Commentary: An Era Ends Tonight with Robb Davis’ Last City Council Meeting

Robb Davis speaks at a unity rally in August 2017

I will never forget that moment when I first really met Robb Davis.  I knew him in passing previously, but in December of 2011 was the first time I would really be exposed to the man and his ideas.

The pepper spray incident on the UCD campus had just occurred and, while the community at the time was up in arms.  Robb Davis, along with David Breaux and the Rev. Kristin Stoneking, came to a Human Relations Commission meeting, of which I was a member, and proposed the idea of a restorative justice process as a way to reconcile the hurt of the protesters and the community with the harm done by the university.

At that point, I had never heard of restorative justice, and I was skeptical of the concept.  At first it seemed fanciful – we all wanted our pound of flesh, but as he laid out his vision, it opened my eyes to the possibilities.

Robb Davis won me over with passion and compassion on the issue, and I began to learn about restorative justice.  I was impressed enough with Mr. Davis that, just six months later, I asked him to join the fledgling Vanguard Editorial Board.

Robb Davis speaking at Central Park in January 2017 after the Islamic Center Vandalism

Ultimately, Robb Davis, perhaps reluctantly as ever, would run for city council.  Despite whatever reluctance he may have had about running, he threw himself in headlong, building a very strong campaign that pushed him to an overwhelmingly first place finish and ultimately he would become mayor.

My enduring memories of the mayor will be early morning chats where he would open up about his concerns about the community.  In a time when we have become jaded by the cynical manipulations of our political leaders, Robb Davis is and always has been a real person.  He wears his convictions on his sleeves.  He feels the weight of the responsibility of his office.

Robb Davis doesn’t just pay lipservice to humility – he owns it.

Davis Mayor Robb Davis speaks at a press conference following threats to Muslims

I will never forget after yet another hate incident in which he would pour out his soul to the community in a speech, he acknowledged that he was not sure how much more of this he could take.

What became clear is that he would not be able to run for a second term for probably many reasons, but one of them may well be that he simply gave us everything he had for these four years.  Each time a challenge arose – there were all too many in his short two-year tenure as mayor, he somehow would manage to find the inner strength not only to push on but to be a true moral leader for this community during times of heartache and crisis.

There was an early moment in January 2017 after the vandalism of the Islamic Center of Davis, where the mayor talked about the shame he had receiving a wake up call in Virginia in recognition that hate still plagued this nation.

He said, for people of color “these things have never gone away.”

The mayor during his speech was able to articulate in a very real way what white privilege is.  He explained that he lives a good and comfortable life and white privilege gives him the chance to ignore the problems that people of color face on a regular basis.

Mayor Davis speaks on homeless issues in May 2017 in downtown Davis

He said, “All of those things are the basis of a systemic racism that exists in this country and I had the privilege for many years just to ignore it.”  He said he’s lived a good life, “but all around me there are people who were experiencing a different reality and they still are.”

The question, he said, is now that we have woken up, “now what?”  He said, “I believe that if we are going to confront these issues, if we’re going to confront differential impacts of the effects of police, if we’re going to confront inequitable funding of schools, if we’re going to confront the school to prison pipeline, then it’s got to be local efforts.”

A favorite of mine has been the mayor’s recurring theme about our collective brokenness.

“Our inability to own our collective brokenness,” he said.  “I fear that if we continue to indicate the scapegoats among us, sending them out into the wilderness for the expiation of our collective sins, that we will only continue to perpetuate the mimetic violence that we would otherwise decry.  We must own together shame.”

Following the comments by the Iman that threatened to tear apart this community, the Iman issued an apology.

Mayor Robb Davis faces protestors as he speaks on Gandhi

Mayor Davis asked and answered the question “is it enough” – of course, “no it is not.”

But, as Robb Davis put it, “we live in brittle times.” He said, “The hurts are deep.  Words were spoken that are harmful and hurtful.  One statement cannot be enough.

“It cannot be enough because we are living in a storm,” he said.  “We are living in the moment of the great shattering of our society. Everything outside is telling us that brokenness is the way forward.  So we’re standing here against that brokenness.”

On our radio show he noted the problems of the criminal justice system.

“The brokenness of our punitive system was fully on display in the way this was handled,” the mayor said.  “Our criminal justice system is broken and people are afforded rights and privileges based on not just race, class…people who have few means are not afforded the same privilege as those who have more.”

Robb Davis listens to community comments

Following the suicide of Eric Pape, Robb Davis stated: “We have an opportunity every now and then to look at our systems and see just how broken they’ve become.  We see two systems here which, unfortunately because of people of my generation, the choices we’ve made, are broken.”

No one in public life speaks truth to power with such conviction.

A year ago I wrote that I “will deeply miss Robb Davis when he steps down as mayor in a year.” I have enjoyed our friendship over the years. He has led this city through some of its toughest times – you can see the pain and anguish on his face, and he is the voice of moral clarity in this community during times that have tried our very core.

