Five candidates vie for spot on Windsor council in special election

The outcome could impact the council’s support of a proposed civic center project.|

Five people have entered the race for an open seat on the Windsor Town Council that voters will fill in a special May 4 election.

The entirely vote-by-mail election was set in motion last month to fill a vacancy left after Mayor Dominic Foppoli’s direct election to his post last fall. It is the final scheduled at-large council election before the town shifts entirely to district-based races for the five council seats.

The field vying for the 20-month term on the council includes two first-time candidates: Oscar Chavez, a former Windsor school board member and assistant human services director with the county; and Cody Wilson, a biomedical equipment technician.

Also running are three former candidates: Rosa Reynoza, Julia Donoho and Jeff Leasure. Reynoza was a close second in the 2020 mayoral race, while Leasure came within eight points of defeating longtime Councilwoman Deb Fudge in the city’s first round of district-based council races last November.

Donoho an architect and attorney, ran for council in 2006 and 2016.

The outcome of the contest could sway council decisions on a range of key projects and issues facing Windsor over the next several years. Chief among them is a contentious proposal from Encinitas-based developer Robert Green, who wants to build a 151-room hotel, conference center and six restaurants on the northeast side of the Town Green.

The city would lease land to Green for the project, which also calls for anywhere from zero to 87 residential units. As part of the agreement, Green proposed constructing a new city hall, police station and public library — civic facilities that supporters such as Fudge say are in need of replacement. The lease and property tax payments from Green’s development would finance the new civic buildings, Fudge said.

The city has entered an exclusive negotiating agreement with Green, and Fudge said next steps might come this fall, after the developer completes an analysis of the project’s financial feasibility. Councilman Sam Salmon has emerged as the lone vocal opponent of the project on the council. The other three incumbents have endorsed it.

“We’re doing it right, we’re not doing it fast,” Fudge said.

Three candidates — Leasure, Reynoza and Donoho — say the council isn’t taking community opposition into consideration.

Donoho called the green a “community living room,” and said the current council is too focused on tourist dollars and funding new government buildings than the impacts to a space treasured by residents. Among voters she talks to, “there’s a lot of concern that people are being led by the money and not by the residents first,” Donoho said.

Reynoza, a wine industry veteran, said she is running because she feels city leaders are disconnected from residents. Her campaign website has called on voters “to show our current council that Windsor belongs to the people.”

Leasure, 65, a financial and tax consultant, would advocate for the final decision on the downtown development proposal to be made by voters in a ballot measure. The hotel project could fail if the nation enters a recession and tourism drops, leaving the city “holding the bag,” he said. “It’s too big a decision for five people to make.”

But Windsor’s voters have showed where they stand on the proposal, Fudge said. She and Foppoli are leading proponents of the development project and both were reelected last November. “The majority of people are happy with the process,“ she said. ”The minority is a loud voice but I think they’re in the minority.“

The division evident in the community and field of candidates wasn’t lost on Chavez, 47, a well-known official who has already earned endorsements from Fudge and Councilwoman Esther Lemus, the majority of the Windsor school board and Peter Rumble, the head of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber.

“People have a tremendous sense of ownership of that Town Green and we want people to continue to feel that,” Chavez said, “but balance that with business needs and getting tourists in there.”

“If it doesn’t get built here it’ll get built somewhere else,” he added.

Fudge’s work as the treasurer for Chavez’s campaign raised eyebrows with the three candidates skeptical of the development projects. It suggested Fudge was seeking to stack the council with a supporter, several alleged.

“I think it’s a shame,” Reynoza said.

“She wants to have total control of what happens in Windsor and that’s one of the reasons I thought quite frankly it was time for her to leave,” Leasure said.

Fudge dismissed those suggestions. “He’s an independent thinker,” Fudge said of Chavez. “He and I have talked about issues generally but I don’t know how he feels specifically on many things. He never promised me any kind of a vote.”

Chavez also said his work in county government would be an asset to the Windsor council. His endorsements are the result of years of working in local civic life, he said. “I’ve built a strong reputation, people know who I am and what I’m about.”

Chavez, the son of Mexican immigrants, said his own journey fuels his desire to make Windsor a more affordable place to live. “I bring a lived-experience perspective having grown up in poverty and understanding the value of homeownership,” he said.

Like Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, Windsor is shifting to district-based elections after the threat of legal action from Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman, who claims that at-large voting disenfranchises local Latino voters.

His legal threat to the city in October 2018 named Reynoza, calling her 2016 run for council "particularly illustrative“ of electoral disparities. Reynoza won the Latino vote but could not overcome the ”bloc voting“ of a non-Latino majority, Shenkman alleged.

Reynoza has called for greater diversity in city leadership. But, she said, “I was never running to be a voice just for the Latinos. I want to represent the working families, the hardworking families.”

All of Windsor’s registered voters can cast ballots in the race. As of Feb. 22, there were 16,873 in the town of more than 27,000 residents. The deadline to register is April 19. Ballots go out at the start of April.

The seat up for contention has no district attached to it. The winner could put themselves in a position to run as a council incumbent, depending on where they live. In 2022, districts 1, 2 and 4 are up for election.

Chavez and Reynoza both live in Windsor’s District 1, where no incumbent lives. Donoho lives in District 4, where no one on the council aside from Foppoli lives. Wilson and Leasure live in Fudge’s District 3, which won’t be up for election until 2024.

Lemus and Salmon live in District 2 and would have to challenge each other if they both want to retain a council seat in 2022.

If Wilson or Leasure won the special election, their option to stay on the council until 2024 would be to run for the at-large mayor’s seat, which has a two-year cycle.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to specify that on the current four-member council, three incumbents have voiced support for the downtown development proposal.

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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