically connected former legislative aide with a broad range of establishment support, and Hanna, a self-employed creative director who is making her first bid for public office, trying to shake up the political establishment.

The District 5 seat they’re running for is open. But because Rogers comes into the race with a long list of endorsements, including from prominent office holders such as Rep. Mike Thompson, and sits on several regional boards and commissions, he enjoys the status of a “pretty well-known incumbent,” said Brian Sobel, a Petaluma-based political analyst.

“That gives him a heck of an advantage,” Sobel said. “Not taking anything away from his opponent — it’s just that name recognition in politics is everything.”

Hanna and Rogers are running to represent a district that includes much of west and central Santa Rosa and is surrounded on all sides by other council districts. It is generally bounded by Northwest Community Park, Finley Park and the intersection of Stony Point Road and Highway 12 on the west and its jagged eastern border includes Coddingtown Mall, the area south of Ridgway Avenue, the intersection of Third and D streets and the Santa Rosa Veterans Hall. It also includes the historic West End and St. Rose neighborhoods.

Azmina Hanna

Azmina Hanna
Azmina Hanna

Hanna said her first run for elected office is based on a need for greater transparency and accountability in city government. Though she declined to state any particular political affiliation ― she was registered as a Democrat in 2019 and 2018, records show ― she lamented a local political structure that she said was overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats, a state of affairs she called “too partisan.”

“It’s not in anyone’s benefit to hear a bunch of yesses to anything,” said Hanna, 46, likening the situation to being surrounded by friends who compliment your appearance. “You walk outside, and your shirt’s inside out and backwards.”

“You have to have stronger accountability, watch our money and have greater management,” she said.

She said some of her top priorities include the support of small and medium-sized businesses, backing local landlords, giving more resources to police and code enforcement officers and "breaking the cycle of homelessness.“ She said she would bring a fresh perspective to city government and suggested local tax credits for property owners and ”mom and pop landlords.“

She voiced concern about the concentration of homelessness services in District 5. Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa already runs drop-in and shelter facilities based on Morgan Street, and Burbank Housing is planning to develop the Caritas Village homeless housing and shelter project north of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall. Meanwhile, Sonoma County is trying to secure state funding to purchase and convert the Hotel Azura on Mendocino Avenue into additional housing for homeless people, and the Highway 101 underpasses between Third Street and College Avenue are popular landing places for people experiencing homelessness.

“A lot of people just feel like they have no say, and that is not true,” Hanna said. “We have a choice.”

Through her business, Hanna Creative Group, she handles communication and design work for businesses and startups. She was born and raised in the district and graduated from Santa Rosa High School and attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. She initially studied banking but said she had a change of heart, went on to study art direction for commercial advertising in Atlanta, worked in Los Angeles and returned home.

She did not appear to have received any official endorsements and filed paperwork with the city clerk Thursday indicating she planned to limit her campaign fundraising to under $2,000.

“I don’t have the big endorsements like my opponent,” she said. “I’m a resident and homegrown girl here in Santa Rosa, and I love my city.”

Chris Rogers

Santa Rosa Councilman Chris Rogers (Courtesy of Chris Rogers)
Santa Rosa Councilman Chris Rogers (Courtesy of Chris Rogers)

Rogers was elected in the city’s final at-large contest for council in 2016, when he was the third-highest vote-getter. He’s spent the past several months as a “full-time councilman” in the part-time office, after being laid off from his position as communications manager with the Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma-Marin. A former aide to state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and other legislators, he has been doing some environmental policy work on the side, he said.

Santa Rosa City Council: 2020 district races

Monday’s story is the second of a four-part series looking at the races to fill four seats on the Santa Rosa City Council.

The Nov. 3 election represents the second half of a transition to district-based contests for City Council that began in 2018 under threat of a lawsuit over alleged voter disenfranchisement of minority populations. All four races are contested, and two will make history: No council member has been elected from Roseland or the city’s broader southwest corner. That will change this year.

District 1 (Sunday): Roseland, South Park and other parts of southwest Santa Rosa

District 5 (Today): Central Santa Rosa, including most of downtown and the West End historic district

District 7 (Tuesday) West and southwest Santa Rosa

District 3 (Wednesday) East Santa Rosa including Oakmont

Rogers, 33, who spent two of the past four years as vice mayor, cited the experience in office that he would bring to a second term. His first was marked by one of the most tumultuous periods in Santa Rosa history: the devastating 2017 firestorm, the arduous recovery, pronounced homelessness and a pressing housing shortage, and now the coronavirus pandemic and related recession.

He cited his presence on several local and regional boards, including SMART, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and Sonoma Clean Power, as evidence that his colleagues and counterparts trust him to get the public’s work done.

“I have the experience and the background on the issues that matter the most, and these are not easy issues for us to address,” Rogers said. “I think that it’s very valuable to have a returning council member who’s familiar with these issues.”

A Santa Rosa native, Rogers graduated from Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, studied political science at UC Santa Barbara and public administration at Sonoma State University. Prior to running for office, he was a policy manager at Santa Rosa-based Ygrene Energy Fund.

Rogers voted for the Caritas Village services and shelter hub that some neighbors opposed, citing their objections to additional homeless services near downtown. But he touted his efforts to address that concentration by securing a commitment in February from his colleagues to spread future service hubs across the city.

He has called for reviving a years-old City Hall proposal to automatically allocate any money above the council’s reserve policy — currently set at 15% of the general fund — into long-term priorities such as paying down pension obligations and infrastructure projects. Anything deviating from such a plan would require a council motion and a public hearing, he said.

Rogers has pulled in endorsements from all of his fellow incumbents and a broad range of federal, state and local representatives. He said he was particularly proud of his recent endorsement by the union that represents Santa Rosa firefighters.

“Given the work I’ve done on resiliency and recovery,” he said, “that was especially important to me.”

Rogers has raised more than $10,500 so far this year, spending more than $6,400, with about $19,500 in cash on hand, according to paperwork filed Thursday.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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