Vanguard Analysis: Letter by Senator Wolk Puts Dan Wolk into Tough Position

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wolk-1While many believe that Davis Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk is the frontrunner for the 2014 open Assembly Seat currently held by Mariko Yamada, the Wolk campaign has to thread a rather perilous needle.

On the one hand, they want to avoid the linkage between Dan Wolk and his mother, the current State Senator Lois Wolk.  But on the other hand, they need to be able to take advantage of her reputation, experience and network in order to bring in endorsements, money and ultimately votes.

Running too close to Senator Wolk could feed into the perception of nepotism or the belief held by some that Dan Wolk has a thin resume on his own.  Yes, he has a law degree from Bolt Hall and works for the Solano County Counsel’s office, but he is in his mid-30s and has only held elected office since 2011; only since 2012, a mere 18 months at this point, has he been elected in his own right.

Since before Dan Wolk even took office, he has always claimed to be more liberal than his mother and has differentiated himself perhaps most notably on the plastic bag ordinance, which his mother has consistently opposed statewide, and fluoridation.

But what happened last week pushes Dan Wolk’s independence to a different level.

In October, despite strong pressure from the firefighters’ union – which Mr. Wolk had previously bucked as the swing vote in a June 2011 vote that cut $2 million in personnel compensation, but had backed on the losing side of a 3-2 on staff cuts – Mayor Pro Tem Wolk joined three of his colleagues on a 4-1 vote to support the JPA for joint management of fire services between UC Davis and the City of Davis.

At the time, he said, “I think sharing management services does make sense.  It’s not a foreign concept to this council and there’s a real synergy to be achieved here.”

Last week, as the Vanguard reported, Senator Lois Wolk, along with three other current elected officials and former Supervisor Helen Thomson, wrote a letter to the Davis City Council opposing the agreement.

The letter argues, “We believe that governance of public safety is and must remain a core function of the elected City Council of Davis. Community oversight and accountability is an important element of municipal services.”

They write, “We urge the Davis City Council to take another look at the serious long-range consequences of this proposal before contracting out any of these core municipal functions. There is a key difference between sharing or coordinating services and merging governance with the constitutionally separate and unelected Regents and Chancellor.”

“This proposed action would place a well-established and effective municipal service within an entity whose primary mission is higher education and research, not public safety,” the letter continues. “This could easily result in a lessening of service and response for the residents of the Davis community and the surrounding areas historically served by the Davis Fire Department. We deeply appreciate the presence of the UC Davis campus and respect the leadership of the campus. Unified operations and efficiencies are appropriate considerations, but should not come with loss of community accountability.”

The decision by Senator Wolk to sign this letter is curious at best.  From a political standpoint, she publicly opposes a vote taken by her son.  At a time when Dan Wolk is in a real fight to win the assembly race, this could not have been a welcomed occurrence by his campaign staff.

Dan Wolk is now put into the position of either bucking his mother and spurning the firefighters’ union, or appearing to cave to pressure from not only his mother, but five public officials – four of whom endorsed Mr. Wolk, as well as caving to the pressure of the firefighters’ union.

From a political standpoint, then, this move makes no sense.

Some have suggested that perhaps, from a policy perspective, it makes more sense.

But let us look at that.  If Senator Wolk were really that concerned with the JPA, wouldn’t her first move have been to meet with City Manager Steve Pinkerton as well as UC Vice Chancellor John Meyer – who, by the way, served as city manager during part of the senior Wolk’s term on the council?

Would it not have served better for her to meet with her son in private, as well as with other members of the council, to allay her concerns?

Choosing a very public route seems tantamount to either political pressure or political grandstanding.

Given the dynamics on council, Senator Wolk – from both a political and policy perspective – might have been better off staying out of the fray altogether.  Four members of the council supported the JPA, but Ms. Wolk’s influence on the other three of those four would appear minimal at best.

Rochelle Swanson and Brett Lee, as registered independents, have few ties to Senator Wolk and are unlikely to be moved.   Mayor Joe Krovoza, of course, is squaring off against Dan Wolk and others for the assembly seat.

Moreover, Mayor Krovoza and Councilmembers Swanson and Lee have fought for reforms all the way through.  It was Mayor Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson who formed the 3-2 majority in June 2011 that Dan Wolk joined to set the city’s fiscal reforms in motion.

