Swanson Talks About Why She’s Back Running For Council

Rochelle with her sons… Left to right. Justice Harry – DSIS 2013, Rochelle, Mason Harry DSHS 2008, Cameron Swanson DSHS 2020.

Rochelle Swanson, after a two year hiatus from the council, announced last month that she is going to run in the 5th District, which represents all of South Davis plus Aggie Village in Downtown.  She served two terms on the council from 2010 to 2018, and now she is back.

What caused her to think about coming back, she told the Vanguard in an interview over Zoom was “these unprecedented times.”

In 2018, she decided not to run, in her words, because “I was stepping back to focus on my youngest son getting through high school.”  That son is a member of the historic class of 2020 … part of “a very unique 2020” for Davis High.

“At that time I said if there was a time and a reason that would take my unique capabilities and skills – I would come back and serve the community,” she said.

When COIVD hit there was great concern about the economy, the city budget and that started her thinking about the possibility of joining the race. After all, she was on the council during the serious cuts in the Great Recession.

“Then the tragedy with George Floyd happened,” she said. “The George Floyd tragedy hit very close to home.”

It wasn’t just the tragedy of George Floyd.  There was the tragedy of Ahmaud Arbery.  And the tragedy of Breonna Taylor.

“On the one hand I was heartened that not just the country, but the whole world was paying attention,” she said.

This hit her hard.  The realization that Ahmaud Arbery was the same age as one of her sons.

She said, “I couldn’t stand on the sidelines.”

Rochelle Swanson has three sons.  The older two from her first marriage are mixed race and look Black.  She has experienced racism in Davis – the n-word in shaving cream on her lawn nearly 20 years ago.  She experienced unconscious bias towards her sons in the schools.  As well as dealing with the police.

“There are assumptions that are made. I know what it is like to to have gone to an IEP at your son’s school and realize the teacher’s recommendations change because you don’t look like your kid.” she said.

After the tragedy her sons told her, “Not all voices are being heard.”  She said, “That let me know that my choice to raise my sons here was the right one.  They haven’t experienced a lot of what happened.”  She added the even though they have had troublesome interactions with the police and the community, it’s not as bad here.

“[Here in Davis] we talk a good game on paper,” she said, but “We certainly are a community like many others that has bias.”  And we are in her view in a state of denial that manifests itself in statements like “because I have a certain political affiliation” or “I have friends that are Black.”

Her sons say “they’re glad they grew up in Davis.”  She said, “They haven’t felt targeted per se” and they “feel safer here than anywhere else” because of who they are.

At the same time, she said, “It’s different when I go somewhere with just him (the youngest son) and versus when I go with my two oldest.”  She has noticed a different treatment that she believes is clearly rooted in racial issues.

“But the world is changing these days.” she said. “It’s not just about not being racist, but calling it out.”

As time has passed, Rochelle Swanson said that she is more and more convinced that she is doing the right thing by coming back.

“I’m not naïve,” she said.  “I know what I’m getting into.  I know the sacrifices.  I know what it’s like for your 30 minute shopping trip to turn into a three hour conversation.”

She also believes it’s important to engage all the voices – and she believes the South Davis voice has been missing from the discussion.

“We’ve made some headway on community engagement, but we still have a long way to go,” she said.  “There’s a certain perception that only politically active people can get in the game.  I want to change that.”

One of her clear goals is to get more voices to the table.  In the next year the council is going to have to address that.  But one thing that having district elections does is put a South Davis voice on the council – one that has been missing on key past decisions.

She also noted, “There have been a lot of decisions that have been made absent the voice from South Davis.”

Rochelle Swanson made the point that while she has had lots of conversations about having the seat filled, as well as the need for a representative from South Davis, she went on to say, “To a person, I didn’t hear anyone discuss what the issues were in South Davis.”

“Nobody said anything about the district,” she said.

So for Rochelle Swanson, this was a calling.  She said, “I didn’t want to sit there the second week of November, and think, that person doesn’t represent my concerns and doesn’t represent South Davis and Olive Drive.”

She noted that things have now lined up for her better than during her prior tenure on the council.

“I have the time to dedicate,” she said.  Unlike in 2015, she doesn’t have a job that is taking her all over the country.  Her kids are now grown and will be out of the house.  Her job these days consists of working from home.

She noted that being on council is not just about staying up until midnight on Tuesday and reading thousands of pages in preparation for that meeting.

This is a challenging time.  She mentioned that her work now consists of digital engagement instead of face-to-face engagement, and that is the new world we face.  She believes there are opportunities to tap into funding and other options that can help the community overcome current challenges.

But that takes being forward-thinking and aggressive.

“We have to be proactive, not reactive,” she said.  And of course her past work – whether it was ten years ago on DSIDe or more recently on G-Sac – she knows what’s out there.  She said, “There’s a real opportunity for us and this region.”

