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Endorsement: Hundley, Harvey and Cribb for City Council

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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.

While having an open mind on issues is admirable, Agrimonti is often less a swing vote than a wild card. If she earns a second term on the council we hope she continues to be a welcoming and inclusive face of Sonoma, but hones her technique behind the dais.

James Cribb is positioning himself as the more centrist candidate in the race. He’s been endorsed by outgoing Councilmember Gary Edwards, who’s flashed more of a conservative streak than other current members of the council. Cribb, who runs Sonoma Dog Camp, seems business-friendly – he says wine, food and tourism are the financial backbone of the city – but he’s also making the need for housing a central component of his campaign. Cribb, 62, says he’ll “do whatever I can to encourage affordable housing.”

Logan Harvey is one of the “newer” faces on the Sonoma political scene; the Sonoma native has been a regular at City Council meetings for over a year now, which still constitutes neophyte status in this group of longtime gadflies. But he’s impressing a lot of people. Harvey, 30, presents himself as earnest and principled – and well prepared. Of all the candidates the Index-Tribune has spoken to for endorsement purposes, Harvey has had the most detailed positions on such issues as housing and the environment, which are probably number 1 and 2 on his list of priorities.

Jack Ding, 59, is owner and president of Unicorn Tax Services. He’s a Chinese-American immigrant who, as he pointed out at the Index-Tribune’s candidates forum Oct. 9, comes from a Communist country and is making his first run for a democratically elected office in America. If that’s not a great American story, we don’t know what is. Ding believes he can put his tax expertise to use in myriad ways on the council.

Chris Petlock, who grew up in Sonoma, is making his first run at the council after serving nine years on the Community Services and Environment Commission. Petlock, 44, is the finance director at the Valley of the Moon Water Agency and believes his financial background would give him a lot of insight into tightening up the city’s finances. And he’s proven his acumen at that before – two years ago Petlock raised a red flag about a no-longer allowable transfer from the city water fund, and the city eventually put the kibosh on it.

Jack Wagner is making his third run at council and he’s proving himself to be an up-and-coming candidate. The lone Green Party member in the race, Wagner, 38, was appointed last year to the Community Services and Environment Commission and has kept a close eye on City Hall happenings now for several years. If elected, he’d push for no-waste Plaza events, improved bike access through town and a commuter shuttle through the Valley.

While newspaper endorsements are known to compliment candidates for their collective pedigree, we’re in the fortunate position to genuinely mean it. These are seven worthy candidates. Each one would serve the city well. And it’s especially encouraging to see several younger candidates throwing their hats in the ring – Wagner, Harvey and Petlock grew up here, as well – as they can bring a unique perspective on the financial struggles of living in the city.

In issuing endorsements of candidates, the Index-Tribune considers myriad factors: experience, positions on issues, reasons for running, demeanor, flexibility, thoughtfulness, overall sense of competency – the list goes on. Most of these candidates check off most of those boxes.

Also important is that the makeup of the council reflect the general makeup of the city itself which, in general, is moderately progressive – with an at-times overly cautious relationship with change.

But Sonoma needs leaders who aren’t averse to moving the city forward, to position the town toward where it needs to be 10, 20, 50 years from now.

The city needs housing, it needs to welcome new and local industries, it needs to mitigate its environmental footprint, it needs to better foster a sense of inclusiveness and diversity – these are imperatives for communities across the country, from Sonoma to Salem to Syracuse.

To get there, Sonoma will need a solid mix of experienced, thoughtful, grounded leadership.

We recommend Rachel Hundley, Logan Harvey and James Cribb for Sonoma City Council.

– Jason Walsh, associate publisher & editor

– Emily Charrier, publisher