WatchSonoma Watch

Political surprise in Santa Rosa City Council race



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.

Ernesto Olivares (PD FILE)

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 kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.

33 Responses to “Political surprise in Santa Rosa City Council race”

  1. Not A Chance says:

    The PD reaches a new low, posting my response to Kay days after the story cleared the WSC front page. Very petty.

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  2. The Oracle says:

    @Paul Anderson. Nice fiction. But Delphi has seen the polls. Olivares #1; Wysocky #2; Carlstrom #3; Combs #4; Taylor #5… Bañuelos is running down with Hans “Reason to Believe” Dippel. With Gorin up by more than 5% in the 1st Supervisor against Delphi’s closet Republican, John Sawyer, Olivares is smart enough to realize a 3-3 council (with Gorin’s seat open) is likely; and Olivares is able to do what Wysocky wouldn’t: build an alliance.

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  3. Terry says:

    @ The Oricle.

    That just makes too much sense and benefits too many people. We should be fighting, putting up road blocks and disagreeing and getting nowhere. Isn’t that what we should be shooting for?

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  4. Not A Chance says:



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  5. Not A Chance says:

    My girl Kay back in the mix!!!!

    So Kay, you see Levine also was hit by the FPPC? You have your pitch forks ready? His conflict is real, deceptive in nature.

    And all I needed to hear is that you’re an Olivares support, the king of pension spiking!

    Michael Allen has been a model legislator and I think that bugs you more than anything. Wish I could say the same for the Mayor:

    -Supported charging for parking at the mall, which has deviated the Small Businesses within. Also makes SR an undesirable place to bring your business.

    -Supported Measure Q (district elections) and is now leading the shadow campaign to destroy the effort. I’d love to see what Erin has to say about that.

    -Screwed hard working people so he could support his friends back at the Police Station, big pension and pay boosts.

    -And rumor has it, he violated the Brown Act three different times over the last 2 and a half years. (quick Kay, call the FPPC!)

    Now that’s the kind of corruption Kay can get behind, good old fashion in your face corruption, so long as you’re a Republican she’s cool with it.

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  6. The Oracle says:

    Why on earth would we want to applaud two people for publicly committing to work with each other despite their differences? We can’t have that! Why on earth would we applaud two people for taking the time to find out where they have some common ground. We don’t want that. It’s much easier to assume progressives are anti-business and Chamber of Commerce is heartless. These myths make it easier to spew names at them too. And, in the end, that’s more important than governing, right?

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  7. Reality Check says:


    I think you nailed it. For Carlstrom’s political career to begin she needs to be elected. Olivares’ endorsement provides (temporarily) a gloss to obscure her left-wing agenda, enough to get elected. In return Olivares hopes for a few concessions. If he gets anything, it’ll be too trivial to matter. Carlstrom got the better of the deal.

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  8. Juan Lock says:

    What is so wrong with a little bit of collaboration? As a nation, we seem to have entered a time of harsh anti-partisanship, and I, for one, am glad to see people on both sides of the aisle demonstrating a collaborative attitude. Frankly, we want our government to be responsive to the interests of everyone, and beholden to no one group.

    So many of the votes among city councils and the BoS come down to left v. right, progressive v. conservative, and I would like to imagine that it is possible for our elected officials to vote according to what is best for the citizens of Sonoma County, not what their label or interest group requires.

    And finally, Kay, your attack on Assemblyman Allen is a little far reaching…. The FPPC fine is long in the past, (Marc Levine has also been cited) and the pension reform package that he just helped through the legislature didn’t exactly make the unions happy…

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  9. Kay Tokerud says:

    This is rich, a progressive endorsing a conservative. Why would anyone want the endorsement of a 29 year old newcomer, nobody, wife of a political animal by all accounts? This is a publicity stunt because she wants to win. She got front page news in the PD! Her husband thought of this sleazy tactic, I guarantee you.

    This is a trick! Erin Carlstrom equals Nick Caston equals Michael Allen equals the Unions equals Transform equals Smart growth, the whole thing. She will vote progressive like a maniac if she gets on council.

    Olivares who probably sees the handwriting on the wall, that he won’t be in the majority soon, wants to start compromising with the other side now. He will become a progressive in order to remain in political favor. He’s the one I’m concerned with whereas nothing Erin carlstrom stoops to surprises me. Erin Carlstrom is just like Michael Allen who was caught by the FPPC for serious conflicts of interest while on the Santa Rosa Planning Commission.

    Erin Carlstrom will help usher in mandatory home inspections and retrofits, vehicle miles travelled taxes, Infrastructure Financing Districts and every other mandatory green idea that anyone wants to put forward.

    Take it back, Olivares. No on Carlstrom.

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  10. Not A Chnace says:

    I was going to stay out of this, but Alex T. has the PD dead to rights on that.

    Where’s the outrage PD?

    Olivares did in fact spike that bad boy, and oh the irony that Michael Allen–PD enemy number one–just ended spiking practices in California. AND THEY GAVE HIM NO DUE!!!

