Down and dirty

The political junkie’s guide to the local primary

Incumbent Sacramento City Councilman Ray Tretheway is in a tough battle in District 1 against challenger neighborhood activist Angelique Ashby.

Incumbent Sacramento City Councilman Ray Tretheway is in a tough battle in District 1 against challenger neighborhood activist Angelique Ashby.

Illustration by Paul Hoppe

Welcome to SN&R’s down and dirty guide to the June primary election in Sacramento County. We’re not pretending that all candidates are created equal. This rundown is about who’s going to win and why, and what they’re likely to do if elected.

It’s true that these are some of the most competitive elections that Sacramento has seen in years. For example, four seats in City Hall are contested by four or more candidates.

But many of the most powerful players are the same as always. Unions and developers in particular will decide who wins political power and who loses it. Probably not the best way to run a government, but at least we can help you sort out who’s who, and who’s paying, in the June 8, 2010 primaries.

Dude, where’s my fire station?

City Council District 1

In 2006, City Councilman Ray Tretheway didn’t even have an opponent for re-election. And during his 2004 re-election campaign, he easily beat his opponent, Jon Chase, 66 to 34 percent. Now Tretheway looks like the most likely incumbent in City Hall to lose office.

Neighborhood activist Angelique Ashby has won an array of institutional endorsements. The Sacramento police and firefighters unions, The Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Metro Chamber, have all jumped on board Ashby’s campaign.

And though Tretheway is a committed environmentalist—and executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation—it’s Ashby who’s won support of the Green Democratic Club of Sacramento County, a fairly new Democratic group focused on environmental issues.

“What’s important about her is not that she’s an environmentalist,” says Jude Lamare, a club member and a longtime watcher of environmental issues in the Natomas area. “It’s that she asks the right questions.”

District 1, with more than 100,000 people in it, is now twice a large as any council district in the city. It’s an area of newcomers, and many don’t know Tretheway. “And the things they were expecting didn’t come. That park didn’t come, that fire station didn’t come. They start to wonder, ‘Is this the right place for my family?’”

Tretheway conceded that residents get frustrated that services and amenities haven’t always kept up with the area’s rapid growth, not surprising, he says, when you add 45,000 residents in 10 years. “There was an expectation that everything would grow up together at the same time. But the reality is that it’s done in stages.”

Tretheway says the city budget, the rail yards, the possibility of city charter reform, all call for a veteran’s skill. “My experience and achievements are critical now to keep us moving forward. It’s important not to stop and have to restart.”

A third candidate, civil-rights activist Efren Gutierrez, has positioned himself as a progressive outsider. He notes that the council hasn’t had a Latino member since the death of Mayor Joe Serna. And he says that he’s an alternative to the other two candidates who are receiving large campaign contributions from powerful interest groups. “I don’t owe nobody nothing,” Gutierrez explains.

All of the candidates have said they would oppose public funds for a new Kings arena. Gutierrez is the only candidate to explicitly support keeping any future arena in north Natomas.

“We need to stay where we’re at. How many millions have already been spent building Arena Boulevard? We already have the infrastructure there,” Gutierrez says.

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Tretheway has raised more than $100,000 for this race. The biggest donations by far come from the construction unions and from developers. These include $4,200 from the Los Angeles-based California Real Estate Political Action Committee, $5,000 from the California State Pipe Trades Council and $5,000 from the Plumbers, Steamfitters and Refrigeration Fitters Local 467.

Ashby’s biggest contributions come from the public-safety unions and law-enforcement groups. The Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522 gave $5,000 in 2010, as did the Sacramento Police Officers Association. Another $4,500 came from other law enforcement PACs including the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Gutierrez raised just $2,050 so far this year.

City Councilman Steve Cohn (center) seems confident he’ll be elected to a fifth term in District 3. But challengers Chris Little (left) and Shawn Eldredge (right, when he had more hair) could still force a runoff in November.

Illustration by Paul Hoppe

Midtown madness

City Council District 3

Steve Cohn is running for his fifth term on the council, in a year when voters want to clean house.

“Across all levels of government, you’ve got an anti-incumbent mood right now. A lot of people aren’t happy campers,” Cohn says. But Cohn seems to be talking about those other incumbents. “I think the last person you want to kick off the council is the person who can bridge some of the divides that exist there now.”

Cohn says he’s proud of the things that have happened in the district on his watch—such as the condo and retail development at 18th and L streets, or the miles of bike lanes added, or his work on the regional Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, which oversees the third largest passenger rail corridor in the country.

His opponents aren’t so impressed.

“I think Steve is a little more confident than he should be,” says Chris Little, who complains that there’s been “no real spark or initiative” from the incumbent.

