Fargo's Leadership Style: The K Street Case Study

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Last week, we looked at the leadership style of mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson, based on his work at Sacramento High School.  Now, we examine Mayor Heather Fargo, who seeks a third term.  Opinions of her aren’t quite as sharp as they are about Johnson, but they still show starkly different views of her track record. 
Fong: “If you look at the last eight years under Mayor Fargo, it’s hard not to notice the progress.”
Mahood: “I don’t think Mayor Fargo has demonstrated any vision for the city of Sacramento.”
Both Fargo’s supporters and her critics point to the city’s downtown redevelopment to make their arguments.  So that’s where we chose to focus our profile.


"Progress is Measured in Years"
If you want to make an argument for or against Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo, just go to K Street.

It’s 4 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, and the 900 block of K Street is practically deserted – even though it’s just a couple of blocks from the State Capitol.  There are scattered pedestrians walking up and down the street; a bicyclist here or there; even a couple of cops on horses.  But the shops and restaurants that are open are mostly empty.  And then, there are the other storefronts, the abandoned ones.  There’s a sign in the window of one of them.  It says, "K Street Gallery is moving to Midtown."
Mahood: “Progress is measured in years here, and not in days and months, unfortunately.” 
Matt Mahood stands at 8th and K, across the street from a massive hole in the ground where two buildings were torn down.  He leads the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, and he’s frustrated with the pace of downtown redevelopment – not just on K Street, but elsewhere, too, like the Railyards, and Riverfront. 
Mahood: “There’s been a lot of talk; a lot of hand-wringing; and there’s many people who would really like to see the progress move forward now instead of waiting another three to five to 10 years.  And the right type of leadership – I feel – can really help move it forward.” 
If you think that’s a dig at Fargo, you’re right.  Mahood says she’s partially to blame for an empty K Street.  The city’s caught up in a long, bitter property rights dispute with a local landlord.  That’s holding the whole pedestrian mall back.  Only recently did the city start the legal process of seizing the properties.  Mahood says Fargo has let the whole mess drag on too long. 
Mahood: “I think we could have probably got to this point a lot quicker had we had stronger leadership from the elected officials.”


Missed Opportunities

Cohn: “When you look at her track record, it’s not so much what she’s done as what could have been done.” 
City councilman Steve Cohn has endorsed Fargo’s top challenger, Oak Park developer Kevin Johnson.  He says K Street was just one of Sacramento’s many missed opportunities under the mayor. 
Cohn: “Some of the downtown housing, I think, if we had been a little more inviting environment, we could have gotten investment a little sooner.  Some other cities – Denver, Portland, for example, San Diego – took advantage of the big real estate boom when they could.  I think Sacramento was just a little bit slow on that.” 
Cohn also points to the slow movement of the downtown transit hub and the Railyards.  He says Fargo is sometimes so cautious that nothing gets done.


Give Credit Where It's Due

Fong: “I think it’s a much more relevant exercise to look at what has been done, as opposed to saying, well, we could have done so much more.”
Cohn’s fellow councilman, Rob Fong, supports Fargo.  And he says her critics aren’t being fair.  An awful lot has gotten done, he says --especially in downtown and Midtown. 
Fong: “A lot of people are just discovering Second Saturday.  Well, it didn’t just come to be.  I mean, Midtown is an amazing place – not just on the Second Saturday of every month.  Everyone in town – both occasional visitors and residents – would say, oh my gosh, look at all of the restaurants and entertainment venues that have grown up kind of organically in the downtown.” 
And you can say that’s a coincidence, Fong says, or you can give credit where he feels it’s due – to the entire city council, and, yes, Heather Fargo.  Fong praises the mayor for a collaborative leadership style and her willingness to listen. 

Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurants on the Way

Back on K Street, a couple of blocks up from the hole in the ground, sounds of a light rail train give way to other sounds that have a lot of people around here excited -- people like Michael Ault with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. 
Ault: “Just simply the sound of construction and the sound of projects under way is a very good sign for us.” 
Ault’s group is dedicated to improving the city’s central business district.  And at this corner, 10th and K, he likes what he sees.  By the end of the year, Ault says, a cabaret and new restaurants will be open – as will a 200-room boutique hotel a block away. 
Ault: “It’s really gonna change the way people look at this portion of downtown and really start to create a lot more synergy linking Old Sacramento, K St., Midtown together into a larger entertainment venue.” 
Ault says none of this would be possible without Fargo’s help. 
Ault: “The mayor and council have been tremendous partners with us.  I will tell you that downtown development is tough to do.  And without a public-private partnership that many times makes it happen, some of these things would not be here today.” 
Heather Fargo’s supporters call her a thoughtful and steady leader.  Her critics say she’s too cautious and too slow.  Both sides can point to the sounds of K Street on a weekday afternoon to make their case: the hustle and bustle of construction … or a street so empty you can hear the birds chirp.