Sunday Commentary: Profiles in Cowardice

union-sg-1The Vanguard was founded six years ago for two purposes: first to report on stories that no one else was reporting.  And second, to provide the rest of the story.  Over the years, the Vanguard has evolved to a site that we believe is a watchdog site, that has hard-hitting reporting that, at times, has to criticize public officials for their conduct.

While the Vanguard reports with an edge, we recognize that the world is not black and white.  Not everyone agrees with us.  And even those who agree with us on somethings, disagree on others.

A lot has been made, at times, when I sign off on an article with “David M. Greenwald reporting” – that at times I am less reporting than opining.  But they are missing the point of that signature line.  That is my signature, stating that I wrote this article and I take responsibility for its content.

We have a very open policy about allowing people to comment in opposition and correct the record, and we attempt to correct mistakes when they inevitably occur.

Every day, I put myself and my name on the line and I have to stand by what I print.

Contrast that to the approach by Jim Burchill and, to a lesser extent, Jim McGowan and the unions behind the scurrilous attack on Sue Greenwald.

Some have argued that truth is a defense.  Well, if truth is a defense, let’s look at the body language of those involved to see how strongly they stand behind their work product.

Start with James Burchill.

Sue Greenwald was interviewed on Friday in the Sacramento Bee, noting, “Burchill, who has unions as his clients, had approached her some months ago and the conversation left her uncomfortable. Greenwald saw the mailer, considered its timing and thought back to the meeting with Burchill.”

“I was told by Burchill himself. How could it be anything else?”

The Bee reports, “Burchill did not return calls requesting comment. The three unions also chose not to respond.”

In fact, James Burchill not only did not return the Bee’s calls, he did not return Davis Enteprirse Beat Report Tom Sakash’s calls, nor columnist Bob Dunning’s, nor my calls.

For those of you still doubting that it is James Burchill, despite the fact that the PO Box on the return address tracks to his company, I am thinking that if James Burchill were not involved in this he would have called one of the reporters and said so.  That would seem to be a no-brainer.

The fact that he refuses to return calls not only signals his guilt here, but it signals a level of cowardice.  He is willing to send out the attacking piece but not willing to man up and own up to it.

In fact, it appears no one is very proud of their work.  The unions won’t return calls either.


It would appear that Mr. Burchill made over $6000 in consulting on this. Of course, that is not disclosed either on the 496 form.  They are supposed to indicate to whom that money went.

One person that we know was involved was accountant Jim McGowan.

We know that for sure, not only because his address is listed as the committee’s address, but he’s listed as the treasurer on the Form 410.


Still, on Tuesday when the Vanguard called down to another accountant in that office, that accountant told the Vanguard that, while he was not involved in the mailer, someone in his office was.

That accountant told the Vanguard he would see if Mr. McGowan would speak to me, then a minute later he returned and informed the Vanguard that Mr. McGowan said, “I don’t know anything about it.”

Of course, around the same time a fax went to the city clerk’s office acknowledging that he did know about it and he was, in fact, lying to the Vanguard.

Some will likely attempt to deflect these deceptions, arguing that, given the anger in the public, it is understandable.  To which I respond and I think quite appropriately, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

They chose to create this attack piece and now that it has blown up in their face, they are too cowardly to man up and own up to what they have done.

So those who want to argue that truth is a defense, how much defense do want to give a guy who won’t poke his head out enough to even return to a phone call?  They won’t stand behind their attack, so why are you?

As others see it…

The Davis Enterprise issued forth an editorial in which one word probably summed it up, “Disgusted.”  They add, “That sense of revulsion you felt when you opened your mailbox Tuesday and saw an attack mailer against Davis City Councilwoman Sue Greenwald? We all felt it.”

They add, “First, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Then, as we read it, our anger grew. Who would be so stupid as to try to manipulate Davis voters in this way? Negative politics commonplace in a big city don’t fly in this college town.”

Then again, maybe they don’t get it.  As they write, “We agree that it’s not a shining moment in Davis history. But it is history, and it’s irrelevant in the current campaign for City Council.”

The newspaper does not get to determine whether something is or is not relevant.  I can make a good case that it is relevant since this is the first election that Ms. Greenwald has stood in front of the voters since that fateful day.  If the voters believe that Ms. Greenwald’s conduct that day is relevant, that is their choice.

What was wrong with the mailer was that the anger with Ms. Greenwald for that conduct was secondary to the reason they want the councilmember off the council, and that has to do with her position on the surface water project.

That the issue may be relevant to some voters does not excuse the way in which it was carried out.

As the Enterprise notes, “The mailer damaged not only Greenwald, but project supporter Stephen Souza as well, whose name is listed in the fine print. Despite the fact that the mailer says, “This communication is not authorized by any candidate for City Council,” Councilman Souza is tainted by association.”

“Souza condemned the postcard, calling it “the lowest, dirtiest stunt I can recall being smeared onto the politics of Davis,”” they continue.  “We join him in that condemnation, and we urge voters to disregard this attempt to hijack our campaign. Davisites are way too smart to be manipulated by negative attack ads. We can make up our own minds.”

Meanwhile, Bob Dunning notes “the law of unintended consequences” in today’s column.

As he notes, “Little did they know how much bang they were about to get for their buck.”  He writes, “The goal of this postcard, seemingly, was to generate a whole lot of controversy and discussion about the Davis City Council campaign and ultimately to help determine the outcome of the race. On that goal, the three unions involved were wildly successful.”

“Indeed, the mailer generated more discussion around town than any other single piece of mail in the history of Davis city politics,” he adds, though he may be forgetting something that generated more discussion.

He writes, “Not surprisingly, the union mailer has turned conventional Davis political wisdom on its head.”

