Former Santa Rosa mayor Chris Coursey launches campaign for Sonoma County supervisor seat

Touting the value of giving voters “a choice” of who represents them on Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors, former Santa Rosa mayor Chris Coursey launched his campaign Thursday evening before a crowd of about 50 supporters at the Astro Motel.

Coursey, whose support from developers, politicians and breweries was evident at Thursday’s fundraiser, said one supporter told him during a phone call that he lacked the swagger necessary to unseat supervisor Shirlee Zane, the board’s longest tenured incumbent.

“Swagger is not my thing,” Coursey said he told the man. “I also told him, ‘Never mistake my lack of swagger for a lack of confidence or determination.’?”

Coursey, 64, announced his intention to run for the District 3 seat in April, setting up a battle between the beloved former mayor and a rarely challenged county supervisor.

“I think it’s important to have a choice in this election,” Coursey said in an interview before his 25-minute campaign speech. “That’s the primary reason I ran. I don’t think elective office is given to anyone; you have to earn it.”

Coursey already has financial support from at least 150 donors, who were listed on a poster at the event.

Elected officials from Windsor, Cotati and Cloverdale, as well as former Sonoma County Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, attended the campaign kickoff, hosted via in-kind contributions from Astro Motel owner and developer Eric Anderson and Russian River Brewing and Bear Republic, which donated beer.

District 3 is the smallest of the five supervisor districts, and includes most of central Santa Rosa, as well as parts of Rohnert Park.

The race is one of three pegged for the 2020 calendar, as Lynda Hopkins’ northwest District 5 seat and Susan Gorin’s southeast District 1 seat are up for election as well.

Sonoma City Councilman David Cook, who filed his campaign paperwork March 28, is challenging Gorin.

Coursey was a longtime columnist for The Press Democrat and served as spokesman for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit before venturing into politics.

He was elected to Santa Rosa City Council in 2014, and his fellow council members voted to make him mayor in 2016.

The following year, the North Bay wildfires hit, and Coursey found himself thrust into the spotlight during the disaster that killed 24 people and destroyed 5,300 homes in Sonoma County, including more than 3,000 in Santa Rosa.

Recovery from that disaster is ongoing, and it’s one of his promised focuses, along with affordable housing, something Coursey focused on with a vignette about his arrival in Sonoma County nearly 40 years ago.

He was 25 and found opportunity in the area. He joked with guests at the $35-per-person, open-bar event that he wasn’t smart enough to be born here, but he was smart enough to stay.

The opportunity he had, though, is gone or vanishing, Coursey said.

He didn’t have an answer to the lack of affordable housing, save to promise the solution will require collaboration and compromise with other government entities. And he promised to do both.

Winning the county supervisor seat won’t be easy, as he’s facing an incumbent who ran unopposed four years ago.

Zane, 59, is the longest serving of the five supervisors, having first won election in 2008. Coursey is aware.

“There hasn’t been a sitting supervisor removed from the board of supervisors by the voters in about 35 years,” Coursey said, adding that Zane really hasn’t been challenged in her tenure, allowing her campaign coffers to grow. “Despite all of that, I like our chances.”

In April, Zane had already raised $100,000. She has the support of big-name politicians from the area, including U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, state Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa, as well as Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa.

Coursey and Zane face no other challengers in the March 3 election.

Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Julie Combs and Rohnert Park Mayor Gina Belforte dropped out of the race in the past month, although Belforte’s campaign registration is still active on the county’s campaign finance reporting website.

Coursey said he talked with Combs and Belforte before they dropped out. Combs is supporting his candidacy, according to Coursey’s campaign literature at the event.

The high-profile race will likely be a high-dollar affair, local political analyst David McCuan previously told The Press Democrat, calling it a “magnet for dollars, resources and controversy.”

Coursey acknowledged as much Tuesday, calling county supervisor races “ridiculously expensive” and estimating costs at $250,000 - or five times what he needed to run for Santa Rosa City Council.

“I’ll have to raise a lot of money,” Coursey said.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or

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