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Sonoma County supervisors back rivals in race to determine Efren Carrillo’s successor

Sonoma County supervisors have wasted little time choosing sides in the race to determine who succeeds their colleague, Efren Carrillo, and claims his 5th District seat representing the west county.

With Carrillo now officially out of the contest for the elected office he has occupied since 2009, three of his fellow board members have made endorsements in the race, which is shaping up as the marquee local political battle this year.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane threw her support to former state Sen. Noreen Evans, a friend and political ally, in the days after Carrillo's Jan. 27 announcement that he would not seek re-election.

Supervisor Susan Gorin had endorsed Evans weeks earlier and said she informed Carrillo ahead of time, though she said she sensed he would ultimately choose not to run, given his delay in announcing a decision and lack of any other campaign activity.

In the latest move, Supervisor James Gore announced Monday that he had endorsed political newcomer Lynda Hopkins for the job, saying he viewed the 32-year-old organic farmer from Forestville as “part of the next wave of public leadership here in Sonoma County.”

“I have no clue who else is going to get into the race,” Gore said last week, with the filing deadline for the June 7 primary still six weeks away. “I endorsed her because I want to work with her, and I have trust in her values, and I have confidence in her work ethic.”

The 5th District primary looks to be the most hotly contested among races this year for three board seats, including re-election runs for Zane and Gorin. Provided the incumbents prevail in those races - it's been three decades since one has lost in Sonoma County - Carrillo's successor will determine whether the board tilts toward more progressive or more conservative decisions on its closest votes.

For the current board, those tend to be land-use issues, including those involving the wine and tourism industry, and discretionary spending on social services.

Among the unknowns this election season is whether former county supervisor and Occidental attorney Eric Koenigshofer, a close Carrillo adviser, will seek to reclaim the seat he held for a single term that ended 35 years ago. Koenigshofer has said he would run if Carrillo did not, but he has yet to make an announcement.

A handful of other potential candidates also have signaled their interest in the contest, taking out papers in the past two weeks and announcing their intentions to launch campaigns.

They include veteran Santa Rosa firefighter and battalion chief Jack Piccinini and Timothy J. Sergent, a Forestville resident and special education teacher.

“I feel a real sense that people really want somebody that's outside the political establishment to come in and shake things up a little bit - or maybe, a lot,” Sergent said Friday.

Also eyeing the office are Frank Dice, 47, of Sebastopol, a bartender at Graton's Underwood Bar & Bistro, and Rio Nido attorney Lew Brown, 51, a longtime Guerneville resident.

Dice said he wants those who staff the county's wine and hospitality industries to be represented in local government, given the pressure that rising housing costs are putting on workers.

“This is home for me, and I just feel like I want to fight for it,” he said.

Brown, 51, said he believes corruption in county government limits progress, especially in the west county region.

Roseland-area resident Marion Chase, an eligibility worker in the county's Human Services Department who was born and raised in west Sonoma County, also has taken out papers for the campaign and is seriously contemplating a run.

“I believe it's a desire to really help your community that's the key, not to do it just because that's what I wanted to do the rest of my life: be a politician,” said Chase, 50.

Evans is the political heavyweight and veteran officeholder among the growing field of candidates. A former Santa Rosa councilwoman, she served six years in the Assembly and four years in the state Senate before returning to her private law practice.

Evans recently moved from her east Santa Rosa home to Sebastopol in order to run for the 5th District post, which represents a huge area stretching from west Santa Rosa to the Sonoma Coast and north to the Mendocino County line.

Her move prompted Piccinini, 59, a longtime Sebastopol resident, to throw his hat in the ring and comments voiced by him, Koenigshofer and Carrillo have made it clear that Evans will face accusations of carpetbagging in search of her next political office.

For her part, Evans has disputed such criticism and said her tenure representing the North Coast gave her familiarity with west county issues.

Gorin said Evans would bring valuable policy experience and knowledge of west county issues to the Board of Supervisors. And Zane said there was nothing unusual about endorsements being made this early in the season, though she stressed that she did not endorse Evans until after Carrillo's announcement.

Gore, meanwhile, said Hopkins, whose family farm is in his north county district, demonstrated her energy, leadership and consensus-building skills while working as a community organizer last year in connection with neighborhood concerns about a large-scale development plan by the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians.

“She is an excellent example of somebody who has no baggage, and she has the right vision, and she'll work her tail off,” Gore said, “and that's what being a supervisor is all about.”

Carrillo, the board chairman, said he will likely endorse a candidate in the race, though not until the March 16 filing deadline has passed and he has had an opportunity to evaluate all of the candidates.

Supervisor David Rabbitt has not yet issued any endorsement.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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