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The seven candidates for Petaluma City Council and mayor made their final public pitches and took a few jabs at each other Wednesday night in the last forum scheduled before Election Day.

In front of about 120 people at the Petaluma Sheraton Hotel, each candidate answered questions about the Rainier Avenue crosstown connector, budget shortfalls, affordable housing, economic development, a potential casino south of town and what should be done with the fairgrounds land.

Incumbents Teresa Barrett and Chris Albertson and challengers Dave King, Janice Cader-Thompson and Ken Quinto are vying for three open seats on the council. Mayor David Glass is being challenged by three-term Councilman Mike Harris, who is vacating his council seat to run in the separate mayoral election.

The candidates staked out their positions on two of the most divisive topics this election: Measure Q, the one-cent sales tax measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, and their level of support for the controversial Rainier crosstown connector.

Cader-Thompson, Barrett and Glass all oppose Measure Q, which is on the ballot as a general tax with no sunset date. It would raise the local tax rate to 9.25 percent, up 1 cent from the current rate.

King, Quinto, Albertson and Harris support the tax increase, estimated to raise about $10 million a year that the City Council has pledged would be spent on a list of community priorities including Rainier, road and sidewalk repairs, restoring cut positions in the Police Department and safety upgrades to city buildings.

“It’s not the best or most unflawed measure,” King said, “But it’s something we can start working on in January.”

If it doesn’t pass, he said, the next council will have to figure out how to pay for city services that have been cut drastically in the wake of annual revenues of just under $40 million, about 17 percent less than they were before the recession.

Glass called the tax measure a “blank check” and a “bad deal.” He, Barrett and Cader-Thompson said they would have rather seen a half-cent special tax for roads, which would have required a two-thirds majority to pass.

Polling commissioned by the city showed voter support for a tax increase, but not at the two-thirds level.

“People who oppose it, they know that two-thirds isn’t going to be approved,” Albertson said, noting that a popular $52 annual parcel tax for parks failed to reach that bar. “That’s why we have a general tax (on the ballot).”

Glass said Albertson’s comparison was “disingenuous or naive, at best.”

The Measure Q question dovetailed with Rainier when Glass said he supports the long-planned but unfunded crosstown connector that would run from Petaluma Boulevard North to North McDowell Avenue under Highway 101 and over the river and railroad tracks.

The current council and tax-increase supporters say much of that money should go toward finally funding the connector that a majority of residents have repeatedly said they want.

Harris, though, challenged Glass’ support of the project. He noted that Glass signed a ballot argument against it in 2004 and has voted against development projects whose impact fees fund traffic improvements.

While Glass says he now supports the current version of the scaled-down project, “Historically he’s been against Rainier,” Harris said, including a vote against the Friedman’s Home Improvement project, included in which was a 2-acre set-aside for Rainier.

“I have a history of being for it. He has a history of being against it,” said Harris.

Quinto said he supports a version of Rainier that is a parkway, with no side-street access.

“That looks like a reasonable alternative, and I may be supporting that,” Barrett said.

Traffic congestion isn’t going to be “relieved by inaction,” King said. “The question is who has the political will to say yes. I do.”

Barrett said she believes the “stealth issue facing Petaluma that no one seems to know about,” is the drought. She called for a temporary building moratorium while emergency drought conditions persist.

The forum, sponsored by the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce and the Argus-Courier newspaper, also asked separate questions of mayoral candidates Harris and Glass.

Harris, a three-term councilman, generates much of his support from business leaders, transportation trade groups and the city’s employee labor unions, including police and fire.

Glass, serving his second, nonconsecutive term as mayor, is supported by environmental and progressive groups and has the support of several other local and regional Democratic elected officials.

Harris said he is the best choice for mayor because of his inclusive style and ability to bring opposing groups together. He has been criticized as being too on-the-fence about controversial issues.

“I work with proponents and opponents and I try to find a middle ground,” he said.

Glass said as a former radio announcer who worked in financial services, he has an ability to articulate complex issues. He has been criticized as being divisive and argumentative with those who don’t share his views.

“I’m not going to go along to get along when something is foolhardy,” he said. “You come together for people who are willing.”

The forum will be broadcast on local public access TV in the coming weeks.

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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