In an eleventh hour decision, the Petaluma City Council voted to appoint Gabe Kearney, a 29-year-old who has run twice for city council, including in the election last fall. The decision came nearly four hours into Monday’s meeting, as everyone in the room—council included—had resigned themselves to the idea that consensus was not possible.
But just before 11pm, Councilman Mike Healy made a motion to nominate Kearney, mentioning that he was the only one of the 19 candidates to garner votes from both sides of the “ideological divide.”
The motion was quickly seconded by Councilman Chris Albertson and before the audience could blink twice, the council was voting by the lights. The first vote came in 4-2, with Mayor David Glass and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett opposing. The second vote was unanimous and appeared to catch Kearney slightly off guard.
“I’m surprised,” said Kearney after the meeting, visibly moved by the last-minute decision. “I’m happy that it was able to work out and if you saw from the votes, I was able to get support from both sides. I’m excited.”
Asked about his last minute motion, Healy said he had met with Kearney a week and a half ago, said he had developed a “comfort level” with him.
“I’m hoping he will help us change the culture of the council so it’s not just the two warring camps and you have to reach out and persuade people to get to a decision,” Healy said. “I think he’s not going to be a reliable member of either side, which I think is positive.”
Kearney has no written record of his stance on development issues, although in his application for the council vacancy he wrote that he favored a transit-oriented approach, a city “where I can park my car on one location and get shopping, entertainment and groceries taken care of in one trip.” (Read his full application.)
In the same application, he struck a moderate tone, stressing the need to compromise on vital city issues. "If you look at all the minutes of city council meetings, you can see that there are rarely issues the council members do not agree on," he wrote. "So it's important for us to move forward on compromise and cooperation when we get to the issues that are contentious."
Kearney works at Kaiser as an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator and as an EMT, and is currently a student at the University of San Francisco studying health services. His political experience includes chairing the Sonoma County Community Development Program and the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee.
Asked about how he would vote on the controversial Deer Creek Village project, Kearney said he would weigh all sides.
“I’m going to take a look at all the things that are presented to me and make a fair decision based on that,” he said. An environmental impact report on the development off Rainier Avenue is scheduled to be released later this week.
Beyond that, his biggest focus will be to bring in revenue for the city, Kearney said.
“If we are able to generate more revenue, we’ll be able to solve some of the problems and be able to sustain the employees that we have that are filling important roles in the community,” he said.
Kearney will be sworn in at the next city council meeting, March 7.