It was Mayor Krovoza and Councilmembers Swanson and Lee who consistently backed reforms from boundary drop, which Dan Wolk supported, to fire staffing cuts, which Dan Wolk opposed.

Finally, the letter by Senator Wolk forces Dan Wolk into a corner.  There is now no way for him to oppose the JPA without looking like he buckled under pressure from his mother and three other key campaign supporters.

The whole thing seems odd.  Dan Wolk can get a small win here by sticking to his guns, and therefore giving the appearance of separation from his mother, but to do so means he publicly has to buck the unions.

Talk about forcing Mr. Wolk into a tough position.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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20 thoughts on “Vanguard Analysis: Letter by Senator Wolk Puts Dan Wolk into Tough Position”

  1. medwoman

    Most of this piece centers around what we can never know, unless Lois Wolk chooses to share her inner thoughts and goals with us. Even if she did, many would immediately start claiming that they “know” better than she does why she acted as she did and why she is attempting to “deceive us”. I can totally get behind laying out the facts of Mr. Wolk’s voting record and emphasizing his experience and credentials.
    Speculating about the details of his political and personal interactions with the career politician who happens to be his mother, not so much so.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Why can’t the fact that it’s a curious move that invites speculation be sufficient to speculate? Besides, I think the main point here is that she put Dan Wolk into a tough position. We don’t really know why she did it. Her office won’t comment.

  3. Mr.Toad

    It seems like everyone is suffering from separation anxiety except for Dan Wolk. He seems to vote his own mind and get accused of being his mother’s puppet at every turn no matter what he does. Instead of trying to read tea leaves why not take him at his word about his votes or even better why don’t you ask him about the relationship between him and his mother and his politics? You might be surprised to find out that Lois doesn’t even talk to Dan about city policy, probably for the exact reason you bring up in this article, the appearance of exerting undo influence on local politics, or, for fear that Dan will be accused of being a mama’s boy.

    Nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead of his mother’s marionette, Dan is a father, husband, attorney, county counsel and popularly elected city council member. As to Dan being originally appointed to the City Council, while you are fixated on who his mother is, if you watched the process unfold, you would know that Dan was by far the best and most knowledgeable person seeking the appointment.

    This is a weird article because it focuses on how Dan has mostly gone his own way yet attempts to somehow deny that he is the master of his own fate. It seem that you have more of an oedipus complex about Dan and his mother than Dan does. When are you going to start judging Dan on his own record?

  4. Frankly

    It is unfortunate that people think this way, but I think they do.

    My thinking is that fiscal prudence trumps other ideological routines in terms of the majority voter considerations.

    Ms. Wolk is older and has had many more years of liberal-progressive imprinting – even as she has at times stepped out of the herd to take an opposing position. With the younger Mr. Wolk, there is still a bit of hope that his political orientation is malleable toward a prioritization of dollars and sense.

  5. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > On the one hand, they want to avoid the linkage
    > between Dan Wolk and his mother, the current
    > State Senator Lois Wolk

    Dan’s Mom got ~97% of the vote in the last Democratic primary and ~66% of the vote in her last general election.

    My guess is that Dan’s Mom will campaign for him and they won’t worry about David and the ~20 people that post to this site that have a problem with him Mom’s recent letter.

  6. B. Nice

    [quote]With the younger Mr. Wolk, there is still a bit of hope that his political orientation is malleable toward a prioritization of dollars and sense.[/quote]

    Act fast Frankly before he goes to the dark side. Of coarse being that he is in his 30’s you could argue that he is too old. Yes, too old, to begin the training.

  7. B. Nice

    [quote]The whole thing seems odd. Dan Wolk can get a small win here by sticking to his guns, and therefore giving the appearance of separation from his mother, but to do so means he publicly has to buck the unions.[/quote]

    I’ll assume she realized the consequences her actions would have on her son when she committed them. Is it really that far out of the realm of possibility that she did what she thought was right, regardless of the impact it had on her son. Maybe she doesn’t feel Dan needs her protection, and that he can and should be able to run a successful campaign based on his merits, not hers.

