Tom Lynch’s arrival as a candidate in the Fifth District Supervisor’s race may lighten up what has so far been a somewhat dreary West County election. If nothing else he brings a presence that until now has been distinctly absent from this year’s campaign: the missing link, the lower Russian River denizen who’s got some moss in his teeth, if not on his back.

 It would be stupid to write Lynch off as the token lower River guy, the lost-cause buffoon who loves the limelight offered by a soapbox and an open microphone. Tom has proven he has an inordinate affinity for those things, but it’s a tendency that may now be working in his favor.

 He’s at least a candidate voters may know a little something about, the local guy who they’ve had a beer with at a firehouse barbecue or can say hello to at the post office. He’s recognizable, not just as a candidate, but as a neighbor, another River Rat.

 That familiarity now sets Lynch apart in a field of relative newcomers whose sudden interest in Fifth District political issues seems to have sparked as much curiosity about them and their motives as anything they promise to do if elected to replace our current supervisor, Efren Carrillo.

 Lynch is currently serving his second term as the Fifth District’s Sonoma County Planning Commissioner (appointed by Carrillo), which counts for something, although exactly what is kind of mysterious. As Rue Furch showed us when she ran for supervisor eight years ago, serving as a county Planning Commissioner is no guarantee anyone will like you, and sometimes it can mean quite the opposite.

 But Lynch steps into the Fifth District ring as the one guy who seems like the real deal, the indigenous man off the street who’s lived in the district for more than 30 years, not 30 days.

 In the context of Fifth District politics he’s made something of a folk-hero’s name for himself as Manure Man, the character who dumped fertilizer on the steps of Santa Rosa City Hall 30 years ago to protest the city’s wastewater pollution of the Russian River. He’s got roots. Like him or not, his quirky past performances may stand out now like badges of honor among an otherwise unfamiliar cast of new characters.

 “I do have baggage,” Tom said recently, making the point that he’s been around the block in the West County political arena and is therefore a known entity.

 He got into the fray to raise some issues. “I’m not out to get anyone,” said Lynch. “It’s the ideas that are important.”

 He’s talking about the county’s notoriously generous and unfunded pension system, our affordable housing crisis and the hordes of homeless nomads camping along the Russian River.

“These are issues that no one’s going to raise,” said Lynch. “I’ve got to do it. I feel a responsibility.”

 Which of the race’s two favorites, Noreen Evans or Lynda Hopkins, Lynch’s candidacy will help or hinder isn’t really clear. He’ll take some votes away from both of them, and his candidacy will, probably more certainly than any of the other hopefuls, shift the election into a higher gear.

 Lynch got more than 7,000 votes when he ran against Noreen Evans for state senate in the 2010 June primary. Two years ago, when he ran against Wes Chesbro for state Assembly, Lynch got almost 13,000 votes.

Politically Tom may look more palatable and mainstream now, while retaining his lower River legacy. He’s run for supervisor before, with a respectable showing (fourth in an eight-horse field) in the June primary eight years ago.

 Instead of this year’s supervisor’s race being over in June, as it looked like it might be if Evans or Hopkins were the only choices, with Lynch in the race it will probably continue into a November runoff. That would make it a lot more expensive for the two finalists.

 It will be interesting to see where they get the money.

Frank Robertson is a staff writer and columnist for Sonoma West Publishers.

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