by Sean Raycraft
13409 votes is a huge number for Davis, in fact, it’s a record for a city council race. Brett Lee obliterated Dan Wolk’s 2012 record by more than 3000 votes. That’s more than double the 6355 Lee received in 2012. He beat his nearest rival by more than 2000 votes. In Davis… that’s a landslide. The big question is why. Why did Brett Lee do so well? The answer is somewhat complicated. Bernie Sanders, and a contested presidential primary election certainly brought many people to the polls. The Yes on A campaign understood that in order to win, they were going to have to expand the traditional Davis electorate, and to their credit, they did so by engaging hundreds of students. The No on Nishi campaign, also to their credit understood they were going to have to get student votes if they were to be victorious on election day. All these factors drove voter turnout to a record high. But why did Brett Lee run away with the election?
I think Brett won for many reasons. He is a good candidate, who had a voting record favorable to Davis voter sensibilities, ran a good campaign, had a core of dedicated volunteers, and ran an issues based campaign. The kicker was in the final 2 weeks, where a dozen or so renters rights activists and Brett Lee volunteers canvassed major apartment complexes in town, with a flyer about renter’s rights in a city with a 0.2 vacancy rate and thousands of renters with horror stories about abusive landlords. His octogenarian volunteer base combined with young grad student organizers for a potent mix of experience and energy to walk precincts and spread the word through social media.
Brett Lee also appeals across the political spectrum, as one conservative voter in Davis told me “I don’t agree with him a lot, but I think he’s honest, cares about the community, and voted against the CFD”. That conservative voter was a family member of mine. I personally disagree with Brett on a few things, notably the MRAP, but I was still willing to volunteer for his campaign. Why? Because he is honestly interested in the betterment of the community as a whole. He genuinely cares about the issues I care the most about, and he is willing to work to alleviate some of worst problems facing Davis. I think many Davis voters felt the same way. If you drove around Davis just before election day, you would see lots of No on A signs with Brett Lee signs, and you would see lots of Yes on A signs with Brett Lee signs. I cannot think of a better visual expression of that appeal across the political spectrum.
So what does the new Mayor Pro Tem want to do with his term? I spoke with him at length about his mandate, and what he would like to do to improve the quality of life of all Davis citizens. (These are not direct quotes, just general statements made by the author based off our conversation). The issue closest to my heart is finishing the renter’s rights ordinance, and making it fair and effective for landlords and renters alike. Reducing landlord abuse is something that can improve the quality of life for everyone in Davis. Students, renters, neighborhoods, and seniors. Everyone knows about the mini dorm problem, the issues around landlords stealing security deposits every September, and absentee landlords. On the issue of the housing crunch, he would like to continue to work with the university to build more student housing and ease the pressure on the rental market, and ensure Davis remains a city with a high quality of life to attract top faculty and students.
A more practical part of his platform is mundane road repairs and improving road accessibility for all users. Pedestrians, bikers and pedestrians. He pointed to the 5th street traffic flow changes as an example of success. Personally, I think the 5th street traffic changes have worked out great for everyone. On that subject, he also wants bikers to face increased enforcement of traffic laws. Too many bikers ride on the wrong way, or without lights at night etc.. On the lighter side, the Pro Tem would like to work with Yolo County animal services more closely to allow more Davis volunteers to work with abandoned and abused animals.
So what are the real takeaways from this election? I think the take away is that the Davis electorate is still against development. Brett Lee was a strong candidate who cares about specific issues, that ran a strong campaign. I also think the Davis voters care about a candidate who is an independent, committed public servant. Congrats Brett!