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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Vanguard Coverage of City Council Elections

When my wife, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, announced last fall that she was considering a run for the Davis City Council, I believed that the only fair and reasonable course of action would be to not cover the Davis City Council race on the Vanguard. Unfortunately the reality of the situation is that the Vanguard cannot afford to hire employees at this time and therefore finding good and reliable help has proven difficult.

As time has passed it has become clearer and clearer to me that the Vanguard needs to cover the Davis City Council race as an alternative voice to the Davis Enterprise. And while I might be biased and interested in the outcome of the City Council race—who isn’t? Who doesn’t have an agenda? I will simply lay mine on the line every time I discuss the council race and people can decide on their own whether what I have to say makes sense or whether it is political rhetoric.

But more than just that drives my concern. The policies set up by the Enterprise to cover this race—a highly important election that we face—are quite simply inadequate and unfair to the public who need to be able to make an informed decision come election time.

The Vanguard is planning to allow each of the candidates directly to submit one article per week to the Vanguard. This will allow the candidates to communicate directly with the public. It is the Vanguard’s hope that this will inspire community dialogue on a variety of topics. We are also working toward creating a reader-submitted questions for a candidates forum for later in the election.

Many in this community have become increasingly concerned with the tenor of the dialogue that has emerged in this city. They will point to the sometimes contentious city council meetings that at times erupt into personal and heated discord.

And yet in many ways, fueling that discord, indeed fanning it is Bob Dunning, a Davis Enterprise columnist. Bob Dunning has often made the claim that he has no politics and only desired good public people to target for ridicule. If that is true, then it is far more disturbing than if he simply had a political agenda. He fans the flames of discord, taking cheap shots when available. As one person told me, “The substance does not matter, only the neat-word fun you can make of people and get paid for it.”

Those who complain about civility in local politics ought to pay close attention to some of the current tactics employed by Bob Dunning.

The example of young candidate Sydney Vergis is a good one to illustrate the problem. It should be pointed out that Ms. Vergis is too closely affiliated with the developers for my taste, but that does not make the cheap shot, hit and run, and really uninformed rhetorical attack by Mr. Dunning any more appetizing.
Dunning writes:

“Vergis is just 25, younger than Lamar Heystek, but that hasn't stopped her from becoming a senior land use planner for Sutter County, which bumps into our esteemed county just as you hit rice country...

" Vergis said that in her job as a planner, she's working to preserve habitat in Sutter County," St. John's piece adds. "She also strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through smart planning, she said, and would like to put her talent in action for Davis."

I presume she jogs to work in Sutter County, which is more than a few kilometers north as the crow flies. Or maybe she works from home.

" Vergis said she believes the Davis City Council should support alternative transportation such as bike rentals at automated kiosks near the Amtrak station."

Hey, maybe she can ride a rented bike to Sutter County.”
The gist of Mr. Dunning’s attack is that it would seem on the surface to be a bit hypocritical to be talking about reducing carbon footprints while commuting 45 miles each way to Sutter County. But as we have often noted with Bob Dunning, he never quite checks his facts. If he had, he would have found that Sydney Vergis actually carpools to work with others and therefore her individual contribution to the carbon emissions is greatly reduced.

More importantly, what purpose does this uninformed attack play in terms of public discourse? It does not give us additional insight into Sydney Vergis’ viewpoints. It is negative. It is an unnecessary potshot.

Again, I have no particular affinity with Sydney Vergis, but I also do not believe she deserves to be hung out on a rail over this issue by Bob Dunning.

This moves me to an additional point that I noted again in the last week. Much has been made of the Anonymous postings on the Vanguard. And yet in the past week, we have “Terry at,” “K.O. at,” “a church member named Sarah,” among others launching into attacks on various candidates. These are essentially anonymous attacks posted in the Davis Enterprise. Except of course, the individual targets do not have the opportunity to immediately respond as they would in the Vanguard. And if indeed, if they took the time to write in a 350 word response in the letters to the editor, that would be published a week later, they could be attacked again in a future Dunning column, with no opportunity to respond.

Again I ask does this aid in the public discourse? Does this help in changing the tone at City Hall? Or it is just fanning the flames and creating more attacks to which people cannot respond? Is there any benefit to the Davis Enterprise printing essentially private communications to their staff in their newspaper?

The Vanguard was created in July of 2006 because first of all I thought the progressive viewpoint did not get a fair hearing in the Davis Enterprise. But secondly, because I believe we as a community deserve better overall. We deserve to be able to hear all of the candidates perspectives on various issues. We deserve to be able to make up our own mind as to who serves our interests the best. We deserve to be able to have a public dialogue without the mudslinging from disinterested commentators who simply wish to fan the flames of resentment by pummeling easy targets. And when these targets are pummeled, they deserve the ability to be able to defend themselves in a reasonable manner.

This blog may be biased, this blog may criticize, this blog may investigate, but every single person who is the subject of this blog has the right to respond as they see fit.

There is a better way to do things, and the Vanguard wishes to lead the way.

The Vanguard wholeheartedly encourages all candidates to read all the material on the blog dealing with the race and to encourage them to comment as often as they see fit. This could lead to some pretty interesting political discussion for the community.

Let the candidates speak for themselves and the public can decide what they want to believe.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting