Newcomer likely defeats veteran councilman in Sonoma

Rachel Hundley, a lawyer-turned-caterer who moved to Sonoma 20 months ago, may have ousted Ken Brown, a 16-year City Council veteran, in a close race for the third council seat in Tuesday’s election.|

Rachel Hundley, a lawyer- turned-caterer who moved to Sonoma 20 months ago, may have ousted Ken Brown, a 16-year City Council veteran, in a close race for the third council seat in Tuesday’s election.

Hundley, who finished third behind Gary Edwards and Madolyn Agrimonti, said Wednesday she was comfortable with her 170-vote lead over Brown, but not ready to claim the seat.

“From what I’ve seen, I feel pretty good about it,” said Hundley, 31, regarding her first venture into politics. “I’ll wait till the votes are all in before I call it a done deal.”

Hundley had 1,399 votes, or 16.6 percent, compared with Brown’s 1,229 votes, or 14.6 percent. Brown said Wednesday that he’s unlikely to close the gap and is “getting on with my life” after a long run on the council.

Bill Rousseau, the Sonoma County registrar of voters, said Wednesday there were 25,000 to 50,000 uncounted ballots, including mail-in ballots received Monday and Tuesday, mail-in ballots dropped off at polling places on Tuesday and provisional ballots. Rousseau did not know the exact number of uncounted ballots nor where they were cast.

Brown, 67, was the lone incumbent in a field of eight candidates after Mayor Tom Rouse and Councilman Steve Barbose opted not to seek re-election.

That turned out to be an opportunity Hundley said she couldn’t pass up. A former lawyer in New York, Hundley moved to Santa Cruz about three years ago and relocated to Sonoma in March 2013, intent on running for local office.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. She picked Sonoma because it was a small town, the “right market” for her catering business and a place where it was “easy to get involved,” she said.

She had planned to run for the council in 2016, but decided to jump when she learned there would be two open council seats this year. Hundley said she contacted Brown, who was mayor at the time, and he subsequently offered her advice during her campaign.

Brown is no stranger to close races, having run unsuccessfully in 1996 and two years later winning a council seat by a single vote.

Brown, one of the longest- serving council members in Sonoma’s history, acknowledged helping Hundley and said that he views other candidates “as competitors, not adversaries.”

Brown said he expected a close race and wasn’t surprised by the outcome, with what he called “an excellent field of candidates.”

He said he won’t likely run for the council again, but he might apply for appointment to the Planning Commission or Cultural and Fine Arts Commission.

If Hundley prevails, the five-member council will have a brand new majority.

Edwards, 55, who led the pack with 1,592 votes (18.9 percent), is a cheese marketer and city planning commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2006. Agrimonti, 67, who had 1,481 votes (17.6 percent), is a former mayor of Daly City and retired fundraiser who ran for a council seat two years ago but lost.

Hundley said she ran a conventional campaign, knocking on doors at about 1,000 homes, mailing fliers and having volunteers make phone calls. “I was out and about,” she said, noting that her food business puts her in touch with lots of people.

You can reach Staff Writer ?Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or ?guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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