  8. JustSaying

    There must be reason(s) that Lois Wolk joined Mariko Yamada joined hands with the others to drop a very public, error-filled, fear-mongering letter onto our town’s leaders.

    The fact that our city council members are in the midst of contentious attacks by the firefighter union makes the action an unwarranted and unwelcome imposition, guaranteed to make Davis’ municipal administration more difficult.

    The fact that two council members are in a face off for the same higher office adds an odd twist to the situation. The fact that one of the competitors is one letter-writer’s son makes the whole affair more unusual. Of course, how this pressure and/or cover tactic might affect his votes is unknown (and probably still will be after the voting).

    The union(s) involvement and interests in this nastiness are obvious, and, normally, we could just write off The Letter as rank political calculation by those who signed it without even doing their due diligence.

    David is correct that “the decision by Senator Wolk to sign this letter is curious at best.” The fact that her office refuses comment suggests she realizes the indefensible nature of the letter’s claims and, possibly, the awkwardness trying to turn our city’s elected leaders in favor of the firefighter union campaign objectives.

    “You might be surprised to find out that Lois doesn’t even talk to Dan about city policy, probably for the exact reason you bring up in this article, the appearance of exerting undo influence on local politics….”

    Interesting speculation, Mr.Toad. But, not even remotely credible. It’d be interesting to sit in on their Thanksgiving dinner to hear whether the conversation is limited to affordable health care.

  9. davehart

    It’s curious to me how elected leaders are expected to always make the right decision from the outset and are not allowed to be part of a process of maturation wherein their views may change. Pundits (who run blogs or post on them) seem to revel in pointing out that human nature (changing one’s mind) is some sort of proof of weakness or worse.

    As a matter of full disclosure, I am leaning toward supporting Krovoza in the Assembly primary mostly because of his clear statement on the Mace 391 issue where he reminded us of the origin of the conservation easements based on the ancient Measure O vote. He showed to me that he is grounded in policy. I disagree with D.Wolk on the UC fire merger issue because of the issues outlined in the letter by LWolk and others (which has to do with policy). I disagree with both DWolk and LWolk on issues like Design-Build-Operate for our water project based on the same arguements in the letter on the fire management merger (it’s bad policy and has very bad implications down the road) so why not use this blog to attack Lois Wolk on being pro DBO for her stances on large public works but hypocritical when it comes to the Fire deal? Dan is consistently pro-DBO. That’s why I can’t support him.

    But I would be impressed by any elected leader who can change their mind, see the light, and communicate the reason for their change of view. That would take real guts and political know-how. Very few in history have been able to do that, so maybe I hope for too much. But for the few throughout history who have done it, I see that leadership is more than just “being right from the beginning”.

  10. Frankly

    davehart, your and my vote and logic would seem to cancel each other out.

    But I absolutely agree with your point about being impressed with any elected leader that would change his/her mind with sufficient explanation. However, not so much when it is a clear flip-flop for political reasons.

    And, I challenge many that make this claim that they would respect a change in opinion or policy that goes against their ideas or beliefs… no matter how much explanation is given. For them it is a one-sided argument… they only behave respectfully when a changed-mind is in their favor, and they throw a major tantrum when a change goes the other way.

    However, of bigger concern to me is those that do not support the final, finite decision resulting from a well-enough-vetted decision process. If you want an example, go talk to the local health service provider leaders about how they will contribute to the effort to design and implement alternative fluoride delivery/treatment to needy children after the decision to not fluoridate our water. Most have dug in their heels in a fit of defiance having failed in their quest to continue the barbaric practice of global force-medicating.

  11. davehart

    I can respect a leader that changes their mind regardless of their position. But it doesn’t follow that I should change MY mind one way or the other purely out of respect unless the argument offered was so compelling as to induce me to change.

    Unfortunately, most people who truly care about an issue often have a hard time shifting from campaign mode before the decision point to pragmatic workaround mode when the decision fails or is under attack. You cite the fluoridation issue locally. Good example.

    Obamacare comes to my mind on the national level. When the controversy of people losing all those crappy sub-standard insurance policies erupted I immediately thought that the best response was to go ahead and let people keep them. Over time, those people would look around at others and eventually be chagrined that they had not done a complete analysis and were in fact, as one expert said, “paying to be uninsured.” They would never admit they had let their emotions cloud their analysis, let alone get in the way of what was in their best self-interest. Plenty of examples, I guess.

