Vanguard Analysis: Davis City Council Outcome

John Munn (center) appears to have come up just short
John Munn (center) appears to have come up just short

We begin with the caveat that there are probably 2000 to 3000 votes still to be counted in this race. Historically, we have not seen these late ballot counts change the results of races where there is a margin as large as the 200+ vote lead that Rochelle Swanson has over John Munn.

For one thing, the results of the late ballots tend to mirror the results of the Election Day voters. In this case, Rochelle Swanson narrowly trailed John Munn in the initial ballots of mail-in voters that arrived prior to Election Day, and thus she had nearly a 300 vote advantage on Election Day.

Robb Davis continued a remarkable trend in Davis politics. In 2008, Don Saylor spent $75,000, Stephen Souza over $50,000 and two more spent over $40,000. Since then, candidates have barely topped $30,000 and several have won spending $20,000 or less.

Why? Davis can still be won on the ground and the winning formula is now: one mail piece, a walk piece, some ads in the paper, lawn signs, and walk the town and take advantage of free media. Robb Davis went from an unknown to Mayor Pro Tem-elect because his team walked every precinct and some precincts twice.

They weren’t just dropping literature, but were talking and engaging with the voters. Once again, Richard Livingston, who also ran Brett Lee’s campaign, organized a superior ground operation, and Robb Davis is now the top vote getter.

If Rochelle Swanson, as we project, holds on and wins the seat, she will have been quite fortunate. The Vanguard was critical of her campaign for its lack of visibility overall. She did not walk a lot of precincts. She basically decided that the work of the council had to trump campaign priorities. It is not a recommended strategy, but she was able to get just enough votes based on her record and incumbency to hold on.

From our perspective, the two most interesting factors in this race was how Robb Davis was able to go from virtually unknown to the general public to the first place winner, and how Sheila Allen and John Munn, both of whom have been in public life for at least a decade, were not able to win.

John Munn: Close But No Cigar

John Munn parlayed three key assets into a strong run for second in the race. As a former school board member and frequent candidate for Assembly, Mr. Munn was a familiar face to the electorate. He was the only Republican in the race. And he took advantage of the angst in the community championing opposition to the water rates and fiscal responsibility.

However, this laser-like focus came at a cost. In the candidate forums he showed a frequent failure to expand outside of his one issue. His answers, even in his area of focus, were often lacking in specifics, and he did not show that he had done his homework, and/or even studied the city’s fiscal condition.

While he performed strongly, capturing some of the Republican vote and much of the vote of water critics, there was a clear cap on his votes. Some were not comfortable with his stances on development, his conservative leanings overall and his lack of breadth of issues.

For those who were concerned with the fiscal condition of the city, but who wanted a more well-rounded candidate, they had the option of Robb Davis, Rochelle Swanson, and even Daniel Parrella. Mr. Munn lost an opportunity to focus on economic development, which would have been a natural topic for him on several fronts.

While Mr. Munn came close, one has to wonder if the Yes on P folks would have done better with a candidate that could have captured the angst on water while appealing to a broader section of the electorate.

One thing to ponder is that, while John Munn received 3900 votes, Measure P received 5516, or 1600 more votes than John Munn. That means there was considerable drop off between people who were upset with the rate structure and people willing to vote for John Munn. Had Mr. Munn more perfectly captured the Measure P voters, he would have been far closer to Robb Davis than he ended up being.

Sheila Allen:: From Odds On Favorite to Fourth Place

When Sheila Allen entered the city council race she was the odds on favorite, not only to make it to the council, but to finish first, and finish first by a large margin. She had nine years on the school board and had a broad and diverse range of support.

Then the Nancy Peterson-Julie Crawford volleyball scandal hit and Sheila Allen found herself on the wrong side of not only public sentiment, but public anger at the way the scandal was handled, the conflicts of interest that emerged, and the way the school board handled it.

