He's in: Johnson to Challenge Fargo

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Kevin Johnson has been a vocal supporter of Barack Obama, so perhaps it was fitting that Johnson announced his entrance in the mayoral race like this: 
Johnson: “I wanna say today that I believe we need a change in this city, and I believe we need that change now.” 
Johnson spoke for about 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon at the Guild Theater in Oak Park – the building itself, a part of his efforts to redevelop the neighborhood where he grew up.  He not only touted that development work but also talked about what he’s done with Sacramento High School – now a charter school run by the non-profit group Johnson founded, St. HOPE.  He said city government was broken; and he, an outsider, could change the status quo.
Johnson:  “And the question that you should be asking me is, what will I do?  What can I do different?  Well, I’m gonna tell you, before I lay out my platform – I’m not gonna do it today – because I wanna get out and hear what the voters say is important to them.  I wanna go out there and be accessible and get their input and get their feedback in a real way so we can craft a vision for this city together.” 
Though he did not take any questions from the media, Johnson did lay out some broad themes: Improve Sacramento’s public schools; attract jobs and businesses; and make city government more efficient and transparent.  He also said he’d put more police officers on the streets the moment he took office.  But Johnson did not say how he’d achieve any of those goals with a city facing a $55 million budget deficit.  The police department, for example, is currently far over budget and making cuts. 
Outside the Guild Theater after the speech, Sacramento resident Oscar Thompson said he was proud of Johnson.  The two go to the same church.  Thompson says Johnson knows the money will be tight, but someone’s got to – in his words – step up.
Thompson: “We need a change.  It’s time for a change.  And I think he’ll be able to do it.  He’s done so much for Oak Park, and I know if he gets a chance, he’ll be able to do something for the city too.”
Fargo: “Welcome to Memorial Auditorium.”
Woman: “Good to see you, how are you?”
Fargo: “I’m doing fine, thanks.”
Over in Midtown, the woman Johnson wants to replace was at a dinner honoring State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).  The sponsor was a Sacramento-area non-profit that teaches leadership skills.  And it was leadership that Mayor Heather Fargo spoke of.  She pointed to her work with the city council in reviving the downtown and winning state and federal funds for flood protection.
Fargo: “While I have a very consensus-oriented leadership style, his leadership style in getting St. HOPE approved was really very divisive.  Granted, he believed in it, and he wanted it to happen, but there’s ways of getting things through and approved where you bring people along and you work with people.  And I think that’s very important.  You can’t be an effective mayor if you can’t work with people well.” 
Fargo says her goals for her third term are to increase flood protection, bring more jobs to the city and continue to develop Sacramento’s downtown and waterfront. 
The battle of experience versus change playing out right now in the Democratic presidential campaign could very well be the theme in this race as well.  Here’s Sacramento State public policy professor Robert Waste:
Waste: “The weakness of any challenger who’s coming in not from the council or some other elected office but from outside, is to make the case that they really know enough to navigate all the nooks and crannies of City Hall.  The negative for an incumbent is they know all the nooks and crannies, and they have to explain any problems including the deficit that have happened on their watch.” 
Waste says Fargo and Johnson each have strengths and weaknesses – and thinks the race could be awfully close.