My View: We Learn Once Again That Campaigns Matter

Will Arnold and his wife Nichole on Election Day
Will Arnold and his wife Nichole on election day

If I were going to design the perfect candidate profile, it would be a person like Will Arnold.  He grew up in Davis, his father was a prominent real estate broker, his mother a popular teacher for decades.  He was involved in community services like the Blue and White Foundation, he ran several prominent campaigns, and he was a district representative to Senator Lois Wolk.

On paper, the moment he announced he was going to run for city council he was a prohibitive favorite, not only to finish in the top three and get elected, but to finish first and become mayor pro tem.  The Vanguard, Bob Dunning and every major prognosticator predicted he would trounce to an easy first place finish, even though he was running against two accomplished city council incumbents.

But on Tuesday, while he was elected to the city council, he finished third.  Just 50 votes behind Lucas Frerichs at last check, but well behind frontrunner Brett Lee.  Councilmember-elect Will Arnold told me that he was probably the only one not surprised by the results.

What happened is a fascinating story.  For me, red flags really started to show up with the second-to-last pre-election campaign filing of the Form 460.  That showed that Will Arnold had “only” raised about $16,000 and that he had loaned his campaign about $24,000.

In the days since the election, Will Arnold has shared with me that, even going into the race, he knew that campaigning was not going to be the top priority in his life.  His young daughter had to have surgery on her hand to help alleviate a condition that she was born with.  Last year, his father passed away and he had to finish dealing with the estate.

Most in the community know that Will Arnold and his wife Nichole purchased the Mother & Baby Source and often he had to help run that transition, as well as take care of two very young children along with their older son who is seven.  To make matters more complicated, they helped with a foster child and family.

The advantages laid out at the beginning of this piece help explain why Will Arnold was still able to finish in the top three despite these other priorities, and the priorities also explain why he finished third rather than first.

That is to take nothing away from the great campaign run by Brett Lee, who was able to finish a commanding first, winning 34 of 35 precincts and finishing second in the 35th precinct, in part because he probably walked more of the precincts than the other three candidates combined.

Will Arnold told the Vanguard that this was the worst possible time for him, personally, to run for office, but “I agreed to run knowing this was going to be the case because my city needed me.”  He also assured the Vanguard that, while these were huge obstacles during his campaign, they have all be resolved now and he will be able to focus his energies on the challenges facing the city rather than those facing his personal life.

While anyone can personally sympathize with the challenges that Mr. Arnold faced during this election cycle, in a way the results are more reassuring than not.

As election prognosticators and analysts go, I am as guilty as anyone in assessing a campaign as though it were run in a bubble. Plug in a simple formula, crank out a prediction.  With a strong track record, a prominent name, and a deep family history, it seemed like Will Arnold could fall over and be anointed mayor.  The election results show that was not true – although certainly Will Arnold would not have been elected at all under the conditions he faced if his name were Joe Blow.

Campaigns still matter in Davis – in fact, they matter a lot.  I remember meeting with Joe Krovoza in November 2009 at the Black Bear Diner.  We had a nice meeting, but I now infamously recall leaving there thinking, nice guy but he has no chance.

What Joe Krovoza did was put together a campaign team that would walk all of Davis and win all but one precinct to elect him not only to the council but as mayor pro tem.

In 2012, few people knew Brett Lee.  Brett was facing three incumbents, with Dan Wolk having just been appointed, joining Sue Greenwald and Stephen Souza.  To make it more difficult, Lucas Frerichs jumped in with years of community service himself.  While it is true that stumbles by two of the incumbents opened the door, Brett Lee was able to step through it by having an operation that walked all of Davis and he squeaked in as the third elected councilmember.

In 2014, Robb Davis was a relatively unknown candidate, while Sheila Allen was a two-term sitting school board member. Robb Davis and his team walked all of Davis.  Sheila Allen got caught up in the Nancy Peterson struggle and never recovered.  But the key to Mr. Davis’ ascent to mayor was his campaign and his ground operation.

In Davis, probably more than in most places, people look down on fancy fliers and slick campaign brochures. What wins it here is a strong ground operation, and so it really is no surprise that Brett Lee would dominate the field over perhaps better known candidates – just on the basis that he knocked on more doors and made more physical contact with others.

While a lot of people will see similarities between Will Arnold and Dan Wolk, at the end of the day, with Robb Davis about to be mayor, we figure to have a very different council dynamic.  Time will tell how well this mix works, but it figures to be an interesting and critical time for the city.

—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. Anon

    I suspect Brett Lee won the most votes on his record as a thoughtful, analytical, non agenda driven and respected Councilmember.  Will Arnold, on the other hand, had no City Council record for people to judge him on, was not known by everyone, and came into the race a bit on the late side.

      1. Alan Miller

        Perhaps, especially since Arnold didn’t allow people to get to know him.

