Sawyer wins, Victoria Fleming clings to lead in Santa Rosa District 4 race
A Santa Rosa social worker took a narrow lead over a financial consultant in the most competitive of three City Council races late Tuesday night, as final results from the city’s first district-based election were being tallied.
As of 11:39 p.m., Victoria Fleming garnered 43.4 percent of the votes in the District 4 council race, while Dorothy Beattie had 41.2 percent. The two candidates were separated by 149 votes with 21 of 23 precincts reporting. Nonprofit deputy director Mary Watts trailed at 15.2 percent.
“I’m not ready to call it yet and I’m not ready to go to bed,” Fleming said of the tight race.
District 4 covers the central and northern portions of the city, including the fire-ravaged Fountaingrove area, as well as the Junior College, Hidden Valley, Chanate Road and McDonald Avenue neighborhoods.
Beattie began the night ahead, starting with 44.1 percent to Fleming’s 40.8 percent when early results from mail-in ballots were first reported about 8:25 p.m. Her lead narrowed to just 51 votes about two hours later, though Fleming still trailed.
Fleming said after taking the lead in the race she was optimistic the trend would continue in her favor.
“I’m feeling like three times is a pattern. ... The first time I was behind, the second time I was approximating and the third time I’m ahead,” she said.
Earlier in the evening, Beattie said she was “cautiously optimistic” while gathered with supporters at the home of former Santa Rosa Mayor Janet Condron.
“The night isn’t over, that’s all I have to say,” Beattie said at about 10:40 p.m.
In District 2, meanwhile, incumbent John Sawyer was on track to win his fourth City Council election, receiving 61.2 percent of the votes with half of the precincts tallied. Sawyer was way ahead of former Councilman Lee Pierce, who had 38.6 percent of the votes to represent the southeastern district that includes the Bennett Valley, Kawana Springs and Doyle Park neighborhoods.
Sawyer, a fourth-generation Santa Rosan who owned the now-shuttered Sawyer’s News business downtown, was first elected to the council in 2004 and is its first openly gay member.
“Very pleased,” Sawyer said of the results. “We’ve got a lot on our plate coming up in the next few years.”
In the third council race of this year’s election, Councilman Tom Schwedhelm was re-elected Tuesday after running unopposed in District 6. Schwedhelm, a retired Santa Rosa police chief, will represent Coffey Park - another neighborhood devastated by the October 2017 wildfires - and other parts of the northwestern section of the city.
District 4 drew the most attention and controversy as the city made its first venture into district elections.
The race was ripe for competition after Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey, who lives in the district, decided not to run. Coursey later backed Fleming, as did the Sierra Club and the North Bay Labor Council, among others.
Beattie, meanwhile, was supported by Realtors’ groups at the national and state levels, along with seven former Santa Rosa mayors and the Sonoma County Alliance business group. She was the only City Council candidate to benefit from an independent spending campaign, with the political arm of the National Association of Realtors spending thousands of dollars in the race to support her.
The outside support for Beattie, a landlord who opposes rent control, was publicly criticized by Santa Rosa Councilwoman Julie Combs. Combs also alleged Watts would siphon votes from Fleming, paving the way for Beattie’s victory.
Beattie called the criticism a “bullying” of Watts, who she described as “just a really good person” with whom Beattie was able to exchange ideas.
The local housing affordability crisis and homelessness were the top issues for candidates and voters alike in District 4.
After voting at the Steele Lane Community Center early Tuesday evening, Santa Rosa resident Robin Graefen recalled how even her 10-year-old daughter was concerned about the welfare of one homeless person who had been on the streets in their area for about two years.
“That makes my heart break,” said Graefen, who voted for Fleming. “It’s really sad and something that has to be looked at.”
Graefen liked that Fleming had experience working directly with homeless people. She also liked that Fleming is the mother of a young daughter, too, which she believed would help her advocate for families while on the council.
The remaining four Santa Rosa council seats will have their first district-based election in 2020.