Fake it ’til you make it

Joe Serna Jr.

Joe Serna Jr.

This week, a poll by The Sacramento Bee puts Kevin Johnson eight points ahead of incumbent Mayor Heather Fargo going into Tuesday’s election. Interesting, but Bites thinks that may be greatly exaggerating Fargo’s prospects.

Consider these numbers: Back in June, Fargo’s campaign manager Richie Ross had seven clients running for the state Legislature; five of them lost. Ross does great when he’s got a strong horse and no competition. His success with Sen. Darrell Steinberg is a great example. Then there are Ross’ losers, like Sen. Carole Migden and Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. Better candidates than Fargo have recently fallen to Ross’ reverse Midas touch.

Ross lost it for Fargo when he let Johnson frame this mayor’s race around what is essentially a fake issue—Sacramento’s exploding crime problem.

In fact, just a few minutes with the numbers shows that crime was no worse during Fargo’s tenure than it was during that of her late predecessor, Joe Serna Jr.

You remember Joe Serna, right? Kevin Johnson does, he evokes the man at every opportunity—reminding voters of a happier time when men—sorry, make that when “strong leaders"—ran the show.

Despite having a penis, Serna was no better at crime fighting than Fargo. In some ways he was worse.

In 2006, the robbery rate in Sacramento was 4.75 robberies per 1,000 people. That was the worst it ever got while Fargo has been mayor. In 1996, in the middle of Joe Serna’s administration, the robbery rate was 4.94 per 1,000.

It turns out 2006 was a pretty bad year for Fargo as far as crime goes. There were 57 murders that year; the murder rate was 1.2 per 10,000 residents. But in 1999, there were 54 murders on Serna’s watch—a murder rate of 1.3 per 10,000 residents. (Remember, the city population was smaller back then.)

Aggravated assaults did see an unusual spike during Fargo’s second term. At their worst in 2005, there were 6.76 such crimes per 1,000 residents. They never got worse than 4.33 per 1,000 during the Serna years. But the crimes that affect the most people, burglaries, larceny and theft, were way down—both as a per capita measurement and in absolute numbers—from the Serna years. In other words, the crime numbers are all over the place.

In fact, some of the lowest crime rates in recent history came right after Serna passed away—while Jimmy Yee was filling in as interim mayor and the city was basically rudderless. How’s that for random?

Of course, none of this actually helps Fargo. Unlike Johnson, she and Richie Ross don’t seