WatchSonoma Watch

Gloves come off in supervisors’ debate


The contestants for the 1st Supervisorial District snapped and sniped furiously at each other Thursday while differentiating themselves on issues from a living wage ordinance to medical marijuana to reviving a stalled improvement project along Highway 12 in The Springs.

Susan Gorin and John Sawyer, both Santa Rosa City Council members, faced off at a forum in Sonoma, the figurative heart of a district that will soon be represented for the first time in two decades by someone not living in Sonoma Valley.

John Sawyer and Susan Gorin

They clashed hard and often, with Gorin often taking the lead. She struck first, in her opening statement, with a reference to Sawyer’s newsstand shop on Fourth Street, which he shuttered in 2010.

“While John was inheriting a business and closing it, I was spending thirty years becoming a part of this community and working to serve it,” she said.

When his turn came, Sawyer shot back: “Right out of the chute my opponent becomes negative, and that’s not surprising.”

In front of a spare crowd of about 25 people, they continued in that vein through the night, finding in almost every question an opportunity to badmouth one another.

“She’s district shopping,” Sawyer said of Gorin’s move this year from Fountaingrove, four blocks outside the district, to Oakmont, which put her within the district’s boundaries. “I wonder, if there had been an opening in the 5th District if she would have moved there.”

At another point, Gorin said, “I’ve worked with John for six years, and quite frankly, I think you deserve something better.”

The 1½ hour event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women and held at the Sonoma Community Room. Moderator Edie Mendez posed the questions, many submitted by the audience.

Gorin has the backing of environmental and labor groups, while business and agriculture interests, and public safety unions, are in Sawyer’s camp, though the candidates’ support does cross those lines.

The ties to those allies showed clearly Thursday.

Gorin supported a living wage ordinance for government contracts such as those passed in Sonoma, Sebastopol and Petaluma. Sawyer didn’t.

“It puts an onerous responsibility on business owners who can least afford it,” he said.

Gorin said: “Isn’t it fair, isn’t it just, that people receiving government funding … be paid a living wage?”

She also supported a policy of project labor agreements that would require union rules, benefits and oversight for large county construction projects.

“What it does is it levels the playing field. … they bring in projects under-budget, with better conditions of work, and they create local jobs,” she said.

Sawyer retorted: “It’s clear my opponent has consumed the union Kool-Aid.”

The agreements would exclude local, non-union workers from projects they were otherwise qualified for, he said.

Sawyer described himself as “sensitive to business,” saying a strong economy “pays the bills.”

On a question about how environmental policies they have backed in Santa Rosa would translate to more rural areas, Sawyer said, “It’s elemental to have a functioning economy and all the gears running very, very smoothly” to help pay for environmental initiatives.

And he said he and Gorin ran “virtually parallel” on such initiatives that the city has pursued.

Gorin responded that, “The reality is you have not taken one leadership role in any environmental initiative,” and pivoted from that into an answer about developing energy independence and supporting local food producers.

On some issues, the two found agreement. Both were for countywide ban of plastic shopping bags, and the need to ensure a reliable water supply for Sonoma Valley.

They agreed also on the need to find funds to complete long-planned upgrade to sidewalks and streets in The Springs, along Highway 12 north of Sonoma. The project has been derailed by the state’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies.

But neither was particularly specific about how they would do that.

“I will use my relationship with the current supervisors,” said Sawyer. “I think they will come together very rapidly to fund that project. Unfortunately, it is going to take more time, it will be more expensive, it will probably have to be phased.”

Gorin used the question chiefly as a vehicle to plug her work in Santa Rosa, though she later added that she would also pursue competitive grants.

“We will plan and complete this project just as I have planned and completed bike and infrastructure projects all over Santa Rosa,” she said. “Most of the bike and pedestrian lanes in Santa Rosa are the work of planning I did.”

Both also said they would oppose making Sonoma County a so-called “sanctuary county,” which would prohibit local agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

The candidates also agreed, not surprisingly, on the need to upgrade and repair the deteriorating county road system, which needs more than $100 million of work.

Gorin said she would urge the board of supervisors to restore more funding for roadwork from the county general fund, and used the moment to charge Sawyer with “flip-flopping” on whether he would support new taxes to pay for that work.

Sawyer said Gorin had her facts wrong, and said he would “be willing to consider a sales tax of half a percent.” That would raise $128 million over four years, 70 percent of which would go to roads with the rest divided between parks, public buses and bicycle and pedestrian paths, he said.

Asked whether they support medical marijuana, both candidates said they did.

