We are just about to start up what should prove to be one of the most interesting electoral seasons we have seen in some time. Flash back to two years ago, and we had essentially two incumbents and everyone seemed to know that a third candidate, Will Arnold, would be easily elected to office.
While a fourth candidate, Matt Williams, would rack up an impressive vote total given the volume of votes cast in June 2016, there was not much drama. And while Mr. Williams attempted to make an issue out of city finances, it never really gained traction.
The biggest issue probably in the 2016 election was Nishi 1.0 and all four of the candidates supported the project.
Times have changed. With the election of Trump, the electorate has galvanized and been activated. It remains to be seen what will end up happening on the local front. Will local issues like the housing crisis, the tax measures, and Nishi dominate the political landscape, or will the community be more concerned about resistance?
One thing is clear – we are losing a good deal of experience on the city council. Mayor Robb Davis has often lamented having to be the conscience of the community in the face of troubled
times such as resistance, the specter of ICE raids, mass protests, hate crimes, and other angry incidents.
And, while 2017 was filled with its share of some moments, the most consequential actions by the city council were still on local issues – housing, the tax measure, the economic analysis of Bob Leland and the need for cost containment.
Not only does Robb Davis step aside after one term, but Rochelle Swanson, who helped change the tone in city hall as well as shift policy priorities, is also leaving.
Where does that leave us? In recent weeks, many have expressed concern about the big shoes that the new council members, who will be elected in June, will have to fill, as well as the inexperience of the crew of candidates.
But I am not sure that this is as big a problem as some believe. The year 2010 marked another crucial election, in the heart of the economic downturn, and it was a relatively inexperienced Rochelle Swanson and Joe Krovoza who led the way.
I got an interesting email reminding me of a story from a few years ago: “A few years back I witnessed this little scene in back of chambers: David Greenwald of the vanguard was going out of room to vending machines on recess. But as he was leaving, he leaned over and made this passing, funny comment to a council candidate who was sitting the back….’Welcome to the City Council !’ This was January before a June election. I checked with David G later —he goes to most council meetings…and his cheeky message was he had never seen this person at a council meeting before…..”
The person also indicated, “I am rather scared by their lack of experience.”
My view is we will have three experienced members on the council: Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee have been around since 2012 and, while Will Arnold has only been on the council since 2016, he has long experience in the community and has been around the scene for years.
It is also a steep but quick learning curve.
I still recall my December 2009 meeting with Joe Krovoza at Black Bear Diner. I remember leaving the meeting in December thinking, that guy will never be elected to council. Little did I realize that he would be a landslide winner of all but one precinct in Davis and spend three years as mayor.
He started out fairly green, but he learned quickly and was pretty effective in his term on the council.
There were mistakes that were made along the way. An early meeting in 2010 after the two were seated saw a string of hasty decisions that led to the need for damage control on issues like the Zipcar. The council would push the water project in September 2011, only to have to walk it back with the WAC (Water Advisory Committee) and a ballot initiative.
On the other hand, Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson in the spring of 2011, along with newly-appointed councilmember Dan Wolk, pushed through critical changes to the budget that would pave the way for a new era of cost-containment and new reform-minded MOUs.
They did so by pushing through the changes over the objections of long-time councilmembers Stephen Souza and Sue Greenwald, who would resist the pace of change in the spring of 2011 only to lose reelection in the spring of 2012.
Bottom line: the group of candidates are not hugely experienced, but they are smart people and will learn quick. Experience is a double-edged sword – it gives you perspective but it also at times locks you into a course of action that reinforces the status quo.
Moreover, I still see a potential landscape-shifting election emerging in 2018. Students are angry and frustrated over the lack of available housing. As yesterday’s conversation continues to demonstrate, there is a steep disconnect between the way students live in this community and the perception of the adults.
Will the students come together and organize in the next few months, shaking up not only the Nishi election but perhaps the council election as well?
This is going to be an election of change in Davis and this is a good group of candidates to lead the way.
—David M. Greenwald reporting