With respect to whom she will be running against, Josh Chapman, owner of Armadillo Records and the past president of the Davis Downtown Business Association, has filed all the paperwork for the 5th District, and Connor Gorman, a UC Davis Grad student frequently seen in public comment in Council Chambers, has requested and received Nomination documents from the Yolo County Election Office, and some other candidates may also emerge between now and the deadline to file, which is one week from today on August 7th in the 5th District.

The deadline to file in District 2 and District 3 is August 12th because those two districts have an incumbent candidate, which District 5 does not have.

—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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21 thoughts on “Swanson Talks About Why She’s Back Running For Council”

  1. larryguenther

    David I believe you are incorrect about the filing deadline for Districts 2 and 3.  The filing deadline for Districts 2 and 3 is August 7th because incumbents have already filed.  The City’s website explains it here.

    1. Matt Williams

      Fair enough Larry, “If an incumbent does not file by August 7, 2020, the end of the nomination period will be extended (for non-incumbents only) to August 12, 2020.”

      We know that Brett will not be filing so District 2 appears to qualify for the extension to August 12th.  Since Lucas is the only incumbent in District 3 and he has filed, then the data appears to continue to be August 7th.

      David wasn’t the source of the incorrect information … I was.

    1. Alan Miller

      Kelsey Fortune – My first impression was she may be too young, or that if hair quality were a city issue she would win hands down, but I bit my words when I read her platform:

      We’ve seen communities around the world cry out for change. I hear you, and while I do not personally face the same injustice, I take your injustice personally . . . Public safety should be restructured so that the police department is one small piece of a larger, balanced entity with social workers, victim advocates, community response, and many other departments.

      This structure makes the most sense of any sort of reform I’ve read . . . rather than create separate bureaucracies, have a Public Safety department of which the Police Department is a part.  Beats the stupid ideas of renaming the police, or defunding the police or shaming the police.  I also like that she discusses the race issues without using the parroting “proper” cult-like terminologies of the current movement — makes me believe she can think for herself.

      She also wants to close some streets in downtown Davis to bikes and peds only.  I’d quibble on the streets, but like that a candidate wants to move forward with this.

      1. Don Shor

        I can’t understand why you think it’s appropriate to comment on someone’s age or personal appearance.

        Maybe we can debate her policy positions when David profiles Kelsey.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Maybe we can debate her policy positions when David profiles Kelsey.

          And here I was given to understand that ‘profiling’ was a BAD thing… my bad for thinking so…

          Guess it depends on who is doing the ‘profiling’… or maybe, sometimes words do not matter…

          Words are ‘fungible’…

        2. Alan Miller

          I can’t understand why you think it’s appropriate to comment on someone’s age or personal appearance.

          It’s not.  Clearly I’m an a**.

          I guess you missed the part where I said it was first impression, and then went on to discuss her policies and compliment them.  But I guess you want perfection from your Alan Millers.  Sorry, just human.


  2. Todd Edelman

    I don’t understand why candidates don’t launch anything but complete websites. Some have none. A couple have everything filled in at least at a basic level, but I want to see specific ideas on a wide range of concerns. Now.

    But more significantly, I’m confused about this voting-by-district & voting-for-the-City thing. I understand the mechanism, the process that created it and the law that required it: My question is about how people a district elect a candidate BUT then the winners are meant to think and vote with an at-large mentality BUT then also they want to be elected again so will tend to be inclined to prioritize the wishes of people who will be around in their district in 2024, or the next election due to a vacancy.

    1. Ron Oertel

      My question is about how people a district elect a candidate BUT then the winners are meant to think and vote with an at-large mentality BUT then also they want to be elected again so will tend to be inclined to prioritize the wishes of people who will be around in their district in 2024, or the next election due to a vacancy.

      That’s the same problem with Congress, and essentially leads to a form of “NIMBYism” (and pork-barrel projects, at a national level). I recall something like this regarding ObamaCare, to get it passed.

      Though I’m not sure why anyone wants to be elected to a council in the first place, if they don’t have some underlying goal/priority (besides getting elected).

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        You’re right – no one would run for council unless they had a goal.  Even Robb Davis, who pledged he would only serve one term and kept that promise, had a goal.

        1. Ron Oertel

          I assume you’re referring to a goal of something other than serving one term.

          From what I can tell (of local politics), the primary issue (for any candidate) is what is their position regarding development (amount, type, location).  That’s the overwhelming issue that they face.

          Well that, plus the budget (e.g., retirement benefits/medical costs) – especially with the Covid crisis.

          The Gandhi statue?  Not so much.

          In some cities, the goal seems to be to reward those who made campaign contributions.  There is a mismatch between the amount it takes to run a campaign, vs. the salary for the (temporary) position.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          That’s the whole point – people have disagreements over the best course of action.  That’s why we have elections to decide.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I believe that the primary issues governing the “best course of action” (by far) are the two I mentioned, given the scope of the position.  Or, at least the most “impactful”.

          Not just from my perspective.

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