By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Hours after advancing to a runoff for an open seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Susan Gorin and John Sawyer, both buoyant and sleep-deprived Wednesday, were already charting their next moves.
Their showdown this fall could produce the swing vote on controversial land-use issues and factor heavily in decisions about economic development, pension system overhaul and spending on county services including road upkeep.
Gorin and Sawyer, rivals on the Santa Rosa City Council, said they expected the race to be hard-fought, with back-and-forth debate over their divergent voting records, dueling expenditures by outside interests, and different visions for the future of the county.
“Any time you have a runoff, it becomes more divisive than a multi-person race,” said Gorin.
The November election, with two sitting Santa Rosa council members vying for a district stretching to the Napa County line, could be “historic in nature,” Sawyer said.
The battle is for the 1st District seat held since 2002 by Valerie Brown, a former Sonoma mayor and state legislator who lives outside of Kenwood. The district takes in the Sonoma Valley, including the towns of Glen Ellen and Kenwood, the city of Sonoma and much of eastern Santa Rosa.
Claiming the post will require garnering more support in Sonoma Valley along with solidifying a Santa Rosa base, both candidates said in separate interviews Wednesday.
“It’s number one on my list,” Sawyer said.
“That’s the first order of business,” Gorin said.
The day-after jockeying took place as two of the three main contenders from Sonoma Valley traded shots over their loss.
The top vote-getter among them, Gina Cuclis, a Boyes Hot Springs communications consultant who entered the race first in June, blamed Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders, saying she had further splintered valley voters when she entered the race in February.
“Joanne Sanders Ralph Nadered Sonoma Valley,” Cuclis said, “meaning there were too many candidates in the race.”
Cuclis, Sanders and the third Sonoma-based candidate, Mark Bramfitt, had 17, 16 and 14 percent of the vote, respectively. Sawyer and Gorin tallied just over 23 percent each, with Sawyer ahead by only 86 votes Wednesday.
“All that I would have needed was less than half of her (Sander’s) votes,” Cuclis said. “She never had a chance entering in February. That’s why people are pointing the finger at her.”
Sanders, in response, said she entered the race as a two-term city councilwoman focused on a major valley issue – the February dissolution of redevelopment projects, including the Highway 12 roadway and sidewalk improvements. Her campaign also focused on reducing county pension and salary costs.
“I think my candidacy brought forward some issues that wouldn’t have been brought forward,” Sanders said.
She said there was no way to say her voters would have otherwise thrown their support behind Cuclis or Bramfitt had she not entered the race.
“It sounds like someone has sour grapes to me,” Sanders said.
Bramfitt, an energy consultant endorsed by Brown in the primary, said the divide vote in the valley was a major factor in the outcome but that the finger pointing was misplaced.
“When Joanne got into the race it was just going to be really difficult for a valley candidate to make it into the runoff,” he said.
Neither Brown nor any other power broker in the valley stepped forward to ask one of the candidates to drop out, he said.
Brown “could have asked Joanne, Gina or me not to run, and I’m not sure she would have held sway over any of us,” he said.
Brown, who was in Washington, D.C. this week, could not be reached for comment.
Gorin and Sawyer said their runoff would serve to illustrate key differences in their politics that may not have been apparent in the primary.
Gorin, a former city planning commissioner, is seen as an advocate for stronger planning and development oversight, a platform favored by environmental interests that are backing her campaign.
Sawyer is a former small business owner who touts a less strict“common sense” approach to land use regulation that has drawn support from business and agriculture groups.
Both have earned support from organized labor. Gorin is backed by Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the county’s largest labor group. Sawyer has received support from public safety unions.
Their fundraising outpaced the Sonoma Valley candidates in the primary, and Gorin and Sawyer said they expect that level of activity — and the barbs that come with it — to continue.
“I expect our demeanor at the council to be respectful,” Sawyer said. He added, however, that his guard would be up for duration of the campaign. “I need to be prepared for surprises,” he said.
Gorin also said she would be alert.
“I’m not going to go out of my way to create controversy on the city council. That’s not part of my job,” she said. “But I’m certainly going to disagree with John when I think it benefits the community, just as I have done in the past.”