By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Former Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm said Thursday he plans to run for City Council in November.
The 53-year-old career cop retired in December after nearly 31 years with the department, the last 4½ as chief.
“I’m a big believer in being an active participant in the community,” Schwedhelm said Thursday. “I love this place and I think I still have more to contribute to this city.”
Schwedhelm has been rumored for weeks to be mulling a run. He has kept up his public profile since retiring Dec. 20, including speaking in support of The Dream Center transitional housing facility at the Planning Commission earlier this month.
His announcement is certain to shake up a race that has already seen two incumbents — Jake Ours and Robin Swinth — decide not to defend their seats.
The married father of two is likely to make a formidable candidate. He’s well-known in the community and respected for his collaborative leadership style. He lives in the northwest area of the city and is a registered Republican.
“Of the candidates in the race, he immediately jumps to the front,” Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan said.
Schwedhelm is the third person to announce a run for council. Planning Commissioner Curtis Byrd and former Press Democrat columnist Chris Coursey are also running. Mayor Scott Bartley is also up for reelection, but hasn’t announced his future plans.
If elected, Schwedhelm would become the second former Santa Rosa cop on the seven-member council, joining retired police lieutenant Ernesto Olivares, who was first elected in 2008.
Schwedhelm said he has been thinking about running for a while, but only finalized his decision after Swinth and Ours made their recent announcements. He said he respects both council members and isn’t sure if he would have challenged them for their seats.
He noted that his wife, Jackie, is still working and his youngest child, 22-year-old Troy, is set to graduate from college this year. His daughter Nicole is 24.
“It just seemed like the timing would be right,” Schwedhelm said.
While some of his friends have asked him if he’s crazy for wanting to enter the fractious world of city politics, Schwedhelm said he sees serving on the council as a natural extension of his years of public service.
“As chief, one of my favorite things was talking with community members and hearing what their issues and concerns were and finding ways to help them out,” he said. “It’s the exact same thing on the City Council.”
Schwedhelm is a second-generation law enforcement officer. His father worked for the Oakland Police Department and Marin County Sheriff’s Department. Schwedhelm was hired by the Santa Rosa Police Department in 1983 and, after graduating from the Santa Rosa Junior College Police Academy, started walking a beat. He was promoted through the ranks and, after two brief stints as interim chief following the departure of former chief Ed Flint, was named chief in 2009.
Schwedhelm said he doesn’t see a problem having two former Santa Rosa police officers serving on the seven-member council. While he and Olivares have much in common because of their professional experiences, he said they also come from “two completely different backgrounds.” Schwedhelm said it would be wrong to assume he will make decisions with only his former department in mind.
“I truly believe I will make decisions that I think are in the best interests of the City of Santa Rosa,” he said.
Schwedhelm has hired veteran political consultant Herb Williams to run his campaign. Williams has also run the campaigns of Bartley, Ours and Olivares.
McCuan, the political scientist, said he expects more council candidates to step forward. “If past practice is any indication, we should see five or six,” he said.
The filing deadline isn’t until Aug. 8.
While clearly a strong candidate, McCuan wonders how Schwedhelm will manage the transition from advocate for his department to juggler of competing city priorities. For example, how will he view pension reform given that he earns a hefty one himself, McCuan asked.
“Can he speak with a forceful voice on that?” McCuan said.
When he retired, Schwedhelm earned about $192,000, meaning his annual pension would be about $170,000 before taxes. Schwedhelm said he chose a lower annual payment, around $155,000, that provides benefits to his wife following his death.
He said he would approach pensions the same way he would other important issues facing the city, with a balanced, common-sense approach that weighs the consequences of any action. Deep cuts to pension benefits, for example, could impact a community’s ability to recruit top candidates, he said.
Schwedhelm said he resists political labels because they can tend to place unnecessary barriers between people. Since he doesn’t view the City Council as a “stepping stone” to higher office, he said he’s not too worried about defining and adhering to a particular political philosophy.
“This is my home,” Schwedhelm said. “I just think I can add value to the City Council.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.