Little says his business background would bring more “common sense” to the council. “Like not buying land in the downtown rail yard at an unknown value,” Little explains.

Shawn Eldredge is also critical of Cohn’s tenure, saying that the good things that have happened in District 3 mostly would have happened anyway. “Honestly, much of District 3 is in pretty good shape. But it has nothing to do with Steve Cohn. He just hasn’t led strongly.”

But Eldredge is candid about the frustrations of taking on the incumbent.

“It sucks. None of the powers that be want to take a gamble on supporting someone other than Cohn. So the people are just going to get what they’ve always gotten.”

No matter where Eldredge finishes in the race, he deserves credit for navigating the city’s complicated public financing system—the first to do so. He’ll qualify for $8,000 in public matching funds—enough to pay for a campaign mailer and keep his campaign going through June. “Without it, I’d be done.”

If elected Eldredge says he’ll try to make the public financing system easier to use. “The reason this program exists is so that you can mount a competitive campaign without special interest dollars.”

The late entry into this race, Jeff Rainforth, also has a business background; he does research and marketing for a major chain of electronics stores.

Rainforth told SN&R that the city needs to provide more incentives, such as tax breaks, to bring new business to Sacramento. He says Sacramento can be more successful if it finds ways to attract the “creative class” of young professional, artists and entrepreneurs—as cities like Austin, Portland and Seattle have done.

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The most recent campaign-finance reports show Cohn has raised about $77,000. Some of his largest contributors include the California Real Estate Political Action Committee, which gave $2,500; Sacramento Natural Gas Storage ($1,500); Yellow Cab ($1,500); and downtown developer David Taylor ($1,500).

By comparison, Little has received about $20,000, (he says it will be up to $35,000 in the next reports) mostly in smaller individual donations, and mostly within the district. He did take a $500 check from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee. His largest single contribution was a $1,500 check from Phyllis Hayashi, a real-estate agent in Fair Oaks.

With the $8,000 in public matching funds, Eldredge has also raised about $20,000. That includes a $500 check from developer Mike Heller; $750 from former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla; $460 from Torch Club; and $1,000 from Antoinette de Vere White, owner of de Vere’s Irish Pub.

The latest reports show Jeff Rainforth had loaned himself $500.

School board member Patrick Kennedy (left) is the favorite to win in the Sacramento City Council’s 5th district. But education consultant Jay Schenirer is hanging in there. With three other candidates in the race, it might be impossible to win this one outright.

Illustration by Paul Hoppe

The furious five

City Council District 5

This is the most wide-open race, with the biggest field of candidates. Current City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond, who decided to give up her seat to run for state Assembly, has endorsed Patrick Kennedy to be her replacement.

Kennedy is member of the Sacramento city school board, and a labor lawyer by day. He’s locked up support from most of the major unions in town, including the police and fire unions and the Sacramento Central Labor Council. He’s also won the endorsement of the Sacramento Metro Chamber and the Sacramento County Democratic Party.

Kennedy says his time on the school board, during its worst budget crisis in modern times, and his experience on the city planning commission help qualify him for the seat.

But he has a strong opponent in the equally well-connected Jay Schenirer, who’s got the backing of his longtime friend state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and County Supervisor Jimmie Yee.

An education consultant, and former state budget analyst, Schenirer is focusing on programs for youth, small business and neighborhood services. Schenirer also served on the Sacramento school board, though he was voted off in 2004. Kennedy is critical of Schenirer’s controversial vote to turn Sacramento High School over to Kevin Johnson’s St. Hope organization. “Sacramento High School needed to be fixed, not given away.”

Likewise, Schenirer seemed to be making a jab at Kennedy’s labor ties during a recent League of Women Voters forum, in which he said, “It’s important we have people on the city council who ask themselves, ‘Is this the best thing for the people of Sacramento?’ regardless of what the special interests want.”

Behind the front-runners is Terrence Johnson, executive director of both the Stockton Boulevard Partnership and the Oak Park Business Association. He’s a small-business owner, and one of only two openly gay candidates running for office in Sacramento County right now.

Johnson complained that much of the city council’s business is focused on downtown or Natomas or Midtown. “And south Sacramento doesn’t get a nod.”

“I’ve spent the last six years working with the city, representing a high-maintenance area. This hasn’t been just sitting on some board, but helping build the community,” he tells SN&R.

Henry Harry, a former Sacramento sheriff’s deputy, is also demanding attention for the overlooked parts of the city. “Beneath the skyline, past the strong-mayor proposal, we have real problems, with guns and gangs and crime.”

The field is rounded out by Leticia Hilbert, an Oak Park resident who said she’s running to stop “illegal dumping, human trafficking and unsafe streets.”

“We all deserve to live in a safe, clean neighborhood,” Hilbert explains.

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Schenirer last reported $88,000 raised, including $3,000 from the AT&T California Employee Political Action Committee; $1,000 from Genentech; and $1,500 from Eli Broad of The Broad Foundations.

Kennedy’s report shows about $107,000, with heavy support from the building trades. He got $5,000 from Plumbers, Steamfitters and Refrigeration Fitters locals 447 and 467, among many other pipe trades unions. He also boasts $2,500 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee and $1,500 from development attorney extraordinaire Gregory Thatch.

Terrence Johnson started off strong, raising nearly $9,000 at the beginning of the race, mostly in small contributions, but he only reported $600 coming in the most recent reporting period.

Henry Harry has raised about $800, and Leticia Hilbert has yet to report any fundraising.

District 7 Councilman Robbie Waters (center) says his fifth term will be his last. Challengers Ryan Chin (left) and Darrell Fong say four terms is enough.

Illustration by Paul Hoppe

Waters washed away?

City Council District 7

It’s never a good time to have your son and campaign manager caught up in a scandal involving the illegal approval of construction permits. But “Permit-gate” helps make this the second most likely district to toss out its incumbent.

Robbie Waters is trying to make the best of it on the eve of his re-election campaign to represent Sacramento’s 7th District, including the Pocket, Greenhaven and part of Valley Hi.

Waters’ two main rivals, Ryan Chin and Darrell Fong, generally steer clear of the subject, each saying that the city’s investigation needs to proceed separate from the political process.

It will be tough to take down Waters, who has strong name recognition in the district after having been elected to four terms. He is the lone Republican on the council—and he hopes voters will think the council ought to have at least one conservative voice in the mix.

And he can boast that in the last four years, the district got two new libraries and all of its parks renovated, among other projects.

Chin told SN&R that being one of the guys with a Chinese surname running against a well-known figure like Waters was a little challenging at first.

“A month ago, there was definitely some voter confusion,” Chin explains. But Chin just got The Sacramento Bee’s endorsement, along with the Sacramento County Democratic Party and the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

Fong says he had been considering a run for several years, but felt he couldn’t jump in until he retired from his job on the police force. “I couldn’t run while I was a police captain,” he tells SN&R.

Fong has the endorsement of city council members Sandy Sheedy and Rob Fong, as well as former Mayor Heather Fargo. He’s garnered support of the Sacramento City Teachers Association and the Plumbers and Pipefitters union.

There is a fourth candidate in this race, 24-year-old Diedre Hobart, a lifelong District 7 resident, who is promising “common sense” leadership if elected. Hobart has decided not to raise money for this race.

Waters says that if he’s re-elected, his next term will be his last. Both Chin and Fong would like to show him the door sooner.

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Waters was the biggest fundraiser in any of the City Hall races right now, with more than $190,000 raised. The Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association has kicked in $3,000; the Sacramento Police Officers Association another $2,500. The Chevron Corporation has given $1,500; along with would-be Kings arena developer Gerry Kamilos. And Sacramento Natural Gas Storage has also given $1,500 into Waters’ campaign.

Fong has raised $82,000, with major contributions coming from the Plumbers, Steamfitters and Refrigeration Fitters Local 447 ($5,000) and Comtek Computer Systems ($1,500) and supporter Rob Fong, the councilman from District 4 ($1,500).

Chin has raised more than $110,000, including $5,000 from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; $2,000 from the Stonewall Democratic Club; and $1,500 from the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers.

Phil Serna will most likely be the new face—though still a somewhat familiar one—on the county board of supervisors.

Illustration by Paul Hoppe

The house of Serna

Board of Supervisors, District 1

Unlike the City Hall races, the contests for county board of supervisors can hardly be called contests at all. In the race for supervisor in District 1—which includes downtown and Natomas, as well as Rio Linda and North Highlands—Phil Serna is expected to win easily over retired print shop owner Keith Weber in this race to replace Supervisor Roger Dickinson. Dickinson is giving up the seat in order to run for state Assembly.

Serna, the son of late Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna, has a deep development background. He worked as a consultant for AKT Development Corporation and for the California Building Industry Association.

And some environmentalists fret that Serna’s election will cement the developers’ influence on the board. But Serna, who has a degree in urban planning, insists he’s not a developer stooge.

“I think I did a good job as a consultant. But my new job is really something different. I’ve got a new client, and that’s the public.”

