One thing’s for sure: The Sonoma City Council is going to change.
That’s what happens when a sitting council member decides not to run for re-election, as is the case with Gary Edwards, who has said work and family commitments are keeping him from seeking a second term.
But one new face on the council may not be the end of it. Two additional seats are up for election this Nov. 6, both being defended by incumbents Rachel Hundley and current Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti. An entirely open seat combined with potentially vulnerable incumbent candidates is typically attractive to council hopefuls – and this year is no different. Five challengers have jumped into the mix: James Cribb, a sitting planning commissioner; Jack Ding, a tax consultant and member of the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission; Logan Harvey, an affordable housing advocate; Chris Petlock, a longtime City Hall watchdog making his first run for the council; and Jack Wagner, a Green Party candidate and current member of the Community Services and Environment Commission.
It’s a strong field of challengers – a mix of intelligent, capable and dedicated community members, with an array of intriguing ideas and experience. But, first, let’s look at the incumbents.
Rachel Hundley, 35, is completing her first four-year term as a far-more polished and confident politician than when she first came to the council after the 2014 election.
We hear from people that Hundley has too often succumbed to the allure of media attention – that mostly stems from 2017 when, as a 30-something woman mayor in the year after President Trump’s inauguration, she was featured in some national news stories. But what we don’t hear a lot of is complaints about her work for the city or voting record on the council. She’s consistently shown her progressive roots, but is often the council member most likely to seek out compromise on such issues as cannabis and finances in order to reach a consensus. Hundley has taken a skeptical approach to a handful of development projects – the so-called Schocken Hill, Gateway and First Street East projects, come to mind – eliciting admiration from the anti-development crowd and, in turn, the consternation of property rights proponents.
She seems to do her homework, gives thoughtful consideration to issues at hand and, whether one agrees with her position or not, conveys consistency and reason in her votes.
Madolyn Agrimonti, 71, has been a fine mayor for the City of Sonoma. Her warm demeanor and engaging personality have made her a welcoming presence at community celebrations, as well as at more somber gatherings in this difficult, post-fire year. She’s been a passionate ambassador for the City.
Her performance behind the dais has also had its strong moments – she’s got a natural charisma that clearly eases the public-speaking jitters of newbie commenters at the council meetings. But her year as Mayor has also revealed some chinks in her armor. Agrimonti has at times seemed out of step with the details of what she’s voting upon and occasionally relies on other council members to explain the nuance of a motion before the council. Her council colleagues often jockey at the last minute to persuade her to tip the scales toward their side of a split vote – it makes for great theater, but isn’t sustainable as a model for effective governance.