2006: The Year in Davis Review

These last days we will have a countdown of the top 10 stories from Davis in 2006. We continue with our fourth installment, No.4 Lamar Heystek is elected to the Davis City Council.

We were at the party at the University Inn on Richards Street at Davis, it was election night, nervously bustling with excitement. We’ve been here thousands of times before, but this one felt different, this night. It began to drag on, the numbers were not coming in. The machines were not working. Finally, we get the numbers from the absentee ballots. It does not look good for the progressives in Davis—Asmundson is leading the pack followed by Mike Levy. There in a distant fourth place is Lamar Heystek.

We had voted for the then-25-year-old Lamar Heystek just two years before. Unlike many, we had not trusted Souza or Saylor, and so Heystek was our third vote after Greenwald and Harrington. Heystek had run hard, but in the end, he was a 25-year-old fresh out of school. 2006 would be different. Heystek would spend two years working hard to make himself a strong candidate—working on city commissions (such as Parks and Recreation) as he worked at Safeway to put himself through graduate school. By 2006, he had emerged as one of two progressive backed candidates.

Flash forward to that night in June, it’s getting late, the returns are slowly, slowly trickling in, Heystek is moving up, Levy is moving down. But it’s now after 1 a.m., it’s been a long day, indeed a long campaign, and it doesn’t appear likely we’d get good results until the next morning. So we went home and fell into a restless sleep until awakened some time after four by a jubilant Lamar Heystek. He was ahead. But it was precarious. A slim lead over third place Levy and by an even slimmer margin he was behind Asmundson for MAYOR.

It took another ten days, but Heystek had won a seat on the Davis City Council. As intense as the build up, the results were almost anti-climatic. The result after days of recounting concluded with the exact same results that we had had that morning of June 7 following the election.

That anti-climax perhaps obscured just what a shocking event this indeed was. The conventional wisdom was that Asmundson would once again win as Mayor, but former Councilmember Stan Forbes, with experience and name recognition would be second, Heystek would finish third, and Mike Levy as the relatively unknown newcomer would finish a distant fourth and UC Davis student Rob Roy would finish an even more distant fifth. Instead, it was Heystek who would secured the second council seat missing by just 123 votes from becoming Mayor. Levy finished a strong third and Forbes finished in fourth, some 345 votes behind Heystek.

All the more remarkable because of the long and sustained heat that Heystek took for backing civilian police oversight and for his close political association with HRC Chair Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald. Yet in the face of intense scrutiny and pressure, Heystek never once wavered in his convictions.

During the final months leading up to the June city council election the Davis Enterprise (under the direction of Assistant Publisher/Editor Debbie Davis) would conduct biased and unfair reporting and editorializing in an attempt to discredit Halema Buzayan, her family, the Davis Human Relations Commission as well as anyone who spoke out in support of holding the Davis Police Department accountable to do competent, fair, honest and lawful work for the public they serve. Lamar Heystek spoke out in support of civilian police oversight, in support of the Human Relations Commission and the community leaders who had supported a civilian police oversight review board. Debbie Davis, her reporters and columnist Bob Dunning would feverishly work to convince the community that the arrest by Davis Police and the prosecution by the Yolo DA’s Office of Ms. Buzayan was correct and that the Human Relations Commission was out of control. The Enterprise would publish only some of the tapes, omit evidence favorable to Ms. Buzayan from their articles, editorialize on the righteousness of the police conduct, endorse Asmundson and Levy for election and their columnist Dunning would come in for the kill.

On May 3, 2006, Dunning upon declaring the Davis Police Officer Pheng Ly audio tapes had nothing on them which would incriminate the officer, wrote, “the City Council candidate who stands to lose the most from the failure of the arrest tapes to deliver any damning evidence against the Davis Police is Lamar Heystek.”

The worst was perhaps a May 11, 2006 column from Dunning:

THE LATEST FROM LAMAR … candidate Heystek, perhaps sensing that public opinion in this contentious debate has suddenly and dramatically swung in favor of Officer Pheng Ly, has apparently come to the conclusion he is on the wrong side of this great divide and the momentum his campaign has been building in the last month is about to be derailed … how else to explain the panicky “press release” he fired off late last week that began, “No candidate realizes the need for vigorous law enforcement more than I do.” … funny, that wasn’t what he was saying just the other day about Officer Ly’s vigorous enforcement of the law …

Lamar goes on to explain that two of his neighbors in East Oakland were shot to death, in part he says, because of the lack of a police presence … he concludes: “I pledge to you that I will remain committed to law enforcement that serves all our goals as a community: safety, freedom from fear, and justice for all.” …

Great stuff, Lamar, but it’s too little, too late … the public simply can’t get out of its mind the image of you sitting next to Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald at one recent council meeting, clapping raucously each time a speaker approached the public microphone to batter the reputation of Officer Pheng Ly or demean the efforts of the Davis Police Department …

As usual Dunning swings and misses as he tries to gauge the degree of public backlash directed at Heystek for the crime of sitting next to Escamilla Greenwald at a city council meeting and advocating for a civilian police review board to guard against police misconduct. Too late? A month later, Heystek would become the youngest person elected to Davis City Council in over 30 years, while Dunning would have to resort to catcalls from the cheap seats every now and then.