He said wants to get the development community to give more. “I think we could look at the developer community as more of a resource and ask them to contribute where it’s needed most, in places like Del Paso Heights, Oak Park and other older established areas that need a lot of attention.”

For example, Serna says, in exchange for permission to develop, builders could be required to send their contractors to come and fix up houses in older, established areas.

Serna also says he wants to take a harder look at redevelopment policies, and possibly require redevelopment projects to provide jobs to people who live in the redevelopment area. “For too long, redevelopment has focused on just the physical, the streetscapes and the buildings, but not so much the socioeconomic part of it.”

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Serna’s raised more than $100,000, including $1,000 checks from Elliot Homes, the California Real Estate Political Action Committee, the Sacramento Metro Chamber, downtown rail-yards developers Thomas Enterprises and the Stonewall Democratic Club. Weber has raised about $4,500 in much smaller amounts.

Everybody loves Jimmie

Board of Supervisors, District 2

No contest here. Jimmie Yee is running for re-election to the board of supervisors, after one term on the county board and four terms on the Sacramento City Council (including a stint as mayor after Joe Serna’s death).

Raymond Kemp is a county employee in the Child Protective Services department, who says he could better negotiate with public-employee unions on the county budget deficit. “As a county employee, I feel like transparency has been nonexistent. If they had a better relationship with the county unions, they could do a better job of closing that budget gap.”

Also nonexistent, Kemp’s chances in this contest. Sacramento will probably never kick Jimmie Yee out of office. He’s just too darn affable.

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Kemp has kicked in $500 to his campaign. Yee has raised about $65,000, almost all in amounts smaller than $1,000. The largest single contributor was the Auburn Manor Holding Company, which gave $1,000. With no serious opposition in several years, Yee has made a habit of giving his campaign cash away. He gave Loaves & Fishes $1,000; $1,150 to get Kevin Johnson elected mayor in 2008; and he’s made donations to the Optimist Club, the Asian Sports Foundation and the Stonewall Democrats, among other causes.

Nottoli not worried

Board of Supervisors District 5

This is another basically noncompetitive race. Incumbent Don Nottoli has one challenger, Wilton resident Lovie Kirkland. She is another county employee, ironically, a clerk for the county board of supervisors. Kirkland presents herself as a conservative, and has the endorsement of the Sacramento County Republican Party.

In response to an SN&R question at a League of Women Voters candidate forum, she said the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill 32, should be suspended. “I think we need a more hands-off government.” But Kirkland also says on her website that she wants to “protect the county’s mixed income housing ordinance in order for District 5 to have affordable housing for the working class and their families.” A little eclectic, yes. But not getting much attention from the voters.

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Kirkland has yet to report any campaign contributions. Nottoli has about $40,000 to fend her off. Again, these came in mostly small donations, including $250 from the Rental Housing Association and $249 from developer lawyer Greg Thatch. Lots of Nottoli’s contributors list themselves as “farmer,” including the $500 check from Mundell Land and Livestock.

Taking the 5th

State Assembly District 5

Roger Niello is termed out of his Assembly seat, which represents a swath of territory from north Natomas clear across the county to Folsom.

The front-runner for the Republican nomination is Andrew Pugno, a longtime Republican operative, who in 2000 helped to pass Proposition 22, which forbade the state from recognizing same-sex marriages; and in 2008 helped pass Proposition 8, which again stripped gays and lesbians of marriage equality.

Pugno is so repugnant to some on the left that his nomination might bring in lots of money from outside the district, and even outside the state. In fact, the gay Democratic club Stonewall Democrats of Sacramento—the largest Stonewall chapter in the country—is already raising money for an independent expenditure committee to help knock Pugno out in November.

“I think it’s something you’ve got to look at,” says Craig DeLuz, the Robla school board member and Capitol staffer hoping to upset Pugno and win the GOP nomination.

DeLuz was also a supporter of Prop. 8; he volunteered his time to help get it passed. He’s in favor of a ballot measure to suspend A.B. 32, the state’s anti-global-warming law, saying the law “gave unprecedented power to an unelected body to traumatize the state economy.”

In fact, DeLuz is probably every bit as conservative as Pugno, but many observers told SN&R that the GOP could lose the seat the first time in more than 30 years if Pugno is nominated. His main rival DeLuz will never catch up in the money race.

“Prop. 8 gave him access to a huge database and group of supporters. And he’s used that database masterfully,” DeLuz lamented.

On the Democratic side are San Juan school board member Larry Miles and physician Richard Pan. Pan got an endorsement from the Bee, the California Labor Federation, California Faculty Association and California Nurses Association and a big chunk of the California Assembly’s Democratic Caucus.

