No Shortage of Fireworks at Sac Mayor's Debate

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

**The debate was sponsored by KXJZ, KCRA and Sacramento State, and the questions came from Sac State students.**

Fargo was much more aggressive last night than their previous one-on-one debate back in May.  But Johnson didn’t back down either.  Their first major tussle came early on, when a student asked Johnson how he’d make Sacramento a destination city, instead of just a halfway point between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.
Johnson: “We’ll never be LA or San Francisco, but we surely can be one of the most important cities in the state of California.  And part of that has to be to elevate the profile.  We have the Railyard projects; we have Cal Expo.  Those will be two of the largest infill projects in the United States if we get those projects going.  Unfortunately, over the last eight years, they have not got off the ground.  I think we can do much better in terms of that.  If you ever travel down J St. or K St. or L St., there’s a lot to be desired in terms of our downtown area.  We could do much more than that.”
Fargo immediately jabbed back, saying Sacramento is indeed a destination city.
Fargo: “If anyone – and I’m sorry that Kevin doesn’t spend more time in town.  He would realize how many things have happened; how many destination things are going on here now in Sacramento.  The incredible number of quality events that we offer, of film festivals, of farmers markets, Friday night concerts, Second Saturdays.  There’s all kinds of wonderful things happening in Sacramento.”
And then … well, listen to Johnson’s next words.
Johnson: "It was the mayor who actually got criticized for traveling too much, not me.  I’m not --"
Fargo: "No, you got criticized for other things, Mr. Johnson."
Johnson: "What were they?"
Fargo: "Oh, We’ll deal with that later."
Johnson: "Oh, will we?  We’ll come back to them?"
Fargo: "Maybe …"
And they did – but not til later.  Next, they moved on to public safety.  City police department stats show that crime has gone up since the mayor took office, but dropped in the last two years.  And recent budget cuts have forced significant reductions to both police and fire.  Fargo said Sacramento is looking everywhere it can to get more money for public safety – including an anti-gang tax measure that failed to make the ballot.
Fargo: “We did have an opportunity this past year – and it was a real opportunity – to add maybe 15 or 20 new officers, and Kevin said no to it, and that was the gang initiative, which would have helped us prevent youth violence activity, would’ve helped us try to deter kids from going into crime thru prevention and intervention programs, and would’ve allowed us to hire 15 to 20 new officers.  And unfortunately, Kevin opposed it.”

Without new resources, Fargo said, Sacramento simply doesn’t have the money right now for more police officers.
But Johnson said the city is “absolutely not” doing what it can to prevent crime with its current resources.
Johnson: “As mayor, you cannot abdicate your responsibility and say, well, the feds have done this; the feds have done that.  You have to figure out a way as mayor to solve the problems of this city.  I’ve made a commitment to look at more resources from our general fund to go to toward public safety.”
Instead of a tax, Johnson said, he wants to increase the proportion of Sacramento’s general fund that goes towards public safety.  Johnson didn’t say what other city services he’d cut in return, but did say he’d audit every department to cut wasteful spending.
But the most heated moment came towards the end, when a student asked Johnson why Sacramento residents should trust him to run their city.  The U.S. government is investigating Johnson and his St. HOPE non-profit for potential misuse of federal funds.  Johnson said they’re all just allegations.
Johnson: “I am very confident as the U.S. Attorney’s office evaluates and investigates, they will find no criminal activity in what we’re doing at all.  Very confident of that.”
Fargo has had the chance to weigh in on the investigation before, but has always declined comment.  She chose this moment in the campaign to address it for the first time.
Fargo: “I’d like to have Kevin answer the question.  There’s a federal investigation that isn’t just being slipped aside.  It got passed over to the U.S. Attorney to decide if there should be criminal charges filed.  $800,000 was disappeared, was misappropriated by you as the leader of that organization.  Where did it go?  It was supposed to go to children who needed it, and it’s gone.  And you’re on the list of not getting any more federal funding.”
Johnson: “That’s a weak attempt of playing politics.  Number one, it’s in the U.S. Attorney’s office, number one.  Number two, most cases that go in the U.S. Attorney’s office, there’s no finding.  That doesn’t mean you’re guilty.  You’re not guilty til proven innocent, number one.  Number two, I believe you have a couple things you’re being investigated about as well, whether you’re talking library or water meters.  You have your own set of issues that I think –"
Fargo: “Oh, we don’t wanna discuss my priorities.  Compared to what you’re up against, Kevin, what’s been going on in the city is pretty mild.”
Johnson: “Pretty mild?  A $58 million budget deficit?  Highest unemployment in 12 years?  Crime rate – you call that mild?  Hardly mild to the people I talk with in our community, Mayor.”
And that was just the first of three mayoral debates between now and Election Day.