Quiet challenge in 3rd District race
By Bruce Robinson
"What contest?" replies one local political observer when asked about the 3rd District supervisorial race pitting two-term incumbent Tim Smith against former Santa Rosa City Council member Maureen Casey. With just six weeks left before the March election, the low-key campaign has not generated much heat. Neither candidate has many signs out yet, there have been only a handful of campaign events, and the usually prolific stream of promotional publicity materials has yet to swell to a full trickle.
In a campaign short on heated debate, Casey has introduced the most lively issue, proposing that the county adopt a business license fee, "based upon the net income of a business," with revenues used "not to backfill the general fund," but to support the county's business community, she says.
Both candidates report they are walking precincts and meeting with voters in small groups, but so far this could be characterized as the county's "stealth campaign."
Smith, who ran unopposed in 1992 after winning a campaign slugfest with Eric Anderson four years earlier, is asking for voters' support based on "how they perceive the job I've done." The core question, he says, is "who can do this job and do it most effectively."
Smith, a former aide to Rep. Doug Bosco, points to his involvement in the county Open Space District, the internal reorganization of county government, his advocacy for widening Highway 101, and his effort to find management at county-run Community Hospital as some of his visible accomplishments during his eight years on the job.
But for most of his tenure, the 45-year-old Smith has been one of the less vocal members of the board. "He's pretty quiet," agrees his outspoken colleague, Supervisor Ernie Carpenter. "I wish Supervisor Smith was more critical of government and a little bit more into cracking the whip. But beyond that, he's been a good supervisor."
Because most of the 3rd District lies within the cities of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, "the district does not have a lot of fire in it," Carpenter observes. "It's mainly all incorporated, so you don't get a lot of land-use issues," which are often the most contentious matters that come before the board. "It lends itself to general government, and Tim is, frankly, quite good at general government."
Not everyone agrees, of course. Casey, 40, obliquely disparages Smith as a low-profile slacker. "I believe that elected officials have a duty to be visible and accessible and to lead the community by example," she says. "There is a great difference between showing up to be introduced and showing up to work." Casey describes her non-political occupation as "community volunteer."
In his eight years on the board, Smith has won few supporters among Sonoma County environmentalists. One exception is Joan Vilms, whom Smith reappointed to the county Fish and Wildlife Advisory Board even though she campaigned on behalf of Anderson in 1988. "I'm hoping that support from people like me will make him stronger in his support of the Russian River watershed and other environmental protections," Vilms says.
The Sonoma County Conservation Action is not convinced. When the activist group announced its endorsements for the March election last week, they pointedly offered none for 3rd District candidates. "Each has strengths and weaknesses, but mostly weaknesses," explains SCCA Executive Director Mark Green. "In either case, it's pretty easy to point at serious problems in their track record."
Smith has been "really terrible on Russian River gravel-mining issues," Green says, "and has consistently carried water for the Chamber of Commerce with regard to the widening of Highway 101. He has always talked about rail as something that will happen way off in the future, while pouring every available dollar into the freeway."
As for Casey, "She has had some really good positions in the past," says Green. However, "once she became mayor [of Santa Rosa], she really appeared to collapse to the agenda of city staff." Most prominently, Casey became a champion of the huge new Santa Rosa Marketplace shopping center and the $3 million in city subsidies that eased the project's path. And she angered and alienated many former allies and supporters when she lobbied to muzzle Marketplace critic Rick Theis. "He was the only person on the Planning Commission who was asking the tough questions," Green notes, charging that Casey was "bitterly and stridently active in arranging that Rick Theis not be reappointed to the commission."
Nor does he see that as an isolated instance. "She has lambasted the activist community on many occasions on many issues, and really dropped the ball when she was in a position of power," Green says.
Eric Anderson, who has worked as a campaign consultant in other recent elections but is sitting this one out, views Casey as "a hard campaigner," but does not think that will be enough. "It's going to be different than the City Council race she ran. I think she's going to need to raise significantly more money than she has." As of early February, Smith had raised approximately $50,000 for his re-election campaign, a total that dwarfs Casey's $6,000 in campaign funds.
However, Anderson says the recent wave of anti-incumbent sentiments could work to Casey's advantage. "That's one of the wild cards in that race, how strongly people feel about term limits," he says. "It certainly could be a factor."
Another possible consideration is gender, adds Carpenter, as Casey could return a female presence to what is now an all-male board. But overall, he's not sure Casey's track record as a one-term council member is enough. "Leaving after one term probably didn't give her the best springboard for being a candidate for supervisor," Carpenter says. "She should have stayed in there and rolled up her sleeves and been able to show some accomplishments."
As for Casey's current candidacy, "I haven't seen her raise money or be aggressive," Carpenter says. "It is a quiet campaign, and that obviously favors a popular incumbent."
From the Feb. 8-14, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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