Sonoma County supervisor candidates Shirlee Zane, Chris Coursey trade jabs during debate
It took fewer than 10 minutes before Sonoma County supervisor candidate Chris Coursey said “the gloves are off,” during a rollicking debate Wednesday that featured blame, booing and pot pie on paper plates at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.
To read Coursey’s cues, the gloves came off a few minutes earlier, when incumbent third district Supervisor Shirlee Zane turned toward him and boasted that the majority of the City Council members Coursey had worked with as Santa Rosa mayor were endorsing her third reelection bid.
They stayed off as the pair of candidates who once dated sparred over housing, homelessness, mental health and more, agreeing on policy more often than not but disagreeing on process. Coursey, 65, the clear underdog who is seeking to be the first challenger to unseat an incumbent Sonoma County supervisor since 1984, sought to crack Zane’s incumbent advantage by attacking her on leadership.
“When things go right, Supervisor Zane always will take the credit; when things go wrong, it’s the staff’s fault,” Coursey said.
Zane, 60, is the senior incumbent on the Board of Supervisors, first winning office in 2008, and she is seeking her fourth term by touting a laundry list of accomplishments and homing in on an even longer list of endorsements.
The debate’s most heated moment came during a tense exchange related to the county-owned Chanate Road hospital complex, which has become an albatross around county leaders’ necks — but has most impacted Zane, who was targeted for fierce criticism as a key proponent of a now-defunct project that would have put nearly 900 housing units on the site.
The county is seeking to restart the deal with a new prospective buyer.
Coursey referenced the county’s initial decision to award the property to Santa Rosa developer Bill Gallaher, who along with his family members, employees and employees’ family members has contributed at least $134,967 to county supervisors’ campaigns, with Zane getting $63,000 as the biggest beneficiary.
When Zane got the opportunity to hit back, the volley went too far —at least for some in the crowd.
“You actually told me you thought Chanate should be a big park,” Zane said. “You never supported housing on it. You never spoke up for housing, not one bit — never when you were in public office, which wasn’t very long.”
Crowd members booed and hissed, with some shouting “rude!” before Santa Rosa Democratic Club debate moderator Alix Shor stepped in to seek calm.
It was necessary, particularly after Zane’s microphone stopped working, forcing the pair who sat back-to-back during dinner to pass the microphone back and forth between responses — answers which often mirrored each other on policy.
Both agreed, for example, that housing and homelessness are the top two issues in 2020. Both agreed that they have a lot more than two issues on their minds.
“But you only gave me two,” Zane quipped, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “I can work on more than two at one time. I’ve proven that.”
Coursey, meanwhile, used Zane’s lengthy tenure to pick out groups of failures centering on what he says is Zane’s inability to listen or involve the public in decisions.