    This just goes to show you that the PD actually aren’t pension hawks, they’re progressive hawks.

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  11. Eric Newman says:

    “Signs of the Apocalypse:
    Eric Newman agrees with Beef King”

    Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. I have argued repeatedly for greater civility on WSC, so I am encouraged by “Beef King” actually calling for better moderation regarding the really negative personal attacks on Erin Carlstrom’s husband and campaign manager. This may be the first time he and I have agreed on anything.

    I too believe that that moderator should not post ad hominem attacks. It starts a downward spiral of escalating vituperativeness which eventually depresses readership.That’s why we have moderated sites, so that there is some level of quality control on what gets published, so that people feel safe in participating.

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  12. Alex T says:

    BTW, I find it highly amusing that Ernesto Olivares, a 53-year-old retired police lieutenant, who receives a pension of over $130,000/year after spiking it his last two years of work, is so beloved by the editors at the Press Democrat. Could that be because he’s firmly in the back pocket of developers?

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  13. Alex T says:

    The rumor mill is going full force, the idea being they’re endorsing each other now so that Erin will side with the Gang of Three to appoint Donna Zapata to the council after Gorin wins and Sawyer fades into the obscurity he so deserves.

    Betting season is open folks!

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  14. ken says:


    To call Mr. Olivares liberal is denial of a monumental sort.

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  15. Psh. says:

    This is political calculation rather than political conviction.

    Go ahead, keep electing the people who will say and do anything to win.

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  16. Buddy Bear says:

    Beef King,

    Funny coming from you, really.

    I met Nick Caston about a year ago and a union fundraiser, it wasn’t a good experience, he essentially said he would do anything and everything to win a race, no matter who gets in the way. Evidently he’ll have his candidate get into bed with a sworn enemy, simply to make up for a bad move bashing the police union in the city, maybe Ms. Carlstrom wouldn’t be selling out if her Husband/Campaign Manager would have given her the sound advice to not attack public safety in the first place.

    I’m terribly sorry I hurt your feelings.

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  17. Jean Anderson says:

    @Dick Tracy

    I see clearly. I’ve read your posts, so I know who is blind and who is not.

    But I’m sure you’ll vote for this anti-American clown anyway.

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  18. Dick Tracy says:

    @Jean Anderson

    “Santa Rosa politics is small potatoes.

    The entire nation should feel betrayed by the incompetent Obama…”

    But the article is ABOUT Santa Rosa politics. Perhaps in your blinding hatred of Barack Obama you mistook the article for an article about presidential politics in the New York Times.

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  19. Jean Anderson says:

    Santa Rosa politics is small potatoes.

    The entire nation should feel betrayed by the incompetent Obama with his incoherent policies and detached, arrogant, lack of leadership. The guy cares more about celebrity and yucking it up with Letterman and The View dummies than the assassination of a US ambassador, his aide and 2 Navy SEALS. What a total disgrace. Anyone who votes for this bozo again will condemn your children and grandchildren to life in a far worse off country.

    So if Erin wants to work with the other side, what’s so bad about that?

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  20. Terry says:

    It is remarkably telling when people attack Ms. Carlstrom for stating that she wants to break the divide between extremes in an effort to find common ground for the sake of all the community instead of just one lock step point of view.

    What do these attacks say about their point of view? I believe it says allot. For instance, why isn’t the business community on this forum attacking Mayor Olivares over his endorsement of Carlstrom? I think that reveals allot about the polarity of the so called progressives who apparently don’t seem to want to progress at all, but just to fight every project that comes before the city council.

    Very interesting…

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  21. Critic at Large says:

    When two very liberal politicians endorce each other it sounds like the political earth in Santa Rosa is shaking. They are two sides of the same coin.

    Both believe the government can solve all of our social ills and they love to spend taxpayer money to prove it.

    On the poltical spectrum of the Santa Rosa City Council these two may look centrist but in reality they are liberal left leaning, just not radical liberal.

    These are not the sort of politicans that will solve the pension crisis, debt crisis or cut your taxes. Spending will continue to march on down the road to financial insolvancy.

    Santa Rosa needs political leaders who will face the city’s financial crisis head on, not try to find common ground with a leftist contingent that believe the only way is their way or the highway.

    Going along to get along is not the way to play the game. The problems Santa Rosa faces are much to serious for that approach.

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  22. Beef King says:

    The ‘Buddy Bear’ comment should be removed for the personal attack on the husband of the candidate.
    I understand passionate discourse but that is unacceptable.

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  23. Paul Andersen says:

    There are four seats and seven candidates. Wysocky (progressive) and Olivares (conservative) are likely to be reelected, leaving two seats open. Banuelos and Combs — both progressive — are running aggressive campaigns.

    The absence of a strong conservative candidate outside of Olivares leaves a large opening for a moderate to conservative candidate.

    Carlstrom has made a calculated move to attract more conservative Olivares voters by making this “deal” (or whatever the hell it is).

    It’s a Machiavelian manuever. She can try to sell it however she wants but it’s no more and no less than political self-preservation.