Sheila Allen herself played a key role back in July of 2013. The board had just voted to reinstate Julie Crawford and while Sheila Allen was presiding officer, Nancy Peterson made disparaging comments about Julie Crawford that were inappropriate for a member of the board to sayabout a district employee. Ms. Allen failed to gavel Ms. Peterson down, which in time would ultimately set up the second controversy.

Despite her vote again reinstating Julie Crawford, Sheila Allen, though dinged up, might have survived this were it not for the March 18 letter to the Editor of the Enterprise which, in effect, told the community that “it’s time to move on.” As we noted at the time, several days after the controversial decision, rather than simply letting the matter die and allowing the community to move on at its own pace, Sheila and fellow board member Susan Lovenberg decided to inflame the situation.

They concluded their letter stating, “With these lessons in mind, it is time to move on.”

The problem, ironically is that statements like these do not allow the community to move on.  For one thing, they generate more questions than answers.

We have an interesting time marker here, as the letter was dated March 18, 2014. In the filing cycle that began on March 18, 2014, Sheila Allen raised just $3600. When we saw that figure, most of the other candidates raised twice that, and we knew that Ms. Allen was in bad shape.

It also did not help matters that Ms. Allen found herself in the middle of a short-lived controversy involving the firefighters and the departure of Steve Pinkerton, by attending an event where firefighters and some other city employees were celebrating the departure of the former city manager.

The firefighters would ultimately come out and formally endorse Ms. Allen and donate $100, but that was a far cry from the bundled contributions and independent expenditures of the past.

In the end, Ms. Allen never regained her footing after the March scandal. The low contribution total for the final two and a half months of the campaign was emblematic of this failure to gain traction. In the end, she found herself a distant fourth, slightly closer to fifth place Daniel Parrella than to third place John Munn.

Council Going Forward

In a few weeks, Joe Krovoza will exit Davis politics, just four years after winning a resounding victory in the Davis City Council race and after spending three and a half years as Mayor of Davis. Joe Krovoza really deserves a lot of credit for pushing Davis toward the path of fiscal sustainability.

If the Assembly race holds as it is right now, both the school district and the city council will avoid another appointment process.  Dan Wolk will be mayor and one of the concerns has been his level of engagement over the last year or so.  Will he regain his focus if he has indeed lost his Assembly bid or will that send him further down the road to disengagement?  And if Mr. Wolk ends up not being a strong and proactive leader, who steps up to lead the city?

That leaves the next city council as: Mayor Dan Wolk, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, and Councilmembers Brett Lee, Lucas Frerichs, and Rochelle Swanson.

The budget looms large and Robb Davis figures to continue Joe Krovoza’s strong record on fiscal sustainability. The city will have to struggle to figure out how to address infrastructure, and obviously a 58% support for Measure O means that the city doesn’t have to immediately make 12.5 to 25 percent cuts.

But the Council clearly needs to figure out a path forward on roads, parks and building infrastructure.

With the departure of Steve Pinkerton, the city council is also left to find another city manager. The Vanguard had a good seat for watching Mr. Pinkerton work. He clearly had his strengths and weaknesses, but one of his strengths was his ability to assess a problem and figure out a way forward.

Davis will miss that strong brand of leadership. While in the past the city has attempted to go on the low end of compensation for city managers, we think if the city finds the right person to lead Davis, it needs to prioritize the money it will take to get that individual here. Clearly, there is a difference between a strong city manager who can help lead on critical issues and one that will sit back and play it safe.

A lot of decisions are ahead and we will have more on this in the coming days and weeks.

—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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3 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    to me the most interesting analysis was sheila allen. that letter absolutely killed her. the funny thing is that going in, her backers thought she was going to finish first easily.

    john munn ironically falls well shy of measure p in part because of the flaws of his candidacy.

  2. Davis Progressive

    i do feel a little sorry for sheila on the account that she could have bowed to public opinion on the vb controversy and decided not to and that’s part of what took her down.

  3. Good Government

    “The winning formula is now: one mail piece, a walk piece, some ads in the paper, lawn signs, and walk the town and take advantage of free media.” And an ad on the Vanguard!

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