Handicapping the Santa Clara Police Chief’s Horse Race — Pat Nikolai vs Dan Winter

By Robert Haugh

In the 2016 primary, our track record on political predictions was pretty good.  

Let’s see if we can make it two good primaries in a row with March 2020 predictions.

There are only two likely candidates to be the next Santa Clara Police Chief. We’ll follow this race closely since it’s important for the city. Since there are only two candidates, we’ll use odds instead of rankings. Here’s a site that explains odds if you haven’t been to the track recently. 

Pat Nikolai

He ran against then-Police Chief Mike Sellers in 2016. Nikolai almost beat an incumbent. In fact, it was weeks before we knew the winner. 

Nikolai was a good candidate. His message was that the 49ers should follow the law (Measure J). It worked well for him, especially since the police department under Sellers used general fund resources at the stadium. For Santa Clara voters, that’s the kiss of death.

Nikolai was good at candidates forums.  He got 17,513 votes, 49.9 percent. Wow. If 53 votes flipped, Nikolai would have been police chief. Double wow.

Nikolai was also lucky that Sellers turned out to be a bad candidate. Sellers didn’t impress in the candidates’ forums. And Sellers never effectively distanced himself from BluPAC. That’s the notorious dark money group with alleged ties to the 49ers. BluPAC’s support of Sellers (and other candidates) backfired

Nikolai had tons of help from the Santa Clara Police Officers Association (POA). This was the first time that they flexed their political muscle through their PAC. They spent around $90,000 to help Nikolai and city council candidates who ran in 2016. Rumors are they have more to spend in 2020. 

The POA PAC was also tough on Sellers in 2016, especially after the department voted “no confidence” in him. That was a Santa Clara police department first. 

The POA will likely endorse Nikolai again. If they spend what they did in 2016, Nikolai will be almost impossible to beat. His odds are good.

ODDS — 2/5

Dan Winter

He’s the Assistant Police Chief. Normally that would be a good thing. Unfortunately, he was the #2 person to Sellers. 

Sellers was unpopular in his own department. He almost became the first police chief in Santa Clara history to lose re-election. That’s bad for Winter. 

Winter has never run for office. That means he’s likely to make some rookie political mistakes. We saw one last week. 

Last Wednesday, the Council had to decide if they wanted to appoint a police chief or hold an election. Three people stood up to tell the Council to appoint Winter. One of them was a member of Sellers’ advisory commission. But Sellers is not popular with the Council majority. Oops. Another was Anthony Becker. He’s a Planning Commissioner, but Becker is considered a gadfly at City Hall. Double oops.

When the Council decided to pass over Winter for an election, that was like he got his own “no confidence” vote. 

Winter has been raising his profile in the community recently. But sometimes he’s appearing in the wrong places. Again, showing he doesn’t understand local politics. 

Winter has told City Hall sources he doesn’t want to run in two 2020 elections — the primary and general. Winter sounds like he’s uncomfortable campaigning. Winter may not be able to raise much money either. That’s a big problem. His odds are bad.

ODDS — 14/1


  1. Regarding S. C. Citizen, I know a lot of people in S. C. and I have heard nothing but praise about Robert. He tells it like it is and then gives every one a chance to respond. Does that sound like it’s just his words? You should thank the Lord, that we have someone who gives us the Santa Clara news and not the Weekly. I guess you haven’t heard ,— the Weekly hates us.

  2. The tone of the article and from what is coming from the council is that this is being treated as just a political type position. In spite of it being an elected position, the primary role of Police Chief is to ensure public safety. It will be extremely important for the police chief to have the best background, training, and experience to run a department well in a city like Santa Clara. Things like education and experience do, in fact, matter more than perceived popularity or fundraising ability. I’ll ask too- how can you explain why a relatively inexperienced policeman is being promoted by some council and the POA for such a critical position?
    You imply being #2 is somehow bad. An assistant police chief position had to be earned, based on qualifications (Dan’s list is impressive) and performance and can be just as soon removed. Dan was selected because he was the best in the department for the job. He is dedicated enough to take the extra effort needed to achieve and maintain this. Question for you is did others take advantage of training opportunities? To not promote-or demote such a person would imply political cronyism not in the best interests of the city. So what, Sellers is the Chief. Is he not supposed to try to succeed?
    And contrary to your article, Dan has not been raising his profile in the community, recently. He has been contributing for years, when no one was watching or cared. It is you who have only recently noticed.
    A purpose of electing the Police Chief is to have the police department directly responsible to citizens and operate independent of city hall, or any other political entity. Am disappointed that council and POA is putting political interests ahead of public welfare.

