Friday, March 7, 2008

Fargo v. Johnson

Who would want to be Mayor of Sacramento at this point? The housing market has crashed, with commercial real estate and retail sure to follow. Given that so much of the city's cash comes from development fees and sales taxes, Sacramento is heading for some hard times.

That may explain why so few people have expressed interest in turning Mayor Fargo out of office. But now Kevin Johnson, most famous to the rest of the world for playing basketball professionally, has determined to challenge her for the position. Were I Mayor Fargo, I have to say that my reaction might well be something like, it's all yours, sweetie. But having the ego of a politician, I guess she thinks that she has to defend her position.

But why does Johnson want it? Who is he working for? From what little I've read thus far, it seems that some of the local corporate interests are unhappy with Fargo--blaming her for the failure to raise the sales tax for the new arena for the Kings (they play basketball), the collapse of John Saca's overblown condo project, the Westfield decision to allow Sacramento's downtown mall to deteriorate while expanding the Roseville Galleria, and other sins against business interests here. I guess they believe that Kevin Johnson can stand against the collapse of the housing bubble, convince Sacramentans to tax ourselves to subsidize the construction of a new entertainment arena (mostly for the Kings to play basketball), make John Saca's projects pencil out, and convince Westfield that they really want to reconstruct the downtown mall instead of the brand new mall located where there are richer, whiter people.

Heather Fargo must feel that the local business interests have abandoned someone who's worked hard to defend their interests. It's hard to imagine a more embarrassing moment than the Mayor and other elected officials condemning the Army Corps of Engineers for prohibiting more building on a flood plain that has a one in thirty chance of flooding every year. She did what she could to convince the citizenry to spend huge amounts of money to build an arena and turn its profits over to the Maloofs, the owners of the Kings (they play basketball). And unfortunately Sacramento didn't have the money to step in when it turned out that the Saca project didn't have the funding it needed to proceed. But Mayor Fargo didn't do it.

Our local paper, the Sacramento Bee has been promoting, uh, reporting a Johnson candidacy for several months. Aside from the paper's connections to (dependence on) the real estate interests, the Bee has, for some years, been promoting the creation of Sacramento as a "world class city." Yeah, right up there with London, Paris, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo. It's okay to snicker; I do every time I hear that and I live here. Sacramento is the center of the state government of California with a few outposts of Silicon Valley corporations and a couple of call centers on their way to India. It's no more than that. It may be something else someday, but it will never, ever be a world class city.

And a world class city needs a celebrity mayor. New York has Michael Bloomberg, San Francisco had Willie Brown, London has Red (actually Shell Pink) Ken. Sacramento has Kevin Johnson. He's the only celebrity we've got. We have celebrities who were raised here, or lived here at some point, but they moved on to world class cities. Kevin Johnson came back. So you go with what you've got. In addition, Johnson also has the kind of anti-union credentials that have made him the darling of the Bee's editorial board.

I'm sure there will be more entertaining comments to report from the campaign trail, but the best one so far is Kevin Johnson's statement, when asked what his platform was, that he would find out what Sacramentans wanted and then formulate his proposals. Uh, Kevin, you're supposed to have those conversations before you announce your candidacy.

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