Sunday Commentary: A Look at the Council Races

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Despite the heavy dissent and acrimony, I believe that the incumbent councilmembers will hold onto their seats in this election.

Before I get into that my reasoning, a couple of caveats.  First of all, if you don’t like horse race coverage—we have had full coverage of the issues in the form of eight Vanguard questions to the candidates, as well as full coverage of three candidate forums (most of our campaign coverage can be found here).  Second, we don’t have polling in these races, so this is all speculative—if you don’t like speculative articles, please find another topic.

District Four is fairly straightforward.  It is a one-on-one battle between incumbent Gloria Partida and challenger Adam Morrill.

As noted a number of times, incumbents—perhaps surprisingly, given the seeming volatility of Davis politics—actually don’t lose very often.  The three council exceptions in the last 20 years took pretty unusual circumstances to defeat the incumbents.

There are two reasons to believe that Gloria Partida is vulnerable.

First, the attack on her calling into question her eligibility to run, accusations of dishonestly answering a question on her criminal record (or lack thereof), and implicitly attacking her integrity by linking her to a past conviction.

The second is her support for Measure H and other developments in a district that heavily opposed the two versions of the DISC project.

My sense is that, if anything, the personal attack on Partida backfired.  It certainly turned a lot of people off.  It didn’t help that there was a myriad of laws applying to the expungement of a criminal record and the critics did not get the facts straight before firing shots at her.

But also, Partida is a known entity and has been a long-time advocate in the community for fairness and compassion, and whatever messiness took place a long time ago is not particularly relevant to the current election.

That leads us to an issue that is relevant—her support of Measure H and other developments.  If you could sync of the no votes with support for the candidate opposed to the project, you can win.

I remember a number of years ago, in another context, Jose Granda was running for school board as the only candidate opposing the parcel tax.  Even if the no on the parcel tax only got 30 percent of the vote, in a multimember race, Granda could have been seated if he got most of those votes.

But he didn’t come close.

Why not?  For one thing, most people are not single-issue voters and, for another, it takes a lot of resources for a candidate to be able to sync themselves to an issue position and Granda simply lacked the resources and infrastructure to do so.

We have seen this play out in council elections in both 2018 and 2020.  In 2018, there were two candidates who opposed the land use issues at the time; they finished in the middle of the pack of nine candidates.  In 2020, with district elections, candidates in the 2nd and 3rd Districts opposed DISC which was concurrently on the ballot.  Both them significantly underperformed the no on DISC.  One of the candidates actually finished third in a three-person field despite the fact that they put a lot of time and energy into the campaign.

Not only do you need a lot of resources to sync up, but also the idea that you can assumes that a huge percentage of voters are single issue and are voting on the basis of their opposition to the measure.

There is of course a core of voters who are going to oppose most developments and the candidates that back those developments, but that number is probably fairly small.  Moreover, Measure J itself mitigates against that because it acts as a safety valve for the voters—allowing them to focus on other issues while knowing they can also kill projects.

In short, with the recent history and my sense of this race, Gloria Partida in my estimation will relatively easily be reelected.

That gets us to District 1—which, going in, Dan Carson seemed far more vulnerable on paper than Gloria Partida did.  There is a lot of anger against Carson for his role in the ballot language challenge.  Since we have discussed this at length, I will leave the details at that.

If it were just Carson against Bapu Vaitla, I would likely to be going the other way on this.  But in a three-candidate race, that’s going to make it much tougher.

Earlier this year, I illustrated how hard it is to defeat an incumbent (even a vulnerable one) in a three-person race, particularly one where there is no runoff if the incumbent gets less than 50 percent.

The presence of Kelsey Fortune makes it difficult for Vaitla to defeat Carson.  Why do I think Fortune is more spoiler than contender here?  If you look at her campaign resources, they are far less than either of the two candidates.  While she did run previously, she ran in a different district which negates some of the advantage of running twice.

What her presence does is basically split the anti-Carson vote.

There are two key questions here and neither can we answer today.  First, how large a percent Fortune will get.  In the last election, in a four-person race, she got about 10 percent (again in another district).  In a three-person race, Colin Walsh last time received just over 20 percent.

If Fortune gets 10 percent, you would have to hold Carson under 45 percent to defeat him.

If Fortune gets 20 percent, you would have to hold Carson under 40 percent to defeat him.

All of that is premised on the normal advantages of incumbency.  The question then becomes, just how deep does the anger toward Carson go?  Having spoken to people in opposition campaigns, they feel like there is a lot of anger and awareness there.

Looking at fundraising numbers, Vaitla has done exceptionally well and Carson has been rather lackluster.  We have not seen a huge amount of support for Carson in letters to the editor.  And Vaitla got the endorsement over Carson in the Enterprise and has the backing of the firefighters as well.

Given all of that, if this were a two-person race, I would pick Vaitla, but with the anti-Carson vote being split, I will give Carson a very slight edge to retain his seat.

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. Ron Glick

    I’m not going to make predictions but I’ll share a few observations. Alan Pryor’s stupid attack on Gloria caused her fundraising to surge thousands of dollars. The checks came in from all over town so whether it plays out on Election Day in the district closest to DISC is still to be determined. As you said, and I said earlier in a comment weeks ago, everyone knows Gloria. Her kindness and work for inclusion made her popular and known to the community before she ran the first time. Its hard to assassinate someone’s character with people that are well  known.

    Carson has tried to knocked on every door in his district. I’m sure he is going to be out walking today. That kind of campaigning still matters in Davis. As a friend who voted for Carson told me “He was the only one who came to my door.” Bapu has a base of support with Millennials and at Village Homes but Fortune might siphon some of that off. Fortune also has  some support from older women and global warming activists.

    Measure H probably matters more in East Davis than it does in West Davis.

    Time will tell.

    1. Matt Williams

      As a friend who voted for Carson told me “He was the only one who came to my door.”

      The one flaw in this quote, which I don’t doubt is both honest and correct, is that Ron’s friend could well have been not home half a dozen different times when the Bapu supporters or Fortune supporters knocked on the door, only to find no one home.

      Having canvassed for both Robb Davis and myself in 2014 and 2016 respectively, my experience is that a 20% to 25% rate of finding someone home is typical.

      1. Ron Glick

        What’s your point that my anecdote is anecdotal? I’ll conceed the point. We will know on Tuesday night.
        Gloria also told me that she felt she was able to overcome some Measure H residual animosity by walking and talking to people. Walking matters in Davis politics and both Gloria and Carson have been doing a lot of it.

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