        How does your statement mean anything real, DP?  I met with Will Arnold 1-on-1 and he was straight up with me, and also met with OEDNA and I believe he “allowed” everyone to get to know him quite well.  I don’t know where you are coming from with this comment.

    1. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

      Will Arnold is known and has served on the Rec & Parks Commission along with volunteering for various community and school committees. What makes this city council a very good council, even with Dan Wolk who will be finishing up his time on the council, is that they are involved in not only “political groups,” but they volunteer in various community groups. They are “in touch” with various segments of the community at ALL economic levels. Will for example and his wife are knowledgable and involved with Yolo County Foster Care which affects a segment of the community that not many council members may be familiar with. Lucas is involved with and works for an Ag Agency. Robb Davis with mediation and healthcare issues. Rochelle with business and entrepreneurship. Brett Lee with business, land use and lots of other issues. I think we are fortunate to have a good council even if we disagree on some issues. Congratulations to them all and to Matt Williams for running on the issues.

  2. Marina Kalugin

    Perfect?    Brett won because he is the only city council member who listens and thinks….unfortunately, there have not been enough vocal like me going to the council meetings in recent years….

    Will only won because he inherited funds from his developer dad (RIP).  and that he is a nice guy.

    That is a deadly combo.

    It Matt had more funds, then he would have won easily.

    As I retire, I am going to be more involved yet again in local politics and school  board and so on.

    First I have to get an estate settled….watch out…and we are moving into the countryside.

    Infer whatever you want….  I will be MORE supportive timewise and financially into the local elections and causes….

    enjoy the weekend….

    1. Tia Will

      It Matt had more funds, then he would have won easily.”

      I think that what would have helped Matt more than funds would have been a truly engaged ground team. Which I think is the central point that David is making. It is the folks that walk the precincts, table, give coffees and perhaps most importantly just talk about a candidate to everyone who will stand still long enough to hear the message that truly makes a Davis campaign a success.


        1. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > Matt had enough money to win, that wasn’t his problem.
          > The walking the precincts part was the key.

          The reason that Matt lost is that he was not part of a local political “machine”.

          Will and Lucas are part of the dominant Renolds/Wolk machine and Brett tapped in early on to the  aging but still powerful Wagstaff “machine”.

    2. Matt Williams

      Marina, availability of funds had zero impact on my campaign.  I ended the campaign with over $17,000 in the bank.

      The challenge my campaign faced right from the beginning was reaching enough voters in a simple retail face-to-face way.  My experience when I was canvasing and tabling was that discussions of the issues consumed considerable time.  Rarely did those discussions result in a missed connection, but they were time consuming.  More money would not have bought more time.

      The other challenge that my campaign faced was the simple facts of the learning curve.  I learned many times during the process that living a campaign as the candidate is very different from living a campaign as a supporter, as I did in Robb’s campaign.

      When I stepped back on Wednesday morning and assessed what we had accomplished, galvanizing 4,789 voters, the bottom-line was very good indeed, and my discussion of the key issues will not diminish at all just because the votes have been counted.  We have serious challenges before us, and we need to be honest with ourselves about those challenges.  I will continue to do my best to spur forward those honest discussions and actions.



  3. Marina Kalugin

    also, I would expect very high numbers for Matt in the late absentee votes….

    It is now 4 days since the election…where is the rest of the vote count?   a truly highly significant percentage of votes are still not reported….

  4. Marina Kalugin

    Back in the day, Sue was a fave and Souza was okay sometimes….in 2012 I ONLY voted for Brett….and that helped him get to where he needed to be…

    That is how to get someone unknown to “squeak in”…..that is how Jule Partansky, RIP would win…

    We would vote for only her and she would make it….  LOL

    When the others are all too alike and one could flip a coin to see which one could be perhaps tolerable….only vote the one who needs the true votes.

    I also used to like Lucas, but he is no Brett… and not a Matt….

    I knew Brett would make it…and Matt needed the “hands up”……next time Matt will be in.

    And, watch as we will soon have a different kind of council majority.

    I truly hope Eileen can be convinced to run …with her, Matt and Brett on the council, we can be assured of some truly remarkable years ahead…. trust me on that…

    1. Marina Kalugin

      I will however, be more focused on the school board election in the Fall.

      Also, until we get better people on the school board, the parcel tax is not going to be supported…that is the first time for me since I moved here in 1970….watch and learn people how to make some real changes in town…

      until the third strand of GATE is approved, there will be a push to remove all incumbents from the school board….

  5. Marina Kalugin

    I am reviving the parents group PACE>….please contact me back channel if you wish to participate again…

    thank you..  we will be coming out in support of Yamada….we NEED her…

  6. Misanthrop

    “As election prognosticators and analysts, I am as guilty as anyone in assessing a campaign as though it were run in a bubble.  Plug a simple formula in, crank a prediction out.”

