With the announcement last week that potential rival Alfredo Pedroza, the Napa County Supervisor appointed to fill Bill Dodd’s seat, had not only bowed out of the race but had endorsed Dan Wolk, the momentum in the race clearly shifted to Dan Wolk’s heavy favor.
There is a long time between now and the filing deadline in February. There are rumors – unconfirmed as they are – that Winters Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a formidable candidate in her own right, might have visions for the seat. But right now Dan Wolk is the clear and overwhelming favorite.
While some speculate that the field being cleared will make it less likely for Don Saylor to continue his candidacy – in a way it might make it more likely. Without a third Democrat and without one in the western portion of the district, the fear that we will see a repeat of 2014 and a splitting of the eastern vote has subsided – again, at least for now.
The lessons of 2008 remain, however. We know from 2008 that West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was at least as heavy a favorite as Dan Wolk appears to be right now. They have a lot of similarities as mayors of their respective towns, facing lesser-known county supervisors.
Mr. Cabaldon was far more formidable, with over a decade of experience as mayor and highly respected regionally. However, Dan Wolk carries the advantage that the Assembly district has been represented by his mother in the Senate.
Mr. Cabaldon at his announcement had Supervisors Helen Thomson and Mike McGowan at his side. He went to the Davis Amtrak Station flanked by Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson and Councilmember Don Saylor (who would become the next mayor pro tem).
In April 2008, two months before the election, he stood at the waterfront at Suisun City flanked by Lois Wolk, Helen Thomson and Tom Hannigan – each of whom had endorsed his candidacy, for the position they served collectively over the last 30 years since 1978 when Tom Hannigan served the first of 9 terms on the California legislature.
And, despite all of these advantages, it was not enough for Christopher Cabaldon to win the Assembly seat.
Dan Wolk has a tough task ahead of him. He has his day job as Deputy County Counsel for Solano County, handling public finance, public contracting and water issues. He has his elected job as Mayor of Davis. And he has his night job as father of two young children.
The Vanguard has been covering the city of Davis since 2006 and in those nine years of operation, the period of August 2014 to the present has been the slowest time for the city council – by far.
Dan Wolk has had his moments. When he came into office he cut the deal to end the water rate dispute. However, there have been many times, even as he has led meetings on the dais, when he has seemed disengaged.
He was clearly instrumental in putting in place a new city management team that has sought to undo or soften some of the policies and initiatives of the previous city manager.
But his legacy may well be defined in the next five months. The city has been looking to expand its economic development policies. In January of this year, Dan Wolk pushed for economic development as a centerpiece of his “Renew Davis” initiative.
He said at the time, “We need to renew our commitment to the idea of the university, but bring it to the next level and that’s really what these innovation centers and Nishi are all about. That’s about harnessing the technology that’s coming out of the university, not only incubating it here, but growing it and having it stay here long-term, so that we can have highly skilled workers, graduates of UC Davis, stay here in our community.”
But since that time, the city has lost its Chief Innovation Officer. It has seen one of the innovation center projects be placed on hold. And now, as the EIR comes out on Mace, we are seeing pushback in the community, with some believing that the project is moving too fast and with others worried that it has morphed into a mixed-use housing project. And some are just worried that the project may not pass.
This fall will be critical as the innovation park moves from concept to a vote by council to potentially put it on the ballot. If the project is delayed or ends up failing, that would be a black mark potentially for the mayor.
At the same time, the Hotel Conference center is coming up for a vote this Tuesday. The city staff projects at least $200,000 in ongoing tax revenue, but the project at this point seems to be caught up in the traffic problems of Richards Boulevard – a potential problem that awaits the Nishi project, as well.
Last January, Dan Wolk, trumpeting improved fiscal numbers, proclaimed that “the state of the city is very strong right now.” But the fiscal analysis that emerged in June at budget time showed that the city’s finances were precarious at best. They stayed in the black due to the half-cent sales tax passed by the voters in June 2014. The numbers appeared not to support any increased salary for city employees, and were vulnerable to a potential new economic downturn which might emerge in the next ten years.
After a long time deliberating, the city has put forth the idea of a utility user tax to fund infrastructure. However, led by the mayor, has been a push for a new sports park that the council has successfully severed from the main discussion on infrastructure.
Both of those discussions are likely to come to a head in the fall.
The legacy of Dan Wolk may well be determined in the next few months as council emerges on Tuesday from a six-week break with critical issues that it must tackle. What happens may be immaterial to what happens in the Assembly race, of course, which will depend on what candidates might emerge and the effectiveness of Don Saylor’s candidacy.
Of course, a strong showing by the mayor in the next few months may finally put to rest some of the nagging questions about his readiness for higher office that continue to crop up in some circles.
—David M. Greenwald reporting