    She has a lot riding on it working — she’s banking her entire political future on this move.

    Whether it will work with just 42 days left and absentee ballots in the mail in less than two weeks remains to be seen.

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  24. Terry says:

    I am amazed at how extreme people can be. I don’t see business interests crucifying Mayor Olivares for his endorsement, but I do see extremists attacking Carlstrom. I think that says allot about the deterioration of our political dialog and about who is really interested in seeking solutions based upon compromise and common ground. Think about it before you attack either for trying to stop this ineffective madness that leads to nowhere.

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  25. Lieberman says:

    Dear Ms. Carlstrom,

    Here is some free advise; don’t sell out old friends for new, it is a losing strategy and soon neither will trust you.

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  26. @Dave and Chris says:

    And then a unicorn flew over and everything in Santa Rosa was magical and great!

    This isn’t about her trying to look like a uniter, this is a much deeper thought out plan, Erin went to war with the police unions, that blew up in her face and Ernesto agreed to help her with the police union. Look a little deeper, you’ll see that there is an open seat on the council and The Mayor needed to hedge his bets to make sure another conservative like he and Erin would be appointed to that open seat, this is all in the event that Gorin beats sawyer; its insulting that she didn’t think we could put it together.

    Its ignorant to believe this is some kind of unity ticket, its a convenience ticket.

    “Asked if she planned to vote for Olivares, she declined to say.

    “That’s not what this is about,” she said.”

    You are at a joint endorsement conference and she declined to say if she was going to vote for him, WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!? Like was stated before, talking out of both sides of her mouth, in record time.

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  27. Dave says:

    It truly is a jaded populace that feels betrayed by this girl. Her ambition to increase cooperation on the council, and get things moving cooperatively should be applauded. They never said they endorsed each other positions, just each other’s desire to work together. All the bickering needs to stop to get this city going. We’re not dealing with nuclear weapons here people. Cooperation shouldn’t be this hard.

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  28. RICHARD says:

    Ms Erin Carlstrom, is applying to fill Mr Sawyer’s soon to be open slot on the Gang of Four: Olivares, Ours, Sawyer, Bartley.

    The Gang of Four, which puts special interest, eg chamber of commerce, over-developers, mall owners ect, ahead of the common good.

    God Bless Santa Rosa, only a saint [santa] can save us.

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  29. Dorky endorsements says:

    What political values do Erin and Ernesto truly believe in? Does they “endorse” each others’ principles and goals?

    Either they are very clever and are willing to change their values as need be to get votes and money, or they have to risk taking a real stand for a their values and principles and lets the voters know where she stands.

    Erin: ENDORSING Olivares for re-election sounds like you really like his goals and principles more than you like yours and your allies.

    Ernesto: ENDORSING Erin sounds like an act of political convenience. I can’t believe you’d change any of your values and goals for the city at all.

    Why didn’t you just say, “I’m willing to work with all council members”? Or did that not get you enough money and votes?

    What do you guys stand for anyway, other than getting elected?

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  30. Chris says:

    Not sure why there is so much anger over two candidates being willing to work together. How can you be betrayed by public officials making a commitment to do what we on this forum have slammed other politicians for not doing.

    I met Erin at my door in April and have since attended one of her house parties. She is articulate and thinks for herself. No wonder the political establishment is outraged.

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  31. Buddy Bear says:

    Is it too late to get Marsha back in the race!?!?!?!? She’s the only one making any sense!

    Guess what Erin, Marsha knows Ernesto, and she knows you and your sleazy husband (campaign manager), and she wanted no part of your deceptive “play it from all angels” type pf campaigning, get some conviction. Take your lies back to Yale and hang out with the Romney class.

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  32. Betrayed. says:

    Until a few days ago I was an Erin supporter, Olivares and his ilk are slowly ruining our city, and evidently she endorses his policies, even those she wrote editorials denouncing I guess.

    She is the former chair of the Sonoma County Young Democrats and during her tenure Ernesto Oliveras was never endorsed by the group, on several occasions she would bad mouth the Mayor: “He’s a conservative, DINO.” Even going as far as publically slamming his deal with Public Safety (I guess her conviction has cooled for political expediency) She is yet another young politician who will do or say anything for a vote.

    Please to all those who believe she is a progressive, please take another look, she is at best a “Business Democrat” which essentially means shes a Republican. She talks out of both sides of her mouth constantly, she stands for nothing.

    I hope Gary Wysocky understands what just happened, Carlstrom just endorsed Ernesto for another inept term as mayor, she wont be a strong Noreen Evans (her idol), she’ll be a John Sawyer at best. I assume the Erin of this week will take that as a compliment.

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  33. Vinyl Rules says:

    First Ms. Carlstrom starts her campaign last year with an editorial attacking the city’s police and firefighters. Then she proceeds to do almost no campaigning through this year, rarely showing up at events or doing the hard work of getting elected to office. Then she endorses a sitting city councilmember who she won’t even pledge to vote for? One who she seems to disagree with constantly? She needs to fire her husband and get a real campaign consultant.

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