If I were going to design the perfect candidate profile, it would be a person like Will Arnold. He grew up in Davis, his father was a prominent real estate broker, his mother a popular teacher for decades. He was involved in community services like the Blue and White Foundation, he ran several prominent campaigns, and he was a district representative to Senator Lois Wolk.
On paper, the moment he announced he was going to run for city council he was a prohibitive favorite, not only to finish in the top three and get elected, but to finish first and become mayor pro tem. The Vanguard, Bob Dunning and every major prognosticator predicted he would trounce to an easy first place finish, even though he was running against two accomplished city council incumbents.
But on Tuesday, while he was elected to the city council, he finished third. Just 50 votes behind Lucas Frerichs at last check, but well behind frontrunner Brett Lee. Councilmember-elect Will Arnold told me that he was probably the only one not surprised by the results.
What happened is a fascinating story. For me, red flags really started to show up with the second-to-last pre-election campaign filing of the Form 460. That showed that Will Arnold had “only” raised about $16,000 and that he had loaned his campaign about $24,000.
In the days since the election, Will Arnold has shared with me that, even going into the race, he knew that campaigning was not going to be the top priority in his life. His young daughter had to have surgery on her hand to help alleviate a condition that she was born with. Last year, his father passed away and he had to finish dealing with the estate.
Most in the community know that Will Arnold and his wife Nichole purchased the Mother & Baby Source and often he had to help run that transition, as well as take care of two very young children along with their older son who is seven. To make matters more complicated, they helped with a foster child and family.
The advantages laid out at the beginning of this piece help explain why Will Arnold was still able to finish in the top three despite these other priorities, and the priorities also explain why he finished third rather than first.
That is to take nothing away from the great campaign run by Brett Lee, who was able to finish a commanding first, winning 34 of 35 precincts and finishing second in the 35th precinct, in part because he probably walked more of the precincts than the other three candidates combined.
Will Arnold told the Vanguard that this was the worst possible time for him, personally, to run for office, but “I agreed to run knowing this was going to be the case because my city needed me.” He also assured the Vanguard that, while these were huge obstacles during his campaign, they have all be resolved now and he will be able to focus his energies on the challenges facing the city rather than those facing his personal life.
While anyone can personally sympathize with the challenges that Mr. Arnold faced during this election cycle, in a way the results are more reassuring than not.
As election prognosticators and analysts go, I am as guilty as anyone in assessing a campaign as though it were run in a bubble. Plug in a simple formula, crank out a prediction. With a strong track record, a prominent name, and a deep family history, it seemed like Will Arnold could fall over and be anointed mayor. The election results show that was not true – although certainly Will Arnold would not have been elected at all under the conditions he faced if his name were Joe Blow.
Campaigns still matter in Davis – in fact, they matter a lot. I remember meeting with Joe Krovoza in November 2009 at the Black Bear Diner. We had a nice meeting, but I now infamously recall leaving there thinking, nice guy but he has no chance.
What Joe Krovoza did was put together a campaign team that would walk all of Davis and win all but one precinct to elect him not only to the council but as mayor pro tem.
In 2012, few people knew Brett Lee. Brett was facing three incumbents, with Dan Wolk having just been appointed, joining Sue Greenwald and Stephen Souza. To make it more difficult, Lucas Frerichs jumped in with years of community service himself. While it is true that stumbles by two of the incumbents opened the door, Brett Lee was able to step through it by having an operation that walked all of Davis and he squeaked in as the third elected councilmember.
In 2014, Robb Davis was a relatively unknown candidate, while Sheila Allen was a two-term sitting school board member. Robb Davis and his team walked all of Davis. Sheila Allen got caught up in the Nancy Peterson struggle and never recovered. But the key to Mr. Davis’ ascent to mayor was his campaign and his ground operation.
In Davis, probably more than in most places, people look down on fancy fliers and slick campaign brochures. What wins it here is a strong ground operation, and so it really is no surprise that Brett Lee would dominate the field over perhaps better known candidates – just on the basis that he knocked on more doors and made more physical contact with others.
While a lot of people will see similarities between Will Arnold and Dan Wolk, at the end of the day, with Robb Davis about to be mayor, we figure to have a very different council dynamic. Time will tell how well this mix works, but it figures to be an interesting and critical time for the city.
—David M. Greenwald reporting