Miles touts his two decades living in the district and his two terms on the San Juan school board. He’s also got some impressive endorsements, including the California Federation of Teachers, the Sacramento City Teachers Association and a long list of local elected officials.

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The latest reports at the secretary of state’s office show Pugno has raised more than $300,000. About $100,000 is from Pugno’s own personal wealth.

DeLuz has yet to report any campaign contributions.

For the Dems, Pan has nearly $200,000 in the bank. He received $7,800 each from the California Medical Association; the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees union; the California Dental Political Action Committee; and the Los Angeles County Medical Association.

In addition to that, the California Medical Association has created an independent expenditure committee which has already spent more than $50,000 on Pan’s behalf.

Miles, by contrast, had just $74,000 in the bank at the end of the last reporting period. Maximum contributions of $7,800 came from the California Federation of Teachers, North Bay Auto Auction, the California State Council of Laborers and the Northern California District Council of Laborers.

Capitol insider Chris Garland (left) is making his first run for office in the 9th Assembly District. He hopes to upset veteran pols Lauren Hammond, Kevin McCarty and Roger Dickinson.

Illustration by Paul Hoppe

Out in left field

State Assembly District 9

The Democratic primary in this area, which more or less covers the city of Sacramento, is something of an all-stars game of local politics. Several well-known Democrats are going at it for the nomination.

The vet and nominal front-runner is Roger Dickinson, a four-term county supervisor. (Right on his heels is Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty.) Dickinson’s run for this seat twice before, and was beaten twice by candidates to his political left. He is now casting himself as “the progressive voice on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors,” which might not be saying all that much. He’s widely regarded as the smartest guy on the board, or in most any room, for that matter. He has developed a deep expertise in land use and public transportation that would likely serve him well in the Assembly.

McCarty recently distinguished himself on the council by taking an oppositional stance to Mayor Kevin Johnson’s plans to pass a “strong mayor” initiative, and to push through a Nestlé water-bottling plant in McCarty’s district without building permits.

He points to laws he got passed by the city council placing tougher rules on reporting stolen guns and making it harder for felons to illegally buy ammunition.

McCarty’s top legislative priorities would include early childhood education and expanding access to preschool. “Study after study shows that the best investment you can make is in early education.” McCarty also said the budget would be on top of his priority list. He’d look at corporate tax loopholes and the use of business enterprise zones as possible areas for reform.

Lauren Hammond is making her second run for the Assembly seat. She acknowledged that the field is crowded with progressive Democrats, but said she has a record of solving problems.

For example, Hammond helped bring the Sacramento firefighters back to the bargaining table last summer, where they eventually agreed to give up raises and helped the city close a $30 million budget deficit. She also helped broker a tentative compromise in a bitter dispute between developer Paul Petrovich and the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association over a controversial large-scale development on the Curtis Park rail yards in her district.

“We all probably share the same core Democratic values with the voters of this district. But what the voters want is someone who can find solutions,” Hammond tells SN&R.

The newcomer, sort of, is political strategist Chris Garland. Garland told SN&R that he’s different from the rest of the pack because he’s never been an elected official. “My three opponents have been part of the problem. I haven’t been part of the problem.”

Still, Garland is hardly an outsider. He’s currently on leave from his job as political director for the California Faculty Association. Before that, he worked for Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez.

He notes that 60 percent of the district falls outside of the area represented by Dickinson, Hammond and McCarty. Second, people are mad at all levels of government, even local government, which is normally viewed pretty favorably in opinion polls. “Those votes are up for grabs,” he tells SN&R.

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The California Faculty Association has set up an independent expenditure committee on Garland’s behalf, and has already parked $200,000 in that fund. With $60,000 in his own bank account, the unknown candidate could seriously play havoc with the field. And since this is a partisan primary, it would technically be possible for any candidate to win with a little more than 25 percent of the vote.

McCarty has about $220,000 in the bank right now. His biggest contributors include the Western States Council of Sheet Metal Workers, which gave $7,800, as did the California State Association of Electrical Workers. The California State Pipe Trades Council gave $7,900, according to the California secretary of state.

Dickinson is similarly well-positioned, with $232,000 in the bank. His biggest benefactors include the California State Council of Service Employees, which gave $7,800; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 340 ($3,900); and another $3,900 from the United Food and Commercial Workers. Dickinson also contributed $10,000 of his own money to the campaign.

Hammond is losing the money race so far, with just $50,000 in the bank. Her biggest contributors include the Sacramento Police Officers Association ($5,000), the Gold Coast Development Company ($2,500) and herself ($15,000).

This story has been correct from its original print version.