Commentary: Council Races Off to Slow Start – But Three Critical Questions Loom Large

souza-announce-12-2The January 31 filing deadline was the unofficial first major marker on the calendar.  So far, we have four candidates who have announced – the three incumbents Sue Greenwald, Stephen Souza and Dan Wolk are joined by Brett Lee, as the first announced challenger.  We have heard rumblings of additional candidates, but this is all that filed paperwork on Tuesday and all that have formally announced.

Right now it is a quiet campaign, and if we had to speculate with this current field, we believe the incumbents would win reelection.  But a lot both can and will change between now and June.

There are three big questions looming that have the chance to transform the race.  We will evaluate each of these in turn.

Last June, 150 city employees came to the city chambers as they faced $2.5 million in cuts.  They were angry and frustrated at the proposal.

In 2010, for the first time in recent memory, the firefighters’ local stayed out of the city council races.  Previously, the firefighters had spent over $20,000 an election on direct and indirect contributions to candidates.  From 2000 to 2008, firefighter-backed candidates won 7 of 9 times.

However, things changed in 2010.  Two of the candidates flat-out refused to accept firefighter money and endorsements.  We will never know for sure if the third major candidate was never offered the money and endorsement, or if she merely turned them down.

What we do know is that the firefighters were on the outside looking in, and we know that Mayor Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson, along with appointee Dan Wolk, formed the three votes to pass that budget.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Davis City Employee’s Association is embroiled in a bitter fight over their last bargaining agreement – imposed upon them, apparently improperly, during an impasse procedure.  An impasse that has been overturned by the Public Employment Relations Board.

With the firefighters leading the way and attempting to mobilize city employees, we would have expected to see employee-backed candidates emerge for council, but that has yet to materialize.

There is nothing to stop candidates from emerging in the next month, and several may yet do so.  But to date, it is a little bit surprising that we have not seen clear city employee-backed candidates emerging.  Does that imply weakness in their movement?  Does it imply lack of organization?  Or are they simply content to allow budget negotiations to play out behind the scenes?

Second, water emerged last fall as a potential issue.  Opponents of either the surface water project or the rate hikes quickly mobilized following the September 6 council decision to raise rates for an advertised 14% rate increase, that for most intents and purposes was much higher.

With such a push, we would have expected the possible emergence of candidates opposed to the surface water project or ardently against the rate hikes.

Brett Lee, at one point, was thought to be such a candidate.  One of the leaders in the referendum movement, Michael Harrington, quickly claimed Brett Lee as an ally, but Brett Lee has proven to be more middle of the road on the water issue – much to the chagrin of both Mr. Harrington and incumbent Sue Greenwald, both of whom have been critical of his position on surface water.

Again, it is still early and candidates can emerge, but we would have expected to have seen some ardent opponents of the surface water project emerge as candidates for city council, and that quite simply has not happened.

The final question is whether we will see an anti-incumbency mood emerge from the public.  Sue Greenwald has been on the council for 12 years.  Stephen Souza is just finishing his second term.  The other three members of council have not even served for two years.

Back in 2008, the public seemed mainly content with the incumbents as all three won reelection.  The first question will be whether or not a fifth candidate emerges.

There is a belief in some circles that the two long-standing incumbents are vulnerable this time around.  It would, of course, take two quality challengers to knock off both of those incumbents, and it is unclear if there is the will or the impetus to do that.

There has been a general sense, at least in some circles, that it is time for a complete change.  The three newer members of council have been more moderate in most ways, both in their policies and, at times, in their conduct on the council.

There are a lot of questions that emerge here.  There first is whether there even be a fifth candidate.  Without a fifth candidate this point is largely moot.  The second question is how much the public is interested in seeing the long-standing incumbents leave.

While there are certainly those in the community who have grievances against Mr. Souza and Ms. Greenwald, it is also true that both have strong core constituencies.

That is what makes this an interesting situation that will play out over the next four months.

—David M. Greenwald 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.

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  1. Crilly

    Sue Greenwald never relents in her efforts to preserve the Davis we love. She is always the best-prepared and well-informed member of the council. Though she’s often been on the minority side of council votes, it’s amazing how often she has eventually been able to persuade the council of the merits of her positions. She’s also the only council member who’s been on the right side of the public votes. Sue is clearly the candidate that’s for Davis as a whole, not for any of the influential special interest groups that want to turn Davis into something else for their own benefit. We really need her voice on the council!

