Eddie Engram holds early fundraising edge over rivals for Sonoma County Sheriff

The four candidates running to succeed Sheriff Mark Essick have filed their campaign finance reports covering 2021, and the records reflect the momentum behind the diverse and competitive field.|

Assistant Sheriff Eddie Engram has an early fundraising lead over the three other candidates running for Sonoma County Sheriff, reporting over $90,000 in individual contributions, more than a third from current and former law enforcement officials.

Engram reported $90,089 from 147 contributions supporting his bid to succeed Sheriff Mark Essick, according to campaign finance reports covering all of 2021.

Retired Sheriff’s Office Capt. Dave Edmonds raised $47,848 from 64 contributions, followed by retired Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke at $27,375 from 45 contributions. Carl Tennenbaum, a former San Francisco police sergeant, raised $18,494 from 59 contributions.

In addition, Burke, Tennenbaum and Edmonds reported personal loans to their campaigns of $47,000, $37,000 and $25,000, respectively, records show.

The campaign finance reports provide a first snapshot of the support and resources behind four candidates in the most competitive race on the county ballot for the June 7 election.

Engram attributed his success to his appeal to “a wide variety of people,” though the largest share of Engram’s donor base, according to the campaign finance reports, are members of the Sheriff’s Office, where Engram oversees the county’s jail.

He has been endorsed by Essick, the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association, which represents correctional deputies and dispatchers.

“I don’t know if I’d describe (myself) as the law enforcement pick,” Engram said. “But if you look across my resume, you’ll see I have a more varied and more high profile portfolio — I’m the only candidate who has worked in the jail. I am the only candidate who has been involved at the management level and operational level of the last major fires we’ve had since 2017.”

The Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, the Marin County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and the political arm of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, which bills itself the largest law enforcement group in the state, also were donors to his campaign.

“I have trade groups both in law enforcement and out of law enforcement,” Engram said of his supporters. “Their endorsements say how they feel they feel that I am the most qualified person in the race.”

The three other candidates sought to contrast their campaigns with Engram’s, describing their fundraising efforts thus far as “grassroots.”

Edmonds pointed to the Sheriff’s Office heavy presence among Engram’s supporters as evidence that Essick’s favored successor would bring status quo leadership to largest local law enforcement agency in the county.

“Candidly, there’s a bully culture at the top of the Sheriff’s Office. There’s good employees at the Sheriff’s Office … but they have told me, ‘I can’t go on and endorse you because I will get grief,’” said Edmonds, who is mounting an insurgent campaign stitched with insider experience. He worked 32 in the Sheriff’s Office before fully retiring in 2017.

His endorsements include Supervisor Susan Gorin and Windsor Councilwoman Debora Fudge.

Donors to his campaign included Gorin; Bret Martin, of the family behind the local Pine Creek Properties real estate firm; Kimber Williams, former president of the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association; and environmental activist Rick Theis.

Few of his donors hail from law enforcement. Edmonds said his supporters are “ordinary, working class people … who can give what they have to go along with this vision for positive change.”

Burke, who retired last year after a decade with the Healdsburg Police Department, was the last of the four to declare his candidacy in mid-December. He also pointed to “a pretty diverse group of donors” within but also outside of law enforcement.

His donors include Sonoma County Community Development Commission Interim Executive Director David Kiff, Novato Police Chief Matthew McCaffrey and Healdsburg Councilwoman Evelyn Mitchell.

A number of local physicians, contractors, educators, attorneys, store managers and electrical workers also show up as his donors, his report shows.

“If you look at that list, it’s a very broad group of supporters. I’m proud of that. I don’t think there’s any typical profile of any one my contributors,” Burke said.

He has been endorsed by the Sonoma County Democratic Party, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, Supervisor James Gore, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers and at least three members of Healdsburg City Council — Mayor Ozzy Jimenez, Vice Mayor Ariel Kelley and Mitchell, who served as mayor in 2020 and 2021.

“People are enthusiastic about supporting a candidate with a track record of running an organization that’s community- and values-based, so it’s exciting to raise that in a short period of time,” he said.

Tennenbaum worked more than 30 years in the San Francisco Police Department before retiring in 2013. While he garnered the lowest dollar amount in contributions during the 2021 fundraising period, he reported slightly more individual donors than Burke.

Tennenbaum said his campaign reflects the constituency that need a bigger say about who succeeds Essick — “people in the community impacted by the Sheriff’s Office.”

“The primarily small- and mid-level donors are indicative of a more grassroots, working-class donor to my campaign,” Tennenbaum said.

His donors included several members of the San Francisco Police Department, but no “big companies or PACs or lobbying groups or labor groups.”

“I’m just very mindful of any group that does want to give me a large sum of money,” he said. “My desire is to keep it at the grassroots level and continue to raise it as I am.”

If no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote in the June election, the contest will go to a runoff in November between the top two vote-getters.

The race for sheriff is one of only two contested races so far on the county ballot. The other is the 2nd District supervisorial head-to-head between incumbent David Rabbitt and challenger Blake Hooper, a Petaluma planning commissioner.

The contest for sheriff is also only the second time in more than a quarter century where the sheriff’s race has been contested at all — the first was the 2018 race won by Essick.

Sal Rosano, who served as Santa Rosa’s police chief from 1974 to 1996 and was widely considered a law enforcement innovator, said the new competitiveness in the Sheriff’s Office election is reflective of a cultural and political shift in Sonoma County policing.

“In the last 16 years, it’s all been inside candidates,” Rosano said. “This looks like it’s going to be a seriously contested election coming up, which appears to be different than the last three or four sheriff’s races.”

It is the outcome, Rosano said, of increased scrutiny and criticism of local law enforcement agencies nationwide — including the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which has been targeted by a string of high profile lawsuits and court cases alleging mistreatment of jail inmates and excessive use of force.

They include the recent prosecution of an ex-deputy over the 2019 death of motorist David Ward. Charles Blount, a 19-year Sheriff’s Office veteran, was this week acquitted by a Sonoma County jury on charges linked to Ward’s death, a case that again drew national scrutiny on the department of more than 620 employees, including about 450 sworn deputies, and a budget of $211 million.

Since 2015, as part of the aftermath of the 2013 Andy Lopez shooting, the Sheriff’s Office’s internal investigations have also been audited by the county Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, the only one of its type in the region.

Before, Rosano said, “the public was generally satisfied with the succession of sheriffs, because there wasn’t quite the public controversy that has surfaced.” Now, “there’s been so much attention focused on the sheriff and Sheriff’s Office, and some of the issues that surfaced there have generated greater interest among candidates.”

Whoever prevails will have to aggressively grapple with “a perception that appropriate discipline has not been forthcoming” at the Sheriff’s Office, Rosano said.

While Essick opted not to run for a second term, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced two years ago that she would retire at the end of this year and her third term in office.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Carla Rodriguez announced her bid to succeed Ravitch in April.

Running unopposed, Rodriguez raised $177,931 from 158 donors in 2021, campaign reports show.

“I am humbled and awed by the amount of money my campaign has raised since we launched last April. It’s amazing to see community members come together for me, giving whatever they could afford, because they believe in my commitment to a safer Sonoma County. I couldn’t be more grateful,” she said in a campaign news release.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to correct Evelyn Mitchell’s current role on the Healdsburg City Council.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.