Joining a growing field of candidates, Rohnert Park Councilmember Jackie Elward last week announced her candidacy for an open seat in the state Senate.
Elward, a Democrat, was elected to the Rohnert Park Council in 2020, serving as mayor of the city of 44,000 last year.
She is one of three candidates to replace Bill Dodd as the representative of state Senate District 3. Dodd, who has held the seat since 2016, will be termed out at the end of 2024.
“I’m running for the state Senate because our region needs a champion for the people in Sacramento, someone who will do what’s right even when no one else is looking,” Elward said in an interview.
Her campaign website advertises her experience as city councilmember, “[finding] ways to bring the community together around affordable housing, solutions to help the unhoused, and investments in transportation, sustainable agriculture, and our clean energy future.”
If elected, Elwards’ top priorities include increasing school funding; preparing for climate change-fueled wildfires and sea level rise; and tackling the intertwined issues of affordable housing, homelessness, mental health and creating jobs which pay living wages.
Elward said that she has made some “hard decisions” during her time on the city council, including supporting a ban on fireworks. During the heated public debate over the issue, an unidentified resident called Elward, telling her to “go back to Africa.” Elward’s colleagues on the council condemned the caller’s actions and, in September 2021, Rohnert Park residents voted to support the council’s ban on fireworks by a narrow margin (50.98% in favor vs. 49.02% against).
Other successes Elward mentioned include helping to establish Rohnert Park’s Specialized Assistance For Everyone (SAFE) team, a service which routes some emergency calls to mental health professionals instead of police; working on solutions to the city’s homelessness crisis; and guiding the city’s purchase of a 30-acre piece of land intended to be the location of a long-planned downtown development.
Elward said she has also focused on improving the city’s relationships with the Graton Resort and Casino and Sonoma State University during her time in office.
In addition to holding a seat on the Rohnert Park Council, Elward serves on the boards of Sonoma Clean Power (the local energy provider) and Sonoma County Continuum of Care (the public agency which handles homeless services). She also sits on the executive board of North Bay Jobs with Justice, a labor nonprofit currently leading a campaign for additional protections and benefits for farmer workers.
“As a first generation immigrant, I have an appreciation for this community that welcomed me and strive to govern with the same compassion that I was afforded when I made Rohnert Park my new home,” Elward’s campaign website states.
As a Rohnert Park resident, Elward lives on the far western edge of State Senate District 3, which covers all of Napa, Solano and Yolo counties, along with portions of Contra Costa, Sacramento and Sonoma counties.
During the 2020 redistricting process, District 3 lost additional pieces of Sonoma County, including the western half of Petaluma, which were passed to District 2, currently represented by state Sen. Mike McGuire.
The primary election will be held on March 5, 2024, followed by a general election on Nov. 5.
At press time, two other candidates, both also Democrats, are vying for the District 3 Senate seat.
Christopher Cabaldon’s candidate website advertises the experience he gained serving as mayor of West Sacramento for over two decades.
“[Cabaldon] understands how to bring together diverse stakeholders to address the tough challenges on behalf of the people he serves,” the website states, mentioning Cabaldon’s work on education, as well as urban and transit planning issues.
Dr. Rozzana Verder-Aliga, who has served on the Vallejo City Council since 2013, has been endorsed by outgoing state Sen. Bill Dodd.
“Professionally, she’s a leader in mental health services. On the city council, she’s a fierce advocate for the small businesses that define our local communities,” Dodd said in a statement last week.
Alfredo Pedroza, a member of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, announced his candidacy for the Senate seat in late March but dropped out abruptly in early May, citing family reasons.
Dodd is set to be termed out at the end of 2024, after eight years in the Senate. He was elected in 2016 after one two-year term in the Assembly and four terms on the Napa County Board of Supervisors. Before being elected to public office, he ran a family business for 25 years.
CalMatters, a statewide news site, ranks Dodd as the third most moderate Democrat in the state Senate. Up until 2013, he was a registered Republican, describing himself as “a fiscal conservative, but I agree with the Democratic viewpoint on most social issues.”
Despite being termed out of the Senate at the end of 2024, Dodd’s political career may not be done. According to a recent campaign finance disclosure, a campaign committee titled “Bill Dodd for Lt. Governor 2026,” held just over $1,100,000. It gathered $17,100 in the first three months of the year and spent nearly $160,000 on consultants and payments to other candidates and political committees during the same period.
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