By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo’s arrest Saturday on suspicion of burglary and prowling is likely to curtail any short-term plans of his to seek
higher office and could cut short or limit his career in local government, political observers said Sunday.
While the extent of immediate damage to his political prospects isn’t yet clear, the dramatically different outlook is a blow to the 32-year-old Santa Rosa native, whose roots in the Latino community and support among Democratic Party leaders in Sacramento and beyond had given him the lustre of a rising star.
Elected first to the Board of Supervisors in 2008 and re-elected last year, he was widely expected this summer to announce a run for state legislative office. The arrest put a sudden hush to those rumors.
“Last week, there were conversations about what he might run for next year,” said Stephen Gale, chairman of the Sonoma County Democratic Party. “I don’t think there will be any of those conversations this week.”
The fallout was quicker and wider over the weekend because of Carrillo’s previous arrest, after a Labor Day street brawl last year outside a San Diego nightclub that left an Arizona man unconscious.
Carrillo said he was defending a group of female friends from a verbally and physically abusive stranger. Prosecutors subsequently reduced and then dropped battery charges against him.
But questions raised then about his off-hours activities surged back with his arrest this weekend, after a woman in his west Santa Rosa neighborhood called 911 at 3:40 a.m. and reported that he tried to break into her home through a bedroom window.
With details still trickling out and legal proceedings ahead, political observers would not say the fallout was catastrophic.
“I think it’s too early to say Efren has imploded,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist. “But this certainly has put his rise into a stall. His ambitions are plummeting back to earth.”
Carrillo’s plans for higher office, including a possible run for the state Assembly or Senate, were likely “on hold if not out,” McCuan said.
But Doug Bosco, a former North Coast congressman, friend and adviser to Carrillo, said it was premature to speculate about the supervisor’s political demise. He voiced his hope for a personal recovery and a political resurrection.
On Sunday Carrillo began what could be a month-long stay in a Northern California treatment facility to address what he and friends have described as a drinking problem.
“I think the people who are close to Efren and like and respect him are focusing more on the tragedy that it is for him to have made this mistake,” Bosco said. “To get into the political (discussion) about what it might mean…I think that people will understand that when he comes back he’ll be better than ever.”
Bosco is general counsel and an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
The seclusion “allows those folks around Carrillo to buckle down and think hard about whether or not they can move through this and weather this storm,” McCuan said.
His stay means he could miss the only scheduled Board of Supervisors meeting this month, on July 30, and a July 25 meeting of the county’s startup public power agency, a cause he avidly supports but is now unlikely to steer in the short-term as one of the county’s designated representatives.
Reactions among his west county constituents ranged from shock and distress to calls for him to immediately step down. An online petition at the website change.org pushing for Carrillo’s resignation had by 9 p.m. Sunday drawn more than 50 supporters, including people who identified themselves as county residents.
Others said they would wait to see how the legal case against Carrillo unfolds.
Robert Brent, 67, past board president of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, who warmed to Carrillo after first voting against him in 2008, called him a “champion” for his district, stretching from west Santa Rosa to Sebastopol and north up the coast.
“Politically, he’s been wonderful,” Brent said, citing especially Carrillo’s recent strong advocacy for open space protection along the coast. “But it’s not the first time that someone who is politically wonderful has had issues, is it?
“There’s a lot of facts that are unknown, but it doesn’t sound good,” Brent added.