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Petaluma progressives regroup after election

The precinct map shows how Petaluma residents voted in the 2012 Petaluma City Council race. The top two vote-getters in each precinct are shown.

Illustration by Gary Newman
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 12:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 12:26 p.m.

As one new moderate Democrat prepares to join the Petaluma City Council — making what many consider to be a 5-2 moderate majority — the progressive democrats in town are busy recovering from the aftermath of their poor showing at the November election, with Mayor David Glass announcing plans this week for a 2014 mayoral run alongside former Mayor Pam Torliatt, who will be seeking a City Council seat.

The announcement comes on the heels of the three progressive-backed candidates finishing at the bottom of the recent City Council election. Former councilmember and progressive political leader David Keller said that progressives will be having a series of conversations about what they need to do to get their goals across to the voters in the next election.

“It's always an issue of marketing in politics,” said Keller. “We need to look at how to better represent our identity as a group.”

According to final election results released Friday, the three more moderate candidates, Mike Healy, Gabe Kearney and Kathy Miller, collectively captured 58 percent of Petaluma's votes, while the three more progressive candidates, Vice Mayor Tiffany Renée, Jason Davies and Alicia Kae Herries took the remaining 42 percent. Even though progressives got close to half of the vote, not one was elected to council.

David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University, attributed the progressives' loss, in part, to strategy. He said that had the progressives run two candidates instead of three, they could have regained a 4-3 progressive majority on the council, with Renée keeping her seat and either Davies or Herries joining her.

“In Petaluma, they absolutely split the vote,” said McCuan. He pointed out that if 42 percent of the population had voted for just two candidates instead of three, the results could have been very different. For instance, Mike Healy would likely have retained his seat, but Renée and another progressive candidate could have each garnered a larger 21 percent of the vote, which would have been enough to beat out Kearney and Miller, who got 17 and 16 percent respectively.

McCuan called splitting the vote a “misstep” and partially credited it to Renée's decision to run for Congress and some progressives not endorsing her because of it. “Things might have been different if Renée hadn't run for Congress against party favorite Norm Solomon, who she effectively split the vote with in that race as well,” said McCuan.

Earlier this year, Renée campaigned in the primary for the newly redrawn Second Congressional District. She faced off against 11 other candidates in an effort to become one of the top two vote-getters and move onto the November ballot. Favorite Jared Huffman, who ultimately won the seat, was considered a shoo-in by many, leaving the real race a tightly contested battle for second place between three other candidates, one of them progressive candidate Norman Solomon. Solomon ultimately came in third place, with Renée pulling a portion of progressive votes that may have otherwise gone to him.

After Renée's congressional run, some prominent progressives, such as Glass and Torliatt, chose to endorse Jason Davies, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010, and Alicia Kae Herries, a political newcomer and current planning commissioner, for Petaluma City Council. Still, other progressives, including Keller, endorsed Renée. Ultimately, the Sonoma County Democratic Party endorsed all three candidates.

Aside from splitting the vote in Petaluma, local progressives also had to deal with publicity surrounding the Sonoma County Democratic Party endorsements, during which Glass, Torliatt, and State Assembly candidate Michael Allen lobbied strongly for the progressive candidates after an initial committee recommended Healy, Kearney and Davies. It was a move seen by several in attendance as controversial, though McCuan and Keller both said the endorsement process was “messy” for all political parties.

Kearney's lack of endorsement in particular came as a surprise to many. He had already been endorsed by the Sonoma County Young Democrats, and had been the only delegate from Sonoma County to be selected to attend the National Democratic Convention.

Running three candidates was a change from the tight discipline displayed by the progressives in previous years. According to a 2000 Argus-Courier article, members of the then progressive-majority on the city council led by Councilman Matt Maguire asked certain candidates not to run so as not to split the progressive vote and to ensure that progressives maintained the majority.

McCuan said that while this type of politicking takes place in all parties, progressives in Sonoma County have always tended to be quite fractious, unlike their moderate counterparts.

“Progressives here generally agree in the direction they want to go, but they don't agree on how to get there,” he said. “In Petaluma, it would be gracious to say they suffered a defeat. They were creamed. It was a strong message and so they have to sit with that and think about it for the next two years.”

Torliatt said this week that looking forward to the 2014 election, despite the changes in the makeup of the council, the challenges facing Petaluma will remain very similar to what they are today, such as fixing streets, creating new jobs, and maintaining public safety and parks.

Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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