Election season is once again creeping up on the North Bay.
In June, Sonoma County voters will have the opportunity to select a new assemblymember and sheriff, while deciding whether to replace a three-term supervisor representing South County.
Early this month, candidates filed their first campaign finance disclosures of the race. Those numbers, paired with the endorsements so far, give an early preview of some of the races.
With that in mind, what follows is an incomplete rundown of a few local political fights which may heat up in the coming months.
Sonoma County Sheriff
Law enforcement has been a hot-button issue in Sonoma County for the past several years. Following the summer 2020 protests, voters approved Measure P, a ballot item intended to strengthen the powers of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Outreach and Review. Formed in 2016, IOLERO was originally charged with reviewing the sheriff’s internal investigations and field community concerns.
Although Measure P is currently caught in limbo due to a legal challenge from law enforcement unions, the issue of oversight will likely be the strongest theme of the race to pick the next sheriff of Sonoma County. Afterall, newsworthy incidents involving the department are still occurring.
For instance, on Monday, Feb. 8, news broke that the Sheriff’s Office faces yet another lawsuit for an alleged use of excessive force. In this case, the plaintiff is a Mendocino County man who was bitten in the arm by a sheriff’s K-9 last June. Deputies were searching for a suspected carjacker, but the man’s lawsuit says he did not fit the description and was not resisting arrest when the dog was released on him.
Sheriff Mark Essick, a divisive figure in the county since early in the pandemic, announced last year that he will not run for reelection. Essick is backing Eddie Engram, a 19-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office.
Engram faces three challengers—Kevin Burke, Dave Edmonds and Carl Tennenbaum—potentially making this the most dynamic sheriff’s race in recent history.
Recently-released campaign finance reports show that Engram raised the most money last year, bringing in $92,134.05 from numerous sources, including many Sheriff’s Office employees. Engram is endorsed by former-Sheriff Rob Giordano, Rep. Mike Thompson and the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.
Burke, a former Healdsburg police chief, raised $74,517.00 and is endorsed by Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch and the Sonoma County Democratic Club.
Edmonds, who worked for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office between 1985 and 2017, raised $78,857.99 in campaign funds last year. He is endorsed by Supervisor Susan Gorin and Windsor Town Councilmember Debora Fudge.
Tennenbaum has raised $55,494.24. He retired from the San Francisco Police Department in 2013 after serving for 32 years. His campaign is endorsed by Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, Rohnert Park Mayor Jackie Elward and Santa Rosa Vice-Mayor Natalie Rogers.
Assemblymember Marc Levine, who is about to be termed out of the Assembly, last year launched his campaign to become state Insurance Commissioner, inciting a four-way race to replace him. The district includes all of Marin County and a fair portion of Sonoma County, including Petaluma and a portion of Santa Rosa.
The four candidates vying for Levine’s assembly seat are California Coastal Commission board member Sara Aminzadeh, Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, Sausalito-Marin City School District President Ida Times-Green and Gravenstein Union School District Board member Steve Schwartz.
Last year, Aminzadeh raised the most money—$288,568.22—followed by Connolly with $238,895.97. Schwartz gathered $22,853.00 in the same time period. Times-Green, who announced her campaign in late January, does not appear to have filed campaign finance disclosures covering the last half of 2021.
Sonoma County Supervisors
This year, two of Sonoma County’s five supervisors are up for reelection. Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose district includes Petaluma and South County, faces a challenger for the first time since 2014. Meanwhile, Supervisor James Gore runs unopposed.
Rabbitt’s challenger is Blake Hooper, a young politician who announced his campaign to unseat the incumbent last September. Campaign finance records show Hooper raised more money than Rabbitt last year, with $70,815.69 compared to the incumbent’s $47,656.72. However, because Rabbitt had left-over funds in his campaign coffers from previous runs, and because the upstart Hooper spent more money on early campaigning, Rabbitt was sitting on more money on Dec. 31, with $103,665.66 to Hooper’s $22,478.48.
Those filings show that Rabbitt received more contributions of $1,000 or more than Hooper, but that Hooper made up some of the difference with a larger number of small donors.
Rabbitt received funds from Jackson Family Wine chairwoman Barbara Banke, the Sonoma County Alliance business group and the California Real Estate Political Action Committee among others. Rabbitt serves on the boards of a number of influential local and regional transportation and planning bodies, including the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Golden Gate Bridge District and the Sonoma-Area Rail Transit district. As of press deadline, Rabbitt’s campaign website did not list his endorsements for this run.
Hooper’s largest contributions came from retired Sonoma County Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, former-Sonoma County Sheriff candidate John Mutz and Barbara Grasseschi, the owner of Puma Springs Vineyards. Hooper has been endorsed by numerous local politicians—including Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett and Rohnert Park Mayor Jackie Elward—as well as the Sonoma County Democratic Club. Hooper previously worked as an aide to North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman. He now works for the California State Senate and serves on the Petaluma Planning Commission.
Meanwhile, Supervisor James Gore, who represents Healdsburg and the surrounding ag-rich North County, runs unopposed, though he outraised both Hooper and Rabbitt during the last reporting cycle.
Last year, Gore raked in $168,165.98, ending with a balance of $140,735.36 on Dec. 31. Gore’s contributors in the last reporting period included Jackson Family Wines executives, the Sonoma County Alliance and Fidelity National Financial executives.
Gore’s influence reaches beyond Sonoma County. Last year, he served as president of the California State Association of Counties, an influential organization which lobbies state and federal representatives on behalf of the state’s 58 county governments and, according to its website, is backed by a variety of private companies. Gore is running for a third term as supervisor.