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My predictions in the Davis City Council race

By From page A6 | June 03, 2014

Most years, when I’ve paid close attention to City Council races, I’ve had a sense of which candidates would win and which had no chance. Sometimes I have perfectly predicted the order of finish; in others, like 2012, I was right on two winners (Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs) but underestimated the third (Brett Lee).

But this year I am very uncertain of the outcome. I will make my prediction below. However, it would not surprise me if I discover tonight I was all wet. Everything in this election seems to be fluid, including (pardon the pun) the water rate vote.

In our council race, I suspect nearly half the voters will fill in the box for only one person, leaving their second vote blank. I also suspect there may be a lot who definitely like one candidate and could go three different ways with their second votes. Since a first preference or second is of equal value to the person who receives votes, if the “seconds” tend to break largely for one of the five now running, that person could well win.

Some months back, my guess was that the two women, Rochelle Swanson and Sheila Allen, were the favorites, and I thought John Munn and Daniel Parrella were long shots. I expected that if one of the men won, it would be Robb Davis.

But over the course of the campaign, several things have happened to shake up my view of things.

For one, Munn, who looked a bit lost at first due to his late start, seems now to have very strong support from the hardened anti-water project voters. While this may (or may not) be a majority of voters in Davis, it’s a highly committed group. Munn is also helped a bit by being the lone Republican and being known for his (relatively quiet) time on the Davis school board.

No one’s campaign has surprised me more than Parrella’s. I had assumed, before I sat down with Daniel, that he would be the typical long-shot youth candidate, who would not impress many voters other than those his age. I was wrong. He rather quickly got up to speed on the issues, and then he set about town talking to as many voters as possible about what he thinks the City Council needs to do and asking voters what they think.

He is the only council candidate this year who came to my front door (where we spoke for a second time). My gut tells me that Parrella is going to receive a lot of those “second preference” votes. But how many is a question.

Where Munn has a solid core of support from the Yes on P crowd, Robb Davis has just as strong a base of supporters I would term the liberal idealist crowd. These are not the union types who get into politics to line their own pockets. They generally are not so money-oriented. They are concerned in a general sense with “community.”

The disconnect with his core is that no one running has a stronger understanding of the financial situation the city faces than Robb. Those of us who care about the sustainability of the budget know that Davis is ready and able to address the city’s expenses and to aid it in improving its revenues. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce PAC and The Davis Enterprise have endorsed Robb for this very reason. What is uncertain is whether ordinary voters, outside of his base, will fill in the box for Robb.

The only incumbent, Rochelle Swanson, has not run as strong a campaign as I had expected. She was fairly late getting her lawn signs in place all over town, and the ones she ordered had to be amended with a sticker, changing “Rochelle for Davis” to “Rochelle Swanson.” Oops.

While she has won probably more endorsements than any other candidate — including The Enterprise and The Bee and a throng of elected officials — her campaign theme, “economic stability,” may be a hard sell due to the fact that her four years on the council finished up with a $5 million general fund budget deficit and a need to increase taxes on residents.

She speaks of the need to grow industry, but what exactly did she do to get that done the past four years? What really helps Rochelle is that she is a likable person and, other than the most committed water project foes, she will attract a good number of votes from diverse interests all across Davis who see her as competent, hard-working and not egotistic.

Perhaps the hardest candidate for me to judge fairly is Sheila Allen. I like her personally. She is a friendly and intelligent woman. But, to my dismay, she has hitched her wagon to the firefighters’ union, showing (in my opinion) particularly poor judgment going to the party they threw to celebrate the exit of former City Manager Steve Pinkerton from Davis.

I know there are a handful of people who loathe Allen because of her role in Volleyball-gate. To me it’s really not such a big deal in terms of judging her candidacy for City Council. What I think she should be judged on is whether she is willing and able to attack the source of our city’s budgetary problems — its labor contracts. Nothing she has said in this campaign makes me sanguine she would solve our labor problems.

Yet, perhaps only bested by Rochelle’s, Sheila seems to have a large base of supporters across Davis. I get the sense, based on the number of her (extremely well done) lawn signs all over town, that Allen will get a great number of “first preference” votes from her partisan base.

Now to my guess:

1. Rochelle Swanson
2. Robb Davis
3. Daniel Parrella
4. Sheila Allen
5. John Munn

This will be a very close vote. I think the person who comes in fifth will be only a short distance from second place. I would not be too surprised if second beats third by 30 or fewer votes.

I am not going to predict the Measure P vote, here. However, if it passes, it’s very unlikely Munn will finish in fifth place.

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at [email protected]

Rich Rifkin

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