    What does spending of over $2million dollars by corporate donors do to your formula?

  7. Tia Will

    South of Davis

    The reason that Matt lost is that he was not part of a local political “machine”.”

    I would have been inclined to believe you before Joe Krovoza , Robb Davis, and Brett Lee were elected not as part of any “machine” but as individuals who had strong backing from those willing to put in long hours for their campaigns.

  8. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    My take is that the most important thing you need to win in a Davis City Council election is a net positive name association. That is, most people are familiar with your name and they don’t have a negative association with that.

    In this year’s race, the three winning candidates were all better known than Matt Williams. And while I am sure there was some negative association for each of the three winners — well, at least for the two incumbents — overall the voters of Davis essentially said to themselves, “I know who this Brett Lee is … I’ll vote for him. I like that Doug Arnold fellow. I’ll give his son a try. … Lucas Frerichs? Sounds familiar. I guess I’ll pick him, too. … Never heard of this Matt Williams. Sorry, Matt.”

    Issues matter to the small minority who are engaged in Davis politics. Incumbents who rub enough people the wrong way over several years in office might actually lose because of their stance on issues or their negative interactions with enough voters. But for the most part, issues are not the key to winning most of the time on the Davis City Council*. What counts is being well known and not having any serious negative associations with your name. … And then if you are well known enough, it is much easier to raise money and run a campaign that “matters.”

    *The exception to this might be on the margins, if a candidate in Davis (a very liberal city) holds strongly conservative views on topics generally outside the purview of the DCC. Such a candidate may be well liked, but lots of voters will negatively associate that candidate for his worldview, if it is known.

  9. skeptical

    Rich, you have it right.  I would just add, all else being equal.  Matt could have won had he opposed Measure A, or had Brett and Robb supported his candidacy.

    1. Matt Williams

      Skeptical, let’s get into a time machine and then paraphrase your statement.  It would come out like this … “Matt could have won had he supported the Firefighters, or had Don and Steve supported his candidacy.”

      I said early on in my campaign that we needed more evidence-based decision making, and less political calculation.  I stand by that assessment.

      1. Tia Will


        I said early on in my campaign that we needed more evidence-based decision making, and less political calculation.”

        Well spoken. I completely agree.

    2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      It makes intuitive sense, that in a field where all of the candidates were pro-A and (as it turns out) most voters were anti-A, that if someone ran on an anti-A platform he would have stood out and been elected.

      Yet, I am not sure that intuition is correct. I think the vast majority of people who voted against A and the vast majority of people who voted in favor of A never considered the positions on A of Brett, Will, Lucas or Matt. At almost every house where I saw “No on A” lawn signs, there were also signs for Lucas or Brett, despite the fact that they voted in favor of A. If the supporters of the incumbents felt like those pro-A votes on the Council were the be-all and end-all, they would have had “No on A” signs but would not have at the same time actively advocated re-electing the incumbents. Or one of them at least would have run for office on that platform.

      I think, in a world of Measure J/R, the no-growth voters don’t worry too much about the positions of members of the Council on developments of this sort. They worry about the views of the general public, who get to decide the fate of these proposals with their votes. So they can feel comfortable supporting a “developer Democrat” like Lucas, as long as they can then stop all development when the issue comes before the public. If we did not have Measure J/R, I don’t think the no-growth voters would be as relaxed about who was on the Council deciding development questions.

      1. David Greenwald

        Another alternative is that while there was a core of hardcore voters who were going to vote against any project – most people even those who were against this project, were not ideologically so and so they considered the broader candidate rather than the candidate’s position on a single issue.

  10. Marina Kalugin

    and  still – where are the votes?

    you know Matt, that I recognized you immediately at the market as the only one on the water board with any sense…

    and where were the others?   they were overlooking that due to the Nishi fiasco…

    did you notice the No on A were also the No on fluoride….hmmmmm

    The fact that ALL of any standing in any races supported A didn’t prove much to me….and although you are a nice guy and I enjoyed chatting at the market with you, yes, I think you missed that boat….

    Of course, I didn’t hold the A against you nor Mariko….I know enough about the much more important life/death issues where I feel that you and she will truly do the needed analyses and not just listen to those who already run the town or the state…..

    You can win next time, and will win with a proper team….  I am also predicting that the absentee numbers will show a boost in your %…..


  11. Marina Kalugin

    Matt, perhaps you should run for school board in November, and I know I will support you…

    and many parents will……do you know why?  you did your research and you trusted YOUR gut instead of the ADA brainwashed old dentists……and so on…

    and, unlike Dan Wolk, you truly stood up for the children of this town….

    please run…and I hope John Munn runs also..

    it is time for the board to return to a composition of those unbeholden to special interests….

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