  2. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Right now it is a quiet campaign, and if we had to speculate with this current field, we believe the incumbents would win reelection. [/quote]

    Reasons? I suspect it is anyone’s race to win… I always like to keep an open mind 😉

  3. Herman

    You express surprise that so few candidates have entered the city council race??? As a general rule of thumb, it takes circa $30,000 to run for council, and certainly that amount as a newcomer, as Lamar Heystek found out. Who wants to go in heavy debt and/or spend an eternity trying to raise huge sums like this? In addition, if one does the job properly, it is almost like a full time job. Only very dedicated public servants will do this unless, of course, like some we could name, they have further career/political ambitions. For some reason that has always baffled me most Davis progressives are against, or very lukewarm, to district elections (incidentally a measure that Sue Greenwald and Bob Dunning support). Above all else district elections would make it significantly less expensive, and especially if one included a donation cap provision, to run for city council. Well run cities from Corvallis to Portland (and here are many other examples of small and large cities that use district elections use district elections), why not us? Do progressives and the people of Davis care that during every election cycle we have so few choices???

    I fully agree with Crilly that Sue Greenwald richly deserves to be re-elected. Some people may find a her a little quirky at times, but let’s not lose sight of the broader picture. She has been an extraordinarily articulate spokesman for the minority on the council for almost eight years. While in a minority she has been right about a host of issues from Covell Village to the surface water project/water issue. She is a remarkably eloquent and intelligent voice on the council. I am sure there are other council members who give a lot of their time to their job, but, and as I do not say this as a person who is a friend of Sue’s, I cannot imagine anyone who is more dedicated to her job and who takes it more seriously than Sue. It’s no exaggeration to say that Sue that in the public sphere Sue has made her service to the city of Davis her raison d’etre in a manner that I have rarely seen in Davis or any other place I have lived. Please join me in giving a donation to her campaign or helping it in any way.

  4. rusty49

    I agree with Herman and Crilly. Sue gets re-elected easily. She has a built in base of 75% of the voters who agree with her on growth issues along with many others who like her stance on the water project. There’s no other candidate who you can trust that will vote with the public when it comes to development.

  5. Don Shor

    I agree with nearly everything Herman said above. In spite of my disagreements with Sue on the water issue (and downtown issues in some cases), I think she has earned re-election. And I strongly favor district elections for Davis.

  6. Matt Williams

    rusty, while I agree with your first three sentences, I’m not sure I see the importance of your final sentence. Measure J/R gives the public its own voice when it comes to development. Sue’s voice is clearly additive to the public’s, but I’m not sure that the amount of addition is significant.

  7. Michael Harrington

    Sue is going to win, and big. Her sitting up there, year after year, and taking horrible unjustified attacks by some of the more nightmarish members of the CC has earned her the right to be reelected.

    Also, her NO vote on Sept 6, when the other 4 CC members, whipped into a frenzy of “gotta do it NOW” by staff and West Yost and the water companies, led to our doing the referendum, and stopping, at least for now, the attempt by the water consultants to lift nearly $600 million of ratepayer money for a horrible surface water project with a completely bogus funding structure.

    Her Sept 6th NO vote, and her motion to put the rates and project on the ballot, earned her the right to be re-elected, and to be the next Mayor.

    I am voting for Sue, and I urge all of you to do the same.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    For those of you who think Sue is a lock, consider that four years ago she barely held off Vergis – basically Souza and Saylor’s third vote.

    Part of the reason for that is that she did not work very hard. And she has not raised any money that she reported to date this time either.

    I’m reporting based on what I am hearing around town. If she doesn’t work, she is likely going to be defeated.

  9. 2cowherd

    I disagree with Sue Greenwald on the water project and will not be voting for her in June. We cannot continue to rely on groundwater until it is too late and we have lost our chance for surface water. We must find a way eliminate our discharges that are harming the environment

    I read Brett Lee’s article in the Enterprise on December 22 and frankly his ideas about water efficiency make sense. I would like to see the City of Davis explore his proposals and that is why I will be voting for him.

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