The question is whether the mailer really turns conventional wisdom on its head.  We felt, going in, that the incumbent that was in trouble was Stephen Souza, rather than Sue Greenwald.

People forget that Dan Wolk is in a very strong position to win this race.  As someone noted, there are two factions in this year’s election and Dan Wolk heads both of them.

More on this in a few days.

—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. JustSaying

    “Some have argued that truth is a defense. Well, if truth is a defense, let’s look at the body language of those involved to see how strongly they stand behind their work product.”

    I don’t think you could have missed the points that the “truth” of it refers to the content of the material published and that taking “responsibility” for what’s issued refers to whether there’s an indication about who published it.

    Sue made a big deal in painting Burchill as associated with unions and accused him of blackmail and threats. (“Burchill, who has unions as his clients, had approached her some months ago and the conversation left her uncomfortable.”)

    From what you’ve reported, Burchill develops stuff for the people/organizations that pay him, including a judge. That’s his job. I’m not sure that the “body language” of political consultants really is much of a concern, regardless of how much the mailer offended. I do think the unions responsible for it should have the courage to respond.

    Your quotes from Dunning had me thinking he was making a serious point as well. If one reads further, one would find he was just setting up his sympathy-card joke (“Slander Seems to Work for the Victim”–how every candidate now plans to have have a mailer sent out charging themselves with things similar to Sue’s unpleasant episode in order to benefit from the backlash.).

  2. JustSaying

    “From what you’ve reported…” (On second thought, maybe it was a commenter who provided a client list. In any case, I only know what I read in the Vanguard.)

  3. Mr.Toad

    “Souza condemned the postcard, calling it “the lowest, dirtiest stunt I can recall being smeared onto the politics of Davis,”” they continue. ‘ “

    Steve’s memory is short. There was Lefever’s hit piece on Fazio featuring Richard Allen Davis was pretty low in the 90’s but the worst I can remember in city politics was when everyone lined up for an anti-Harrington photo-op right before election day when he would have no chance to respond.

  4. psdavis

    It’s 2004 all over again.

    Sue Greenwald is once again using an independent expenditure scandal to play the victim card to the hilt and, in turn, orchestrate a campaign urging her supporters to bullet vote for her only as some sort of appropriate response to the scandal.

    Sue did the same thing in 2004. The net result was that she became mayor. Don Saylor lost votes because of the taint of the independent expenditure, and Sue threw the other progressive candidates (Michael Harrington and Stan Forbes) under the bus by running a bullet vote strategy.

    Some of the recent letters to the editor reflect this cynical attempt to manipulate another election by the Greenwald campaign.

    And make no mistake. Although Burchill intended to victimize Sue, he might as well have walked up to her on the street and given her a $15,000 campaign donation.

    It’s 2004 all over again. Burchill obviously wasn’t smart enough to learn from 2004. The question is, are we, the electorate, going to fall into the same trap as we did eight years ago.

  5. hpierce

    Don’t read too much into the ‘bullet vote’ theory… more likely the ‘third vote’ theory will be in play, but maybe not so much as it appears that Dan Wolk is a “lock”. Debbie Nichols-Poulos & Julie Partansky (1st time) both garnered highest vote total… a heck of a lot of voters had each as their third choice. Formula for victory.

  6. Rifkin

    [i]”As [b]someone[/b] noted, there are two factions in this year’s election and Dan Wolk heads both of them.”[/i]

    Fixed: “As Rich Rifkin, the man who formerly had a luxurious head of blonde curls but now is bald as a grantie topped mountain, noted, there are two factions in this year’s election and Dan Wolk heads both of them.”

  7. eagle eye

    Rifkin made a very smart choice: There comes a time in life when a man has to make a decision – hair or brains.
    I’d like to know what happened in the 2004 campaign.

  8. JustSaying

    David, how are you doing on the followup investigation re. Sue’s charges, the ones that you pulled because she refused to provide evidence in the Vanguard comments?

  9. David M. Greenwald

    Sue was never willing to give me anything specific and her comment to me the next day led me to believe she didn’t have anything specific.

  10. JustSaying

    So, will you be reporting on the charges she made in the [i]Vanguard[/i] (as I think you said you would do once you did your own investigation)?

  11. Matt Williams

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”Sue was never willing to give me anything specific and her comment to me the next day led me to believe she didn’t have anything specific.”

    “There is nothing to report.”[/i]

    So David, if I read your words correctly, Sue gets to paint Steve with the innuendo slander brush with no substantiation, and you give her a free pass . . . and cover up her words of innuendo.

    Do I have that right?

  12. Mr.Toad

    A new hit piece against Dan Maguire by Clint Parrish attacks Maguire for being appointed by Arnold and for being an “Ivy Leaguer.”

    In Davis isn’t an Ivy League education a badge of honor? I guess Dan Wolk going to Stanford and Boldt is a negative too. Brett Lee going to the London School of Economics, oh the horror!

    I’ve got nothing against McGeorge where Parish went but Maguire’s Stanford and Harvard education, his clerking for a 9th Circuit appellate judge, advising a Governor, teaching at King Hall and years of private practice make a pretty impressive resume not the type of thing you would expect to find as the basis of a hit piece.

    Parish also hits Maguire for a decision Arnold made after Maguire was a sitting judge. How does that work?

  13. Mr.Toad

    Sue’s mailer claims she slowed peripheral growth I guess that is true if you don’t count West Village.

    She also claims you can count on her to “Take the hard, necessary steps to bring expenditures down, even when it means standing alone.”

    Of course standing alone doesn’t bring any expenditures down. The art of getting three votes against spending brings expenditures down but that requires playing well with others. Of course this really shows her failure more than her triumph.

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