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Too close to call

Jack Balshaw 11/13/2002

As I write this on the 7th the Petaluma election winners are too close to call. The county election office's estimate of two to three weeks before final results are tallied will give us plenty of time to speculate about who the winners might be and what that will mean for Petaluma. For the incumbents who may not have been reelected, the next council meeting is going to be strange.

With about 3000 absentee votes still to be counted, the mayoral candidates are only 190 votes apart. This could go either way. In the council race, Healy and Harris seem to be solidly in and Maguire solidly out. The contest is a three way one between Cader-Thompson, Cindy Thomas and Keith Canevaro for the third slot. Any one could win.

The biggest surprise is the poor showing of Matt Maguire. I thought he was a shoe-in right up there by Healy, with everyone else fighting for third. What happened?

I have a theory I call the friendly stranger. What happens is that those in office can't help but offend or anger some of the public every time they make a council decision. At the same time, the stranger (the new challenger), while not having name recognition, also hasn't done anything to cause the public to dislike him (or her). This is summed up in a reason why we tend to like, to accept, strangers; "They haven't lied to us yet."

Healy and the Mayor would seem to also be covered by this theory but they haven't been aggressive in pushing an agenda. They haven't aroused the displeasure of the public.

Until the dust settles there can't be any definitive analysis or more educated guessing. It seems to me however, that the public isn't rewarding those incumbents who have been quarrelsome or disruptive. Or maybe the public just doesn't agree with their ideological agenda.

The focus on the poor condition of our streets caused the public to be more aware of the city's day to day problems and perhaps less interested in the social-engineering of those using their positions to implement a more comprehensive ideological agenda. The "pothole" issue has caused more attention to be given to addressing existing problems than to looking towards long range, expensive, utopian goals. Perhaps pragmatic rather than philosophical politics is of more interest to the citizens of Petaluma.

The trend, if there is one, may be more towards selecting officials who place day to day management ahead of long range, detailed planning. Two years ago when Keller and Hamilton chose not to run, they weren't replaced in kind. If Maguire and Cader-Thompson aren't replaced in kind, the message might refer to not the person but to the ideology.

Petaluma's General Plan and the Central Petaluma Specific Plan have both been stalled, perhaps while waiting for the council majority to change back to what it was. This has resulted in two years of no discussion about Rainier or how the city will develop over time. The vague promise/assumption that working on Washington / McDowell will fix everything further put the issue of Rainier in limbo. We'll soon see if that project lives up to its promise. If not, the new council may have to look at Rainier again without waiting for the General Plan to, someday, be finished.

In my view, an aggressive minority with a Progressive agenda has out maneuvered a more passive traditional majority over the last two years. This could account for some of the dissatisfaction with the Mayor. In trying to conduct council meetings with a neutral posture, he might appear to be in a position of lesser leadership or control. It would be unfortunate if this were the case, as he would be punished for trying to be neutral. Another case of no good deed going unpunished.

I hope, no matter how this turns out, the new council will give more attention to making our city function better. Taking care of providing services first and only then getting political.


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