By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Single-term Petaluma City Councilman David Rabbitt defeated Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt in the race for the 2nd District Sonoma County supervisor’s seat.
With all 57 precincts reporting, Rabbitt had 54.2 percent of the vote to Torliatt’s 44.3 percent.
“When I first saw the numbers coming in, I was overwhelmed,” said Rabbitt, 50, who jumped to an early lead on returns from absentee ballots. “I’m still cautiously optimistic until it’s certified.”
If his lead holds the victory will have many of the marks of an underdog’s triumph. He ran a far-second to Torliatt in the June primary, raised $75,000 less in campaign cash, and had none of the high-profile endorsements of the North Coast’s state and federal elected officials, or from the Democratic Party, all of which went to Torliatt, an 18-year veteran of Petaluma politics.
Torliatt, 43, would not comment Tuesday night. Her term as mayor will end next month.
Rabbitt’s apparent victory put a surprising end to a high-profile runoff that attracted a near-record amount of campaign cash, $672,000, much of it from powerful special interests in the county. Rabbitt was backed by agriculture, development and business interests, while Torliatt drew support from large public employee unions and environmental groups.
Independent expenditure committees also poured roughly $112,000 into the race with nearly $90,000 of that total dedicated to mailers opposing Torliatt.
Political observers said much was at stake in the race.
“It was the only contested supervisorial seat in this election and the winner decides whether it’s going to be more moderate versus a more progressive board of supervisors,” said Brian Sobel, a campaign consultant and former Petaluma city councilman.
Differences in land-use policy did the most to set the two candidates apart.
Rabbitt has been critical of the decisions by the current slow-growth majority on the Petaluma City Council, lead by Torliatt, which has been blamed for delays in a number of large developments.
Rabbitt’s detractors said his support from developers and business groups would make him beholden to those interests in important votes on the board of supervisors.
But supporters said his politics would lead to more jobs.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Chris Snyder, district representative for Operating Engineers Local 3, a major Rabbitt supporter. “The ‘jobs’ messages definitely prevailed.”
Outgoing supervisor Mike Kerns and 3rd District Supervisor Shirlee Zane sent congratulatory messages to Rabbitt.
“Seems a little premature for me. (But) it’s nice to see the numbers coming in the way they’re coming in,” Rabbitt said.