By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The eight-way race for Santa Rosa City Council took a surprise turn Monday when two candidates most political observers expected to be rivals endorsed each other and called for a return to political collaboration in the city.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares, a 53-year-old retired police lieutenant, and Erin Carlstrom, a 29-year-old attorney, announced their respective endorsements at the La Rose Hotel in Railroad Square.
Carlstrom acknowledged the move was both confusing for her supporters and politically risky but said it was necessary to change the tone of city politics, something she says she is committed to.
“I know that this announcement tonight makes some of our friends and supporters uncomfortable,” Carlstrom said. “I appreciate that and I understand where it’s coming from, but change is uncomfortable.”
Olivares said he made a commitment two years ago after becoming mayor to try to bring reconciliation to the City Council and the community, but it didn’t work.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t get very far with it. It just didn’t get any legs under it,” Olivares said.
The City Council remains deeply divided between four members who tend to favor boosting businesses and creating jobs and three who generally back protecting the environment and listening to neighborhood concerns. Open displays of political animosity are common on the council.
Olivares said he took note of Carlstrom’s campaign slogan of “Together, a new future for Santa Rosa,” began talking to her several months ago about what she meant and realized he could work with her, even on issues where they disagree.
He noted she had earlier Monday accompanied him to Sacramento for a talk he gave about gang prevention, and she was “learning” about the issue.
“My hope is the (public’s) reaction is, ‘It’s about time we moved in this direction,’ ” Olivares said.
Reaction Monday in political circles was one of confusion and consternation.
Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre pulled her endorsement of Carlstrom, saying she felt “betrayed” and calling it a “slap in the face” to those groups who have supported her and other “progressive candidates,” such as Councilman Gary Wysocky, Julie Combs and Caroline Bañuelos.
“I think it’s really a marriage of convenience that makes no sense,” Bañuelos said.
Wysocky, who appointed Carlstrom to the Measure O Oversight Committee, said he’s been bombarded by questions from supporters wondering what the move portends for the election.
“I’m surprised as are many of my supporters,” he said. “There is a lot of confusion as to why she would endorse someone who does not share her positions.”
But there also was plenty of political support for the move, with Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane praising it as a “great step in the right direction.”
“This is not about rhetoric. This is about relationships, and relationships are based on respect,” said Zane, who attended the announcement.
Zane, who had endorsed both candidates, noted she often disagrees with fellow Supervisor David Rabbitt but often works most closely with him crafting compromises on key issues.
“We have to learn to look at each other as human beings that care about the same things and find out what it is that we have in common, rather than what divides us,” she said.
Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, also was on hand to support the move, while a representative of Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, read a supportive letter.
Carlstrom said the negative reaction from some supporters was to be expected, but she said she has never made “false statements from the campaign trail” that would give people cause to feel misled.
She also acknowledged the whole affair could backfire. “We may have collectively shot ourselves in the foot with this,” she said.
Some political observers saw the move as a calculated effort to win the support of the Santa Rosa police and firefighters unions, which have not completed their endorsements.
Olivares’ endorsement could carry considerable sway with the groups, both of which had representatives at the announcement.
Carlstrom also made a point of praising public employees, particularly those who “go into a burning building and the people that throw themselves in front of a bullet.”
Allan Schellerup, president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association, said his group had endorsed three candidates so far and was withholding its decision on a fourth. He called Carlstrom’s decision to work with Olivares a “step in the right direction.”
“I like what I see,” Schellerup said.
In addition to her candidacy for one of the four council seats up for grabs in November, Carlstrom already had endorsed Wysocky, Combs and Bañuelos before adding Olivares. That’s five candidates, but Carlstrom said she saw no conflict in that.
Her endorsement “means this is a person that I can work with. It doesn’t mean anything beyond that,” she said.
Asked if she planned to vote for Olivares, she declined to say.
“That’s not what this is about,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com.