Editor's Note: Elk Grove Patch is interviewing candidates running for mayor in 2012. , and check back soon for interviews with and .
Like it or not, there’s no denying mayoral candidate Gary Davis’ influence in Elk Grove. The second-term city council member has started at least two local non-profits, led an effort to create a new charter school in Elk Grove and helped launch the city’s first half-marathon—along the way building an impressive coalition of religious, union and business supporters. The political director for education reform group EdVoice, Davis has also brought a new level of professionalization to Elk Grove politics. In 2010, he was the only city council candidate to open a dedicated campaign office; last fall, Elk Grovians received automated phone calls inviting them to the community barbecue where he launched his mayoral campaign.
But Davis’ political acumen has also caused some to label him overly ambitious. Critics cite his unsuccessful 2010 run for Congress as evidence that he sees the mayoral title as simply a stepping stone to higher office. In a recent interview with Elk Grove Patch, Davis said he doesn’t have any plans to run for a partisan office “for the time being" and that he considers public service his favorite hobby.
What's your vision for Elk Grove?
What drives me is a desire for creating an Elk Grove where my kids graduate from high school and college, [and] they’d want to move back to Elk Grove and raise their family here as well. First and foremost, a community that has as many high-quality jobs as we do people. Having strong and safe neighborhoods is important to a strong civic fabric in the community. Third, we need arts and entertainment and other cultural amenities for the community to give us more of a destination flair.
What are the first three things you would want to accomplish as mayor?
We need a major business park with high-quality, high-paying jobs. So what I would like to do is create a hub for that to happen. It’s probably something related to the medical sector. Secondly, we need a major entertainment venue in Elk Grove. There’s no reason, as large as we are, that we should have to drive around the rest of the region to go to a major sporting event or concert. Third would be reconvening neighborhood leader summits and going neighborhood by neighborhood and identifying places where they don’t have a neighborhood infrastructure in place and really putting an action plan in place for how to help them organize.
The elected mayor position still has more or less the same power as a council member, so how do you work towards accomplishing those things as a mayor that’s different than what you would do as a council member?
The mayor is just a bigger platform to stand on as an advocate for jobs, cultural amenities and strong neighborhoods. There’s a louder microphone that you use.
You talk a lot about the imbalance between jobs and housing in Elk Grove. What’s a healthy jobs/housing balance? Is there a city of a similar size to Elk Grove that has a number you would aim to duplicate?
Roseville and Folsom are pretty close. Roseville’s got about 100,000 of each: 100,000 jobs, 100,000 people. Folsom’s a much smaller community but they’re equally matched.
Honestly I think we could use another 100,000 jobs here. That’s aggressive. But I also think it’s that kind of aggressive, forward-looking goal that we have to set if we’re going to bring the number of high-quality jobs here that we need to. I’d settle for 50,000.
Opponents of say the city is continuing a policy of just growing and growing without looking at opportunities for infill development.
I guess I don’t see it that way. For one, a pretty big chunk of what they might call infill is rural Sheldon. The rural Sheldon community is what, in a lot of ways, helps us stand out from every other suburban commuity in America. [You can] have a couple-acre lot with livestock and yet be able to be in a grocery store within a few minutes. That’s a quality of life in our community that’s important to maintain. The quantity of job growth that needs to happen on the other approximately 3,500 acres that is available...it’s just not enough acreage.
I think where people have some legitimate concern is with this new land, is it going to just be more rooftops or is it going to be jobs? And there’s a trust level that has not been reached yet.
You’ve gotten a fair amount of contributions from both developers and unions who might have a stake in construction projects in the city. How would that influence your judgment on those development issues as they come before you as mayor?
I’ve been in office serving Elk Grove for six years, so I would just say look at my track record. A couple projects come to mind; one would be the Rite Aid project in Old Town. There was a gentleman that was a campaign contributor that wanted to build a Rite Aid. He was doing it in a way that residents around Old Town didn’t like. It came to a head in a city council meeting and we said, "You haven’t done your due diligence with the community, and you haven’t listened and incorporated their feedback into the project, so we’re not going to approve it."
Look at the whole sphere of influence issue. Twice I successfully led the charge to scale it back. That was not easy and arguably the donor community didn’t want to see that happen. But it’s the right thing to do.
If it's a developer versus the community it's a no-brainer. I've consistently sided with the community.
What are you most proud of from your time on the council?
Within 60 days of being in office, we settled the lawsuit between the [Cosumnes Community Services District] and the city. Almost overnight we started saving taxpayers a lot of money... The other thing...is with our overhaul of the business approval process. Elk Grove consistently used to get rated in the Sacramento Business Journal as the worst city to do business in the entire region. Last year Region Builders gave us an award for being the most business-friendly city in the region.
You worked to . Is there a point where you’re spending too much on incentivizing a business or government agency to move to Elk Grove?
The first state agency is the toughest one. If you look around the region, Rancho Cordova has a lot of state agencies because they got one. Natomas has a lot of state agencies because they got one first. I think as long as an incentive is necessary to bring new jobs here we have to continue to leave that option on the table. We’re always wanting to be prudent in the way that we do it. That was a simple calculation based upon the number of employees that were coming here and doing a conservative estimate of the sales tax that would be generated…To me that’s just smart economic policy.
Do you have any business experience?
In college I managed a restaurant, Round Table Pizza in the Pocket area. It was my job to do payroll and market the restaurant. My degree’s in business. I see myself as sort of a civic entrepreneur. That’s why I run around starting up all these non-profits. One day I might be a normal entrepreneur.
What’s your biggest weakness?
I’m impatient by nature. One of my challenges if I’m elected mayor would be to work more collectively with the rest of the council. When it comes to something I believe in, I push pretty hard. That will rub people the wrong way sometimes.
When I talk to people who are critical of your candidacy, probably the biggest thing I hear is ‘He cares more about his political career than about Elk Grove.’ How would you answer that concern?
There’s a cynicism in politics today that anybody that runs for office, especially at a young age, must only be looking to advance their career. I can’t change everybody’s mind overnight, but I work really hard for this community, I know what my intentions are and I have a track record that illustrates it. And so when I hear cynical criticism like that I just point to my track record. People will draw conclusions as they will.
Anything else you want to add?
My kids have been coming out [to events], my wife, a little bit more recently. They’re my true passion.
How do they feel about you running for mayor?
It’s evolved. Sometimes they really see the benefit of it when I can come home and share a tangible example of something I’ve had a chance to work on. Sometimes it’s just like, "Dad’s not here." In general it’s important for this generation to be more involved in this community and care more about what’s happening. I try to lead by example with my own family.