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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sacramento Mayor's Race is Full of Intrigue

The Vanguard does not venture much across the Causeway let alone across the Sacramento River, however the Sacramento Mayor's race is full of intrigue.

Hey let's be honest, I watched Kevin Johnson play basketball when I was growing up. For those of you who are not sports fans, bear with me for just a second. There is some interesting irony here because Kevin Johnson went to the NBA Finals in 1993 with the Phoenix Suns playing alongside Charles Barkley. They would lose to Michael Jordan's Bulls.

But that Suns team was often tied to Conservative Commentator Rush Limbaugh. Charles Barkley often said he would run for Alabama Governor as a Republican. Now Barkley is a Democrat and a supporter of Barack Obama for President.

It is Kevin Johnson however who has emerged as a possible rising star in the Democratic Party. And in fact it was at an Obama Rally back in January, ahead of the California Democratic Party, that Kevin Johnson had his coming out party so to speak.

Last week, Mr. Johnson announced that he would challenge Sacramento's two-term incumbent Mayor Heather Fargo.

Mayor Fargo is considered vulnerable. The Sacramento Bee cited a poll last week that showed Fargo with an approval rating of just 36% with Johnson holding a statistically insignificant 29-28 lead with 41% undecided.

That sets up a potentially knock-down and drag-out fight between the long-time politician Heather Fargo and the NBA star turned Charter School Director Kevin Johnson.

The Sacramento Bee compared this race to another one that people locally and nationally may be more familiar with:
Sacramento's mayoral confrontation may remind voters of another campaign under way in the country's presidential race, pitting a charismatic newcomer against an entrenched veteran.

"It's really kind of interesting and weird," Nichols said. "It's like Sacramento is a microcosm of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. She campaigns on her experience and he is the young, fresh one with star quality."

Johnson even made a reference to the presidential race when loud applause and cheers greeted him. Said Johnson: "It's like there's some Barack Obama mania going on."
Kevin Johnson has his share of enemies and scandals as well. Critics point out to code violations, back taxes owed, liens on his property, and of course the teacher's union, Sac City Unified Teachers and with them, other unions are steadfastly against him based on practices at his charter school.

However, this is 2008 and this year people are looking it seems for more than politics as usual which is why a person like Kevin Johnson has a chance.

As Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton wrote:
The truest words Johnson spoke Wednesday: "Sacramento seems like a city that is against everything and for nothing."

He's right. We grow many things in this rich valley except a bounty of people with a dream to make things better.

The political pros may sneer, but there is a yearning out there for something more. When he was introduced Wednesday by the daughter of the late Joe Serna Jr. – Sacramento's last activist mayor – Johnson was attempting to inherit that mantle.

"We need to stand up for a greater Sacramento," he said. "We need to create a city that works for everyone."
On the other hand, with a dose of reality:
The thing is: The world has changed since Serna died of cancer while in office in 1999. The political discourse has grown more coarse and the political operative who ran Serna's campaigns is now paid by Mayor Heather Fargo.
Where this all ends up is unclear. One thing for sure, this figures to be interesting, interesting enough that those of us on the other side of the Sacramento River, even on the other side of the Causeway should pay attention, because it is possible that what has been sweeping the country in terms of Barack Obama and the hope of change, may sweep our cities and local politics as well.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting