We now know that regardless of who wins in June, they will not have had their campaign purchased by city employees whose contracts they need to negotiate.
Jon Li and Daniel Watts are not accepting any campaign contributions at all, and therefore do not have to worry about who is supporting their candidacies.
That left Rochelle Swanson and Sydney Vergis, who was supported by the fire fighters back in 2008.
At Friday’s debate, Rochelle Swanson was clear and unequivocal about not seeking or accepting the endorsement or contributions from any city employee group. The question asked at the League of Women forum was, “Will you be accepting campaign donations and endorsements from public employee groups whose contracts you will be negotiating if elected?”
Ms. Swanson responded, “I have great respect for city employees who provide services for us. I will not be accepting endorsements or bundling of donations any employee groups.”
She went on to explain why, “There’s a couple of reasons why. I think one is the perception. While I don’t think that any particular candidate is for sale, or has the anticipation that they’re going to be influenced, perception matters. I think it is important that that perception be one of trust for the candidates that are up there negotiating contracts. On the other is the potential, the potential for the entities to expect to have special considerations down the road. “
Sydney Vergis was far more ambiguous in her response, in fact, she never directly answered the question. She also failed to really comprehend the issue of bundling.
“Well I currently have the endorsement of the Sacramento Central Labor Council and I have received $100 from them and $100 from a local Operating Engineers group. No bundled contributions. It’s my understanding that the city limits one person or one business can only give $100. And certainly that anyone who might be for sale for $100 should not run for office. I think that in the coming years, we’re going need really good and trusting working relationships with our unions as we’re looking to negotiate employee contracts that fit the current economic climate. I believe that any kind of negotiations should be done for not only what’s fair for the employee but what is sustainable for the city of Davis.”
That answer seemed to indicate that she would be open to seeking the endorsement.
However, the Vanguard sent her an email on Saturday asking her to make a more declarative statement and to her credit, she did just that. She told the Vanguard late Saturday, “I have not solicited or received endorsement or contributions from any city employee group, including the firefighters, nor do I plan to.”
That is as clear and unequivocal as it gets. That is exactly what we wanted to hear. As we mentioned in 2008, she along with incumbents Stephen Souza and Don Saylor apologetically took large amounts of money both in bundled contributions and direct contributions. In 2010, it is a different world and at least for a two year period, we will have a council not beholden to the fire fighters. Once Don Saylor steps aside, we will have exactly one member on the council left that is bought and paid for.
We do take some issue with Ms. Vergis statement about bundled contributions and while we agree that anyone who would be bought for $100 should not run for office, she clearly missed the point about bundling.
If she did, Daniel Watts drove the point home in his response on Friday night at the League of Women Voters candidate’s forum. Mr. Watts responded, ““There might be a $100 limit on the amount that every individual can contribute but when you have 45 firefighters that each donates $100 on the exact same day to the exact same candidate, that’s $4500 suddenly. Then when the firefighters union spends an additional $5000 in independent expenditures, that now adds up to $9500. So suddenly $100 from one individual has become $9500 and that is a significant amount of money in a city this size. That’s enough to pay for fliers and then if the firefighters go out and they knock door to door, how much is that worth to a candidate who’s running for city council?”
He could continue, “Public employees unions, even the appearance of a conflict of interest is a problem because it reduces the amount of trust that you the Davis citizen have in your city government. I’m not accepting any money from firefighters; most of whom don’t even live in Davis. And when they buy and pay for 3 out of the 5 members of the Davis City Council, and they’re not even Davis residents themselves that’s a big problem.”
Jon Li and Joe Krovoza also indicated that they would not accept such money either.
Jon Li pointed out, that while he is not accepting any contribution, along with Daniel Watts, that he was “appalled by what public salaries have become.” He continued talking about the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act of 1975 that Jerry Brown signed. He concluded, “I understand the history and the politics of why it happened. But it led to continuous escalating salaries and it’s out of control. So I think we’ve got to stop it. I think Vallejo was the future for too many cities.”
Joe Krovoza also reiterated his previous position. “I’m not accepting any bundled funds. I’m not soliciting bundled funds. The intent of the voters in Davis is to have a $100 limit from people from a broad part of the community who decide that they like the candidate and they want to give to the candidate.”
He explained his position, “I think the test is to look at whose doing business directly with the city council. So if I’m sitting on the dais I don’t want to have people coming in front of the council who are doing direct private business with the city council. I certainly don’t want a group coming that has bundled their contributions to council. I have designed our finances for my campaign to some extent taking advantage of the fact that I’m a fundraiser, to very broadly seek support. We have 250 or so individual donors to the campaign and I’m very very proud of that. That’s how it’s going to be. When I was in law school I wrote papers on election law, I became acutely aware of soft money in politics and if I’m going to run, I’m going to serve, I want to do so with a great amount of independence. That’s where I am on this issue.”
And where we are now is in a very different world than we were two years ago when most candidates did not even think twice about seeking and accepting an endorsement from a public employee group like the fire fighters. Up until 2008, the fire fighter endorsed candidates had won 7 of the previous 9 elections, only Sue Greenwald’s 2008 campaign and Lamar Heystek were able to win without support of the powerful union.
And we saw the impact of their endorsement three times from 2008 to the present. On 3-2 votes, the council buried the Aaronson report on the Grand Jury, they passed a battalion chief model, and they passed a very favorable MOU. Each time, it was those who recieved contributions on the yes side and those who did not on the no side. At the very least, as we go forward and have to make difficult decisions, we will know that the reason the council voted the way they voted from 2010 to 2012 is not due to contributions made in the 2010 council election.
Today is a great for the city of Davis, as the city council will go back to the citizens and not the employee groups over which the council has to bargain and make other tough decisions.
—David M. Greenwald reporting