By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The run-up to Rohnert Park’s council election Nov. 2 has been colored with drama:
– A blizzard of attack fliers paid for by independent committees and, in a recent case, by an unknown player;
– A controversial former city manager’s candidacy;
– A fire commander who charged that his department is in crisis and who then disappeared from the race amid trouble in his personal life.
But beneath the tumult is the fiscal crisis that since the 2008 election has dominated the council’s attention as it wrestled with a deficit that still stands at $2.5 million. Now that issue is the primary theme in the race to reshape the council.
How City Hall has handled the budgetary crisis has shaped each candidate’s platform. The field includes Mayor Pam Stafford, who is trying to keep her seat, one of two being contested.
Her campaign has focused on touting accomplishments that she says include starting the city’s new farmers market and preserving the senior and community centers from budget cuts, while also slicing nearly $3 million in city spending.
Some of her opponents have disagreed in biting terms.
“All that made our community a great place is being dismantled,” said Carl Leivo, the former city manager who was ousted in 2005. One of six candidates, he is a critic of the council’s cost-cutting decisions, management choices and use of redevelopment money.
“Pam’s been part of a council majority that’s been making decisions that I disagree with,” Leivo said.
Alliances among some candidates are clear.
First-time candidate Amy Ahanotu, whose election signs are frequently paired with Stafford’s, is far less critical of City Hall decisions.
“Rohnert Park is moving in the right direction,” his fliers state. The city, he says, faces “financial and economic hardships that require strong leaders.”
And, he said, “I fully support” Stafford’s re-election.
John Borba, whose campaign signs often appear with Leivo’s, is more critical than Ahanotu though he does say, “Rohnert Park has taken many steps to improve the budget over the last two years.”
But the city “deserves better,” his fliers say. And on his website, he says: “New and creative thinking is necessary to guide the city out of this difficult recession.”
Borba, who along with Leivo has been endorsed by the powerful Rohnert Park Peace Officers Association, declined to say whether he supports Stafford.
Ahanotu, a banker and chairman of the city’s chamber of commerce, and Borba, an attorney and former chamber chairman, say their business experience will help the city regain its financial footing.
Leivo points to his two-year tenure as city manager as evidence that he can right the city’s budget.
He points out that the last time the city’s budget was balanced was while he was its top manager.
Critics, however, say he balanced the budget through one-time gains from property sales and that he negotiated retiree and medical benefit plans that drove the city into the red.
A fifth candidate, retired city police officer Roger Schwanke, says the city has to attract more business and industry to broaden its economic base and boost sales tax revenue.
Crosscurrents of endorsements have also shaded the campaign. Schwanke, for example, did not get the endorsement of the city Peace Officers Association.
Councilman Jake Mackenzie and Vice Mayor Gina Belforte — who was elected in 2008 as part of a POA-backed slate that included councilmembers Joe Callinan and Amie Breeze — have endorsed Stafford and Ahanotu. Callinan and Breeze, who is stepping down, endorsed Borba and Leivo.
A Codding Enterprises-funded committee, Protect Rohnert Park, has attacked Leivo and supported Stafford and Ahanotu. A second committee — whose only known donors are residents James Henley and Bruce Hotaling — has paid for fliers that slammed Stafford for her decisions on the council.
And on Tuesday, a mailer blasting Stafford’s support of Codding Enterprises’ Sonoma Mountain Village mixed-use project hit mailboxes in M Section, the neighborhood bordering the fledgling development. The mailer had nothing indicating who was responsible for it.
Jack Rosevear, the former fire division commander, while nominally still in the race, has not campaigned since a controversy involving his wife, who got a temporary restraining order against him after a domestic argument.