Quid pro no

DIY Davis City Council campaigning.

DIY Davis City Council campaigning.

Photo By Ken Widmann

In 2006, with a budget of $250, Rob Roy lost the city council election handily.

“Nobody knew who I was,” he says.

But 1,517 voters knew—impressive when you consider that Roy earned six votes per dollar. “The people that won,” says Roy, “got about 6,500 votes and spent 50 grand.”

His purse was limited because Roy neglected to file the requisite paperwork. So this time around, Roy … again didn’t bother to file for private funding. Yet, his beholden-to-none candidacy seems to be far more popular than he originally assumed.

The day Roy declared his candidacy, he received a $200 check from an enthusiastic father and son. “They were like, ‘Yeah, you should do it!’” says Roy. “And I just never cashed the check. … I didn’t want the hassle.”

But now, he says, “I’m getting all these e-mails and people are like, ‘Hey, we want to give you money!’” says Roy. “It’s really a shame.”

Confined to a $250 war, er, skirmish chest, (that’s the maximum allowed without filing), Roy writes back that while he can’t accept their cash, he still appreciates their vote. It’s an endearing song.

Roy offers you one of his precious fliers from his customary perch at the farmers’ market, you almost feel bad taking it. As you might expect, it’s no frills—black writing on white cardstock. Roy scrimps to produce other campaign materials like buttons, a Web site and signage (Roy’s brown and green lawn signs were deemed “schlocky” in an Enterprise editorial).

“All my lawn signs are done by hand,” he says. “I bought a roll of paper for 10 bucks—I can do 70 sheets with that and some spray paint.”

Former candidates have also helped.

“That’s the thing about elections—once the campaign’s done, you just get a big pile of waste. There are people that have all this crap from years of campaigning, and they just loan it to me.”

Roy dresses the part of a discount candidate: Below a charcoal pinstripe suit and a tieless striped shirt is a loafer that bears a flapping sole. A popular former English major and student government senator before graduating UC Davis, Roy, 27, has a built-in support base of students. For years, he has been known around town as the cheerful manager of the local Ben & Jerry’s. Today, he’s also a substitute teacher in the Davis schools, a job he believes will vanish with the current budget woes.

Along with renters’ rights, an issue dear to Roy is Davis’ declining number of bicycle commuters.

“There’s a reason why Davis has gone from 25 percent of people biking to work, as it did in 1990, to 14 percent now. Because the public works department really prefers not to do anything about bicycles.”

As such, Davis’ place at the top of bike-friendly cities is being threatened. “We haven’t done anything that extraordinary,” Roy says. “Portland’s usurping us. So I’m just really concerned about that—all those things that make Davis great and unique. If we keep declining in bicycle ridership, pretty soon, we’re going to have to change our city logo. And that’s just going to be expensive.”

Unless we hand paint, of course.

Should he not win, Roy will suit up again in 2010, with paperwork filed and even a treasurer.

“If I don’t win this time, I’m stubborn. I’ll just keep going. And I’ll file next time.”