    Truly progressive leaders (regardless of political affiliation) can be judged by their ability to argue a position based on principle while also adopting a pragmatic approach to improving our lives as we spin around the sun on this little rock in space.

  12. JimmysDaughter

    Just Sayin:”It’d be interesting to sit in on their Thanksgiving dinner to hear whether the conversation is limited to affordable health care.”

    If I had grandchildren, on Thanksgiving I’d want to hear all about what they were doing. I’d want to reminisce with my son about past happy Thanksgiving memories. I’d remember loved ones that have passed. The last thing I’d do on this holiday is sit around & discuss politics!
    I bet the Wolk family is the same.

  13. B. Nice

    [quote]Most have dug in their heels in a fit of defiance having failed in their quest to continue the [u]barbaric practice of global force-medicating.[/u][/quote]

    I don’t know, you might be understating the dangers of fluoridation a bit.

  14. medwoman

    Frankly

    [quote]Most have dug in their heels in a fit of defiance having failed in their quest to continue the barbaric practice of global force-medicating.[/quote]

    Posted without having spoken directly with any of the principles unless you have been very busy interviewing public health officials since our conversation.

  15. medwoman

    Frankly

    [quote]With the younger Mr. Wolk, there is still a bit of hope that his political orientation is malleable toward a prioritization of dollars and sense.[/quote]

    And here I am hoping that he continues to prioritize human well being over dollars.

  16. Frankly

    [i]Posted without having spoken directly with any of the principles unless you have been very busy interviewing public health officials since our conversation[/i]

    This is true. My understanding is second hand, but from a reliable source and confirmed by another reliable source.

    But I have to go back to the original point. That is one where some people don’t value the process when it results in a decision they dislike. I made that point in response to davehart’s point that he values a politician that will change his/her mind when there is enough valid reasoning to back the decision.

    I think you would be hard pressed to successfully argue that those on the losing side of the fluoride decision have demonstrated that they are supportive of the process. Even you opined that the process was flawed… that we had false information or not enough information… even though the topic had been profusely debated on the Vanguard over a great number of days… and both sides had ample opportunity to make their case in council chambers.

    The topic of growth, economic development and land preservation is an ongoing concern, and hence we should welcome continued debate.

    However, fluoride in the water is DOA after a prolonged information gathering and reporting process; so those that continue to complain that the Council’s decision was the wrong decision are doing absolutely nothing beneficial for the community or the human condition. That is a shame, IMO.

  17. Frankly

    [i]And here I am hoping that he continues to prioritize human well being over dollars[/i]

    Interesting. How do you suggest we continue to help human beings without dollars?

    You are arguing to value the cart instead of the horse.

  18. medwoman

    Frankly

    [quote]Even you opined that the process was flawed… that we had false information or not enough information… even though the topic had been profusely debated on the Vanguard over a great number of days… and both sides had ample opportunity to make their case in council chambers.
    [/quote]

    I opined that the process was flawed. Profuse debate is not synonymous with either full disclosure or with true statements. I think that you are quoting me quite selectively.

    [quote]Interesting. How do you suggest we continue to help human beings without dollars?

    You are arguing to value the cart instead of the horse.[/quote]

    Since human beings existed long before there was any concept of money whatsoever, I would say that it is you who puts “the cart before the horse”. Money is nothing more than a medium of exchange invented by humans Money is not necessary for human existence. Cooperation and compassion are necessary for human existence.

  19. David M. Greenwald

    “My guess is that Dan’s Mom will campaign for him and they won’t worry about David and the ~20 people that post to this site that have a problem with him Mom’s recent letter.”

    Sorry I was not feeling well yesterday and just saw this now. You have misinterpreted the comment. It has nothing to do with the letter and was expressed long before there was a letter. The sentiment everything to do with the idea that the campaign wants Dan Wolk to be his own person and not Lois’ son.

  20. David M. Greenwald

    “Is it really that far out of the realm of possibility that she did what she thought was right, regardless of the impact it had on her son. “

    No it’s not beyond the realm of possibility but even granting that, writing the letter was a curious move that was unlikely to work.

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