    • Here’s the scoop on Winter. People in the community see him as a nice guy with good credentials. That’s accurate. People inside the dept who actually work with him see him as a weak and vacillating yes man who can’t make a decision. That’s sad but true.

      Here’s the scoop on Nikolai. In the community, he’s seen as a nice guy, too, who’s qualified. That’s why he almost knocked off Sellers.He got 49.9 percent of the vote. Santa Clarans think he’s a qualified. In the dept, he’s considered a leader. He led the POA and he had the guts to run against an incumbent. He can actually make a tough decision. The troops like and respect him.

      I’m glad the council decided on a campaign because these characteristics will come out. Winter will list his credentials and Nikolai will show that he’s a leader with lots of support.Winter will run a weak campaign. He’s never run one before and has already shown he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Nikolai will run a strong one. He has before. Nikolai will win easily.

      Then, for the sake of the dept, Winter should probably retire or be demoted and moved to some minor, noncontroversial assignment since he will be of little to know value to the new leadership.

    • So if the the department spends a lot of taxpayer money training an officer, you think it is perfectly fine to put him in a position where he won’t be using that training and will be wasting taxpayer money, because you want your guy in there with his cronies (possibly you). Got it. That doesn’t sound like leadership to me.

    • Sellers to blame: last election Chief Sellers was confronted about only staying to spike his retirement pay and hand over the job to Winters. Sellers told the public he would finish his term. What a coincidence, Seller gets a raise, leaves mid term and wants to hand the job over to Winters. Thank you Sellers for costing the tax payers $$$$ for a special election. Now we know your a person that can not be trusted. What’s next a job with 49ers.

  3. Hey Peeps,

    How is this story unfair?

    Story says that Winter is close to Sellers. True that.

    Story says that Sellers is a unpopular with the council and the department. True that.

    Story says that Winter is a weak candidate for not knowing this. True that.

    Story says that Winter is likely to lose because of that. Very true that.

  4. this is no longer Santa Clara News Online. It is Robert Haugh’s Opinion Online. We donated money when you were being sued by the Santa Clara Weekly. I’m sorry now that we did. Please make it clear when you are giving your opinion (which is almost every blog) or reporting some facts. I will skip reading your opinion pieces. Just as I skip reading the editorials in the Santa Clara Weekly. You are both so biased. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. I am sorry that you are muddy the waters, when you should be clarity with the facts.

    • I am also sorry that this blog has turned into more opinion and less facts. I feel I can no longer trust what I read here and am disappointed by the insults, insinuations and opinions stated over the last several months. I fear this blog is becoming as crazy as the Weekly’s opinion now. Very unfortunate for Santa Clara.

      Hopefully in the future, at least with this particular topic of police chief, we will see Mr. Haugh present some research into the men’s qualifications for the position. As “madmom” has stated, Mr. Winter has shown himself to be a very upstanding individual and has done his job well, going above and beyond from everything I have witnessed.

  5. When do they max out on their benefits? We need a four year commitment from both of them.

  6. I need to correct and clear up the false reporting. I supported an appointment of Dan Winters but overall I felt with the lack of agreement on council that it would and should go to an election. This was assured when councilmember O’Neill followed up my 2 minutes with questions to staff to confirm on the title ‘acting chief’ and about combining the 2 elections. Glad she cleared that up for me, kudos to her……a lot of people had those questions on their mind.
    Yet I noticed with your rush to judgment, you instantly throw people into a category. Three people supported Winters, including myself and resident Mary Grizzle who you didn’t name. So are you saying she is wrong too ? since you single out two others it seems kind of unfair statement you make.
    You often criticize The Weekly for their reporting practices. I give the weekly credit for having stories that are not writer opinionated, like stories that following a paper trail. Yet the weekly does have opinion driven pieces from its editor. That’s where opinion can be added to writing hence “Opinion pieces”.
    You never once title your pieces as “Robert Haugh’s Opinion Piece” in which I would have no objection then. But in this case you begin to lack that legitimate journalistic integrity. I took a journalism class as an elective and was taught opinion is to be thrown out of the window in reporting. This article looks more like, “Dan Winters Bad, Nikolai is only choice” an opinion piece by Robert Haugh.
    You should be reporting facts without bias, without your two cents, you are to be neutral. You are to present two sides of a story…. yet week after week you prove you cannot be neutral. You don’t cover stories that other media outlets cover, and you continue to show the bias in your words.
    Dan winters does not have baggage, yet you degrade him,….who would want to run twice in a year ? Do you blame him ? Running once is a lot of work. Plus with articles like this, I doubt Dan would like to wake up to these bias kind of stories on the daily during a campaign…. Stuff his kids could read. You run down anyone that does not follow the narrative, current agenda and/or status quo.

