Kevin Johnson Becomes First African-American Mayor in Sacramento, California

kevin-johnson-sacramento-mayor-race.JPGKevin Johnson declared victory in the Sacramento mayor’s race Tuesday
night after the most costly and intensely publicized quest ever for the
city’s top political job.

With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, Johnson led incumbent
Mayor Heather Fargo 57 percent to 42 percent. As many as 56,000
absentee ballots remained uncounted in the city, however, according to
elections officials.

That didn’t stop Johnson from giving an acceptance speech. Moments later, Fargo conceded that he had won.

“Today the country elected the first African American president, Barack
Obama,” Johnson said. “Sacramento also made history today by electing
the first African American mayor. Obama and myself, we ran on the
promise and the theme of change. No more business as usual.”

Johnson
said he had already assembled a transition team of 50 people. “I am so
ready and so humbled to accept this great honor that has been bestowed
upon me today,” he said.

Fargo, in her concession speech, said it
had being mayor was “an incredibly wonderful experience for me, and I
think I’ve been incredibly good for Sacramento.”

Johnson grew up
in Oak Park, moved away to play in the NBA, and came back to redevelop
dilapidated buildings in his old neighborhood and run charter public
schools serving students who live there.

If he takes office Nov. 25, as expected, he will immediately be tested by the city’s ongoing budget crisis.

The
dire financial situation is likely to monopolize much of the city’s
business in the coming weeks and months, as the City Council faces the
likelihood of midyear cuts and future budget gaps projected to total
more than $140 million over the next four years.

In this climate,
it could prove difficult for Johnson to keep his No. 1 campaign pledge
to increase funding for police and fire crews.

Tuesday’s vote
ended a local political race the likes of which Sacramento has never
seen – featuring not only Johnson’s wealth and celebrity pitted against
Fargo, a two-term mayor and former state parks employee, but also a
series of oddball twists and sensational allegations.

Just last
week, Johnson grabbed unwanted headlines again after he took an
after-hours, private tour of City Hall, including a brief stop in
mayor’s chair, and happened to run into City Councilman Rob Fong, a
Fargo supporter.

Johnson was accompanied by a security guard, but City Manager Ray Kerridge nonetheless said the tour violated city policy.

The fired security guard joined Johnson on the stage Tuesday night, and Johnson put his arm around him.

Between
them, the candidates spent more than $2 million, according to records
filed with the Sacramento City Clerk’s office. Johnson outspent Fargo 3
to 1. Late contributions to both candidates continued to flow in this
week.

Earlier this year, it looked like Fargo might coast to an
unprecedented third term as Sacramento mayor with little serious
opposition.

But when Johnson announced his candidacy in March,
the game changed. National news outlets descended on Sacramento,
attracted by the story of a former NBA All-Star star running for mayor.

Johnson
brought a parade of basketball greats to town to campaign on his
behalf, including Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal.

Until
recently, the mayor’s race in Sacramento has been a relatively low-key
affair. The job wasn’t even considered full time until 2002.

Johnson
promised to elevate Sacramento to another level – using the power of
his celebrity to attract investors and bring the city national
attention. He criticized Fargo for not improving downtown quickly
enough, and for not having done enough to prevent the city’s budget
crisis or address crime problems.

At the same time that he took
the offensive, Johnson was dogged by scandal throughout the campaign.
Early on, he was forced to answer allegations that he had
inappropriately touched teenage girls in Phoenix, where he played for
the Suns, and more recently in Sacramento.

The Sacramento girl was a student at Sacramento Charter High School, which is run by the St. HOPE organization Johnson founded.

Johnson was not charged in either incident, and the allegations were not proved.

More
recently, a federal government investigation concluded that St. HOPE’s
youth public service program, HOOD Corps., had misused federal funds by
having participants perform a variety of duties outside the scope of
the federal contract, such as running errands for Johnson and washing
his car.

The youthful participants were supposed to be tutoring kids and redeveloping one building a year in Oak Park.

Johnson’s
St. HOPE Academy and a former St. HOPE administrator have been placed
on a list of people and organizations suspended from receiving federal
funds or contracts.

The federal AmeriCorps agency referred its findings to the local U.S. attorney, who has yet to take action on them.

Looking back at the race Monday, Fargo called it “interesting and bizarre.”

“The public doesn’t know the half of what’s gone on,” she said.

The
last serious opposition Fargo faced was in 2000, when she was running
for her first term. She and former City Councilman Rob Kerth emerged
from a crowded primary field, and Fargo beat him in the runoff.

On
Monday, Fargo said she was eager for the contest to be done. “I think
it’s time for this to be over, and time to know what people think,” she
said. “It’s kind of like Christmas. You open your present, and there’s
something in it or there’s not.”

Source: Sacramento Bee

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