The ugly side of Dunning would re-emerge in November with help from Noreen Mazelis.

Dunning wrote: “Writes my friend Noreen: ‘… Lamar Heystek will be on a panel with three other privileged men to discuss ‘struggle.’ ” Dunning then adds: “… wow, nobody knows the trouble he’s seen, overcoming his college education and teaching position at UC Davis to become one of the youngest City Council members in Davis city history … struggle? … Lamar? … heck, he’s not old enough to have even struggled with a razor …”

And yet again, Dunning swings and misses. This time writing from a point of view of sheer ignorance, Dunning did not realize for some reason that not only does Heystek not come from a place of privilege, but he comes from some of the poorest parts of Oakland. Heystek used to have to run home with his twin brother from school to avoid being beaten up. His brother is now an elected school board member in the City of San Leandro and like Lamar a graduate from the Unversity of California (albeit Berkeley).

Heystek’s father put together a very modest living to raise two sons and a daughter, a Marine Corps veteran serving in Iraq. Heystek worked his way through school by working at Safeway, worked his way through graduate school, and worked his way right onto the city council.

Most of even his closest supporters did not realize how impoverished a background that Heystek has because he simply does not talk about. It was not a point in his campaign. It was something he lived through, does not like to reflect upon, and does not advertise.

What Heystek does advertise is sincere conviction. Barely seated on the Davis City Council, Heystek took up the fight for the living wage. Heystek brought the issue up in August 1, 2006. But the council majority wanted no part of it, however Souza specifically encouraged Heystek to bring it up on his own.

When Heystek did upon return from an August council hiatus in September, Saylor accused him of politicking.

(From the 9/20/06 Davis Enterprise) “There’s just a number of questions about this,” Councilman Don Saylor said. “To bring it up as a discussion is appropriate. To bring it up as a full-blown ordinance for a first reading, that’s not talking about policy, that’s talking about politics in a lead-up to an election.”

And yet, given the constraints placed upon Heystek by the council majority, he had little choice given the timeline for having the ordinance effect the Target proposal.

One of the reasons Souza gave for opposing the living wage was he and Saylor were working on a secret project labor agreement. From the September 18, 2006 meeting:

“We have been working on that and we’ve almost completed it, we’re hoping that these actions won’t jeopardize it, because all parties have been in agreement so far to date…”

Of course, in November, we find out that the project labor agreement had nothing to do with wages for Target employees. (By the way, it was reportedly imminent in November, I wonder if it has been completed?)

Undaunted Heystek continued the progressive fight for a living wage and opposing Target. The election of Lamar Heystek gave progressive Davis a fighter and champion for their cause who would not back down even when facing against long odds. For that, Heystek’s election ranks as the fourth biggest story of 2006.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

4 Comments

  1. davisite

    The national Democratic political pundits should keep their eyes on Davis. Fed up with tired rhetoric, cynical political gamesmanship and outright hypocricy of the gang of three, Heystek’s council victory foretold the enthusiastic political welcome that Barak has received on the Democratic political stage. Heystek’s intelligence and “life story” have prepared him for the dangers of this kind of political reception which can be heady stuff to fresh “new faces” . We’ll see how it plays out with Barak. So far so good for Heystek.

  2. davisite

    The national Democratic political pundits should keep their eyes on Davis. Fed up with tired rhetoric, cynical political gamesmanship and outright hypocricy of the gang of three, Heystek’s council victory foretold the enthusiastic political welcome that Barak has received on the Democratic political stage. Heystek’s intelligence and “life story” have prepared him for the dangers of this kind of political reception which can be heady stuff to fresh “new faces” . We’ll see how it plays out with Barak. So far so good for Heystek.

  3. davisite

    The national Democratic political pundits should keep their eyes on Davis. Fed up with tired rhetoric, cynical political gamesmanship and outright hypocricy of the gang of three, Heystek’s council victory foretold the enthusiastic political welcome that Barak has received on the Democratic political stage. Heystek’s intelligence and “life story” have prepared him for the dangers of this kind of political reception which can be heady stuff to fresh “new faces” . We’ll see how it plays out with Barak. So far so good for Heystek.

  4. davisite

    The national Democratic political pundits should keep their eyes on Davis. Fed up with tired rhetoric, cynical political gamesmanship and outright hypocricy of the gang of three, Heystek’s council victory foretold the enthusiastic political welcome that Barak has received on the Democratic political stage. Heystek’s intelligence and “life story” have prepared him for the dangers of this kind of political reception which can be heady stuff to fresh “new faces” . We’ll see how it plays out with Barak. So far so good for Heystek.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for