Johnson's First 100 Days: Rocky Start, Nice Recovery

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

One hundred days ago, Kevin Johnson spoke these words about the eight elected officials he would join at City Hall.
Johnson on the day he took office: “Colleagues of the council are gonna be not just colleagues, we’re gonna be best friends.” 
But at first, that prediction proved hollow. Two weeks after he took office, Johnson proposed a complete overhaul of Sacramento's charter that would give the mayor much more power – and more responsibility.  Johnson’s transition team wrote the initiative, and he actively campaigned for it throughout December and January.
Johnson at a strong mayor campaign event: “It’s about accountability.  You call the mayor’s office if you want something done, the mayor has the ability to get it done, and not say, well, we need to vote on it, or we need to go through the normal bureaucracy that sometimes just bogs things down.” 
Johnson’s supporters started gathering signatures to place it on the ballot – effectively bypassing City Hall.  What’s more, council members only found out about the initiative the day it was announced – and not from Johnson, but from a staff member.
Cohn: “The strong mayor thing, by not sharing that with some of his colleagues first, and sort of bringing people along, I think he bruised some feelings and unnecessarily so.” 
Councilman Steve Cohn endorsed Johnson in the campaign and generally supports him on votes.
Cohn: “Clearly, one of the lessons he learned was that he needs to bring his colleagues along.  He can’t just run the city by himself.” 
In fact, the mayor has frequently voiced frustration with city bureaucracy.  He says council members need to help Sacramento become more than a city that simply says “no.”  But yesterday, reflecting on his first 100 days, he said he must improve his relationships with his colleagues – become more of a team player.
Johnson: “I was a point guard on an NBA team.  Everybody has different egos and different buttons that you press, and I just need to do a better job of making sure that I’m building those relationships.” 
Several council members say Johnson helped his case a lot by delaying his strong mayor initiative.  Cohn says the mayor’s “pivot” was a smart move – pointing out it now has a much better chance of success.
Cohn: “I think he realized the cost of taking that sort of lone-ranger approach was going to be pretty high.  And it might’ve cost him with a lot of other things.” 
Meanwhile, Johnson’s learning to work with at least a few of the five council members who supported former Mayor Heather Fargo – as well as city staff.  Councilman Ray Trethaway says Johnson still faces a learning curve to improve his “inside game,” but had warm words for him nonetheless.
Trethaway: “One, he’s true to himself.  Two, he’s smart and articulate.  And three, he really wants to get things done, and he’s willing to roll up his sleeves and make it work.” 
Colbert: “Please welcome Kevin Johnson!” (cheers and music; fade under)
And what about Johnson’s outside game?  The mayor has leveraged his NBA star power to bring himself the kind of national exposure no other Sacramento mayor could get, hoping to elevate the city’s profile.  From Larry King Live to Fox News Sunday … and even joining Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central.
Colbert: “What will you do as mayor – what will you promise right now to do to make Sacramento less unbelievably boring?” (laughter)
Johnson: “The fact that I’m on your show right now is bringing visibility to our community.” (cheers)
Colbert: “Sacramento, you just got the Colbert bump!” (more cheers)

Johnson has also brought big names to town, and held high-profile public events like gang and education summits.  And he’s unveiled a citywide volunteer initiative, which he hopes will make Sacramento a national leader in service-hours. 
One of the first things Johnson did as mayor was to move his staff two floors down at City Hall. It’s a warm, friendly space, with plenty of sunlight streaming in – and it represents one of the mayor’s goals: to create a new atmosphere around town. 
Johnson: “When I think about 100 days, part of it for me has been really to bring about change – a change in attitude, a change in how the city does business, a change in the way we get results.  And I feel like we’re moving in that direction.  I feel very good about that in terms of where I’m at today.”
As for the mayor’s success tomorrow – and beyond?  That’ll likely depend a lot on how his inside game shapes up.