But Sawyer said that while he would feel obligated to consider any application fairly, he would not support a medicinal marijuana dispensary east of Melita Road, at the east edge of Sonoma Valley.

Gorin said she would consider such a proposal if it was “appropriately sited.”

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

18 Responses to “Gloves come off in supervisors’ debate”

  1. James Bennett says:

    The fact that Sawyer spoke out about an over reaching PRMD in terms of permits/code enforcement is a feather in his cap.

    Washington wrote with a feather, but said that property rights and liberty were inseperable.

    A feather looks funny in a wig.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  2. Snarky says:

    Bonnie Hayward:

    What “out of town real estate developers” are you referring to in your comment?

    How do you know Sawyer is backed / funded by “out of town real estate developers?”

    If you knew, why didn’t you post the company names ?

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 8

  3. Bonnie Hayward says:

    John Sawyer failed in his own business an has done very little work as a productive citizen. Has he ever held a job? I have seen him at council and recent debates and he simply doesn’t have the skills or intellect to run our county. When you add to that the fact that he represents out of town real estate developers and the same pack of developers that have overbuilt fountaingrove I fear for our county and Sonoma valley if he is elected. I voted for Sierra Club’s choice Susan Gorin. She is smarter and not bought and sold by gravel interests and developers like Sawyer.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 26

  4. Steveguy says:

    Does she live in Oakmont ? I’ll bet not. Check her cell phone ! Check the address too ! Is it some 1 bedroom place ?

    I don’t have a donkey in this race, but at least Sawyer and his family HAVE lived there for decades ! I think that I would rather have a good one from Sonoma, but the good ones give up. Especially after Mike Martini was shunned by the Democratic Central Committee. They like ‘moldable’ candidates that throw outrageous sums of money their way in return for a wink and a nod.

    Gorin is the new Evans. Oh my

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 11

  5. Billy C says:

    The way I see it Susan is not really committed to Sonoma and has little to offer the Valley. I doubt she really moved
    as her White Oak residence is rarely occupied. Her political focus is on bikes ,MTC,Transit oriented development and projects like the SMART train with the 100 Million dollar bike path. All these things are centered around Santa Rosa and sucks funding from Sonoma Valley. Sure the unions love it as it will bring them high paying jobs but who else benefits? When it come to dealing with the unsustainable pensions for county employees who will Susan be siding with? The way I see it people Susan have good intentions of saving the word but have put us in a tough spot. I think we need people like John to get us back on a healthy sustainable track.

    Thumb up 31 Thumb down 12

  6. Concerned Sonoman says:

    As someone who was actually at the debate, I saw strengths, weaknesses and similarities for both candidates.

    I appreciated that they both expressed their support to complete the HWY 12 redevelopment project, enact a plastic bag ban and invest in water infrastructure.

    Here’s the things I didn’t like about each one…

    SAWYER: Talked and criticized the county permit department (can’t remember the exact name…). Instead of criticizing it, shouldn’t he try and work with them to understand their deficiencies and make improvements from there? Also, who cares about these permits aside from a small group of ppl who get them?

    GORIN: In yesterday’s IT, she was quoted as saying she didn’t know where she wanted to live. That statement, after finding out at the forum that the house she OWNS is in District 3, and she RENTS her Oakmont home…something’s amiss here. Also, as someone who said she studied economics (I too studied economics), she supports a living wage, which consistently is shown as a job-killer. Lastly, she chuckled anytime something was negative about her…kind of came off as chippy to me.

    While both candidates have their flaws, after hearing their platforms and backgrounds last night, I’ll be voting for John Sawyer. I need to trust that the next Supervisor will care about Sonoma and the Valley.

    I didn’t buy into Gorin’s scare tactics that Sawyer will is development-at-all costs. He opposed Wal-Mart and Lowes, and I think he’ll stand up against projects when needed.

    Thumb up 33 Thumb down 11

  7. David says:

    @ Lisa Maldonado
    Your statements about Big Business and destroying Sonoma County is laughable considering your support of the Casino in Rohnert Park! The Casino will cause more destruction to Sonoma County than any of the projects you hate. The environment will suffer, the roads will get even worse and the quality of life we enjoying here will go downhill. The Casino is big business at its worst.

    Thumb up 38 Thumb down 13

  8. Bill me says:

    So why is Gorin moving into the 1st District to run when she lives in the 3 rd? How can she be so dedicated to those 1st District folks when she subverts the intent of having to live in the District by renting a home so she can run? I say 1st District folks are better represented by the man who runs in his own home area. 110 years for the Sawyer family means John will protect all of the citizens and the environment. He didn’t have to move into a rented home to represent us. Gorin is about representing special interest’s issues, not 1st District citizens.