That time is now upon us.

As I have gotten to know Robb Davis over nearly seven years, I have come to admire this man – a man of truth and moral courage, a man who has worn every injustice and every heartache on his sleeve but has still not been afraid to hold his heart out for the community to cherish and, at times, to break.

In a month, a new person will become the Mayor of Davis and inherit the challenges that we face and the hope of tomorrow that we share.

Today I give my respects to Robb Davis, whom I see as a truly genuine man, who poured out every ounce of his soul into his community and we are all better for it.

I regret, due to other obligations today, I will not be able to attend his final meeting as mayor, but wanted to use this space to, one last time, thank him for his service.

—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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  1. Alan Miller

    Wow, keep up this sort of Davis worship and we’ll be placing a statue of Robb Davis in place of Gandhi in Central Park.


    Why stop there? Let’s establish the Church of Jesus Christ of Current Day Saints of Robb Davis and place the worship hall ( services every Tuesday night during city Council meetings) in the basement at Central Park when the Bicycle Hall of Fame lease runs out.

    1. Howard P

      Sidebar… funny you should say,

      the basement at Central Park

      Historically, Central Park was homes, which had basements… when they were acquired, to create the park, then razed, they didn’t import dirt.  Hence, the depressed area where the sycamores are…

      How many remember (personally) when Central Park extended between Fifth and Fourth…before Fourth between C & B was obliterated, at considerable expense? I do…

      1. Alan Miller

        > “a statue of Robb Davis” Will we get the old sage Robb Davis or the young virile Robb Davis?

        He is timeless:  the above are one in the same.

  2. Don Shor

    I would guess that if you asked Robb what he expected to deal with as mayor, and then compared it to the events that unfolded during his term, you would find a wide gulf between his expectations and the reality. Mayor of Davis involves a lot of on-the-job training. Fortunately for any incoming mayor, we have a couple of dozen emeritus mayors available for consultation.

    Thanks for a job well done, Robb, on the things you and the council accomplished, and on those you tried to accomplish.

  3. Jeff M

    Robb Davis represented the majority Davis voter well while becoming the most knowledgeable guy in the room for most of the topics presented to the City Council.  Apparently this is what we all expect in our politicians these days… to establish thinker credibility and then hoist us up on a cloud of symbolic words and gestures to help relive our stress from knowing that all the infrastructure around us is crumbling.

    It appears to me that we want to elect good social therapists.  Robb was one of the best while in office.

    1. Alan Miller

      > hoist us up on a cloud of symbolic words and gestures to help relive our stress from knowing that all the infrastructure around us is crumbling.
      Sounds like Ronald Regan

    2. John Hobbs

      What a sad sack. You sound like you need a long rest, away from the hustle and bustle of urban Davis. Maybe if you join me on one of my walks through south Texas registering voters you’ll lose that sour attitude you’ve developed toward human beings.

      1. Jeff M

        John – I bow down to your higher moral calling and more virtuous existence that you obviously earned having struggled and given so much more than I.   If only we could all be as justifiably righteous as thou.

        1. John Hobbs

          I’m registering citizens, of course. Smart asses like you keep me going.

          ” I bow down to your higher moral calling and more virtuous existence that you obviously earned having struggled and given so much more than I.”

          Sod off, Jeff and realize that I’m giving you some good advice if you are really as bitter toward humanity as all of your recent posts indicate. You want change toward some higher republican morality (you’d have to show me some examples) then get off your keyboard and hit the pavement. For a guy who by all accounts is super-intelligent and financially secure, you shouldn’t have any difficulty recruiting people for your cause. The voter reg may not be your thing, because it is of course non-partisan. They register as any party or none. i know you’d have trouble with that, so how about you go down to McAllen and see if you can help with all those incarcerated children, I know you’re proud of your parenting skills. Maybe you can even help to restore them to their families. That’s a real need that someone with your skills could fill. Bet you won’t, though.

        2. Jeff M

          Well Johnny, maybe people work to improve the human condition in different ways and you should learn to respect them and value them instead of preaching and screeching in your condescending ways that they are all beneath your benevolent self.  Sounds like you do some good things, but you are not all that.

          And note that I am not at all bitter toward humanity.  I am not bitter about anything, really.  Why would I be bitter?  I have a great American life that I was able to earn myself from very humble beginnings.  I live in the greatest nation on God’s green earth.  I just want you (and others) to be better so our kids all have the same opportunities for a great life like mine (and I assume like yours unless you have some problems you are not talking about).

    3. Howard P

      Truth be told, Robb sought out knowledgeable folk on infrastructure issues… I know… I was one of them… he has been straightforward in his questions, as I have been on the answers…

  4. Tia Will

    I first met Robb on the Vanguard editorial board shortly after the pepper spray incident. I do not idolize Robb. I admire him for his honesty, integrity, and willingness to always, always do what he considered to be the best for our community after exhaustive and painstaking evaluation of the issues. I want to be like Robb when I “grow up”.

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