    But back to the bulk of this bias article,
    We knew that there would not be a consensus. The deck would be stacked for Nikolai, with at least 4-5 votes going in favor of Nikolai with sure fire votes coming from Mayor Gillmor, Debi Davis, Kathy Watanabe and toss up votes from O’Neill, Hardy, and Chahal. Gillmor would lobby council for the final votes to get super majority to side with Nikolai yet there would be no compromise, Gillmor would not have casted a vote for Winters.
    Winters would have gotten at the most… 4 votes (Mahan, Hardy, Chahal, O’Neill). ONeill, Hardy and Chahal would be very versatile votes and in either way it wouldn’t come out as a consensus. I feel Mayor Gillmor would not budge to cast a vote for Winters or Mahan wouldn’t budge to cast a vote for Nikolai………and that is ok, let the people decide then.
    In this case you clearly have to have an election. As much as I would love to see Winters appointed, it brings back to a year ago when there was an attempt to fill Caserta’s former seat. I felt (like Mahan) that it should have gone to an election for the people to select even though my bias was to see Kevin Park appointed. In the end, an election provided us with two stellar neutral council members in Chahal and Hardy… so in the end it worked out last year. I trust the voters to make the right choice.
    I feel bad for Dan Winters because he is about to be thrusted into a snake pit called campaigning…. especially in Santa Clara where it can get quite dirty. I love Dan Winters, yet there is also a weak spot for Nikolai….both are great guys. Maybe we can get neutral reporting that is fair and balanced and talks about quality issues instead of muckraking and using insults to drive your writings, that should be saved for stand up comedy .
    Here is to an exciting Police Chief Race !

  7. Mad Mom is right … but so is Robert.

    Winter has good qualifications. But that doesn’t mean he’s gonna to win. Remember now Nikolai almost won against an incumbent chief?

    Robert’s got it right. It’s a horse race story. At the track, the best looking horse doesn’t always win. The best qualified candidate doesn’t always win an election, either.

    You gotta have money and supporters to win elections these days.

    Hey Mad Mom, I’ll take Roberts odds and bet on Nikolai if you’re game.

  8. This is the most biased BS I have ever read. I seriously thought this website was going to contain actual journalism when you started out. Major disappointment!

    Not one word about the actual qualifications of each candidate, but we know why that is: Dan Winter is the most qualified candidate in this area. He is far more qualified than ANY candidate in this entire area. If you compare actual qualifications and experience, Dan Winter will be, by far, your best candidate. So why aren’t you comparing qualifications? The reason is clear. You are in the pocket of the people who want Nikolai. Ask yourself why they would want a candidate who has sub-par qualifications? I fear the answer could be a bit unsavory.

    Dan Winter worked as a policeman while finishing college, and then law school (with three kids!). He has sought every kind of community and professional training available, including rigorous FBI training, while working his way up the ladder in the Santa Clara Police force. He earned every promotion, and I don’t think you can say that about his opponent. Why did the city manager have to pressure the police department to give out promotions to people who didn’t qualify? That would be a good story on which to sharpen your journalism skills.

    Dan and his entire family are heavily involved in the Santa Clara community, volunteering countless hours for multiple causes. Dan has championed the Special Olympics for years, donating countless hours of his own time. He has coached kids basketball, volunteered at the schools, and volunteered at community events. There is nobody in this community who is a more shining example of what a police officer should be than Dan Winter. If the worst thing you can write about him is that he won’t raise enough money to run for chief, well then okay… ask how much he raised for Special Olympics. Saying that he isn’t an experienced politician is silly. His primary job will be running the police department. Do we want somebody who is a good police chief, or an experienced politician?

    If you want an honest, professional, qualified, and hard-working police chief, vote for Dan Winter. If you want a smiling puppet in the pocket of the city council, then don’t vote for him.

    • I agree with Madmom, what happened to the City’s hiring practices? Dan Winter is a decent man who has earned all his promotions and has gotten his law degree. The other candidate took a few online classes for his degree. Should we not hire the best and brightest.

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