    Thumb up 38 Thumb down 13

  9. Ken says:

    I find it highly hypocritical for Mr. Sawyer to say Ms. Gorin has drunk the union kool-aid when HE HIMSELF is supported by the cops, the firefighters and the teamsters. Do those groups offer different, better kool-aid? Or is he just an idiot?

    I think I’d be pretty pissed right now if I was a member of those unions.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 27

  10. Ken says:

    Dan: That’s because Sawyer claims to be a Dem, but is really a Republican.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 32

  11. Terry says:


    Your disconnect is incredible. Many of the evil big businesses that support John Sawyer have union employees! Surprise, but jobs are good for union members.

    What good is it for you or Gorin to advocate for union members if all they are doing is sitting around the union hall waiting for the phone to ring? Get over your hate of successful business and maybe the veil will get lifted from your bitter heart and you’ll see the truth. Time to get over yourself and your baseless accusations.

    Thumb up 37 Thumb down 13

  12. Betty R says:

    so if Susan does not win is she going to run back to F.G? most likly. If she wants to do what is right she sould of sold her F.G house and buy one in Oakmont. I don’t think it’s right to be able to move from one district to another just because there is a spot. If by luck she does pull off a win are we going to see bike lanes on ever road in the district?

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 12

  13. Grapevines says:

    This is a very easy issue to judge.

    If your a fruit fly, tree hugging, natural fruit and fiber loving, anti growth liberal who loves everything union/obama/democrat/public employee pension robbing the county taxpayer of everything, then by all means vote for the person who moves anywhere to qualify as a candidate. (by the way that’s Gorin)

    Now if you want to see some change from that “other” point of view from what has been happening around here, then vote for Sawyer.

    This isn’t rocket science people. Do we want to be a bigger Sebastopol filled with natural mushroom farmers wearing home spun clothing, or do we want to grow responsibly?

    Tell Gorin to move to Sebastopol or Hopland and run for the city council there.

    Thumb up 37 Thumb down 13

  14. Wilson says:

    GOOD! I hope that people paid attention to this debate.

    It’s easy to see who has the needs of the people in mind and who has the needs of the special interests who have had their way for far too long here in Sonoma County. Susan Gorin will be a welcome and long-awaited change for the better.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 34

  15. John Pendergast says:

    This contest comes down to Sawyer, who comes across like a moderate milk toast candidate and an extremist nut.

    Gorin denies building permits to fast food outlets because the carbon emissions from the drive though lanes contribute to global warming, among other nutty things she votes for. This woman is either a nut or a crass opportunist, either way a horrible option to vote for, I’ll have milk toast please.

    Since this county is the most provincial place on earth I wouldn’t be surprised if she pulls out a win.

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 27

  16. Lisa Maldonado says:

    John Sawyer had already unmasked himself as another tool of Real Estate PACs and Big Business developers who have ruined so much of our beautiful county but now he unmasks himself as a tool of the anti labor,low road construction interests as well. I guess it’s ok for him to support wealthy asphalt interests like Bodean Asphalt to spew pollution in our neighborhoods, but God forbid that working families should have health care and retirement benefits for their families after their children get asthma from the Bodean plant. Mr Sawyer is supported by the Chamber of Commerce,Big Developers and Reals Estate because that’s who he will represent. Susan Gorin is supported by the Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Action and the North Bay Labor Council because she cares about people and neighborhoods. The choice is stark and it’s an important one, now that issues such as Preservation Ranch will be decided in the next term. What kind of a Sonoma County do you want to live in?

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 50

  17. Chris Snyder says:

    The Operating Engineers Local #3 was trying to stay out of this race. But with anti-union comments like Sawyers in the heat of a debate it is becoming very difficult.

    The fact is that Sawyer will be more development friendly wich is great for construction.

    Gorin is going to be more friendly to workers safety and wage concerns those are issues union members care about.

    It is very disturbing though when Sawyer comes out and attacks union agreements. The right to bargain collectively is the core of labor unionism. Union agreements promote safety, train workers into new skills and crafts including returning vets. Labor helps to bring workers into the Middle Class. I am truly completly baffled by Sawyers comments. They are the same comments that Mitt Romney made to his supporters at the ABC…. please see

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 41

  18. Dan J Drummond says:

    I just noticed that the Republican Party of Sonoma County has listed John Sawyer as more in line with their platform.


    Thumb up 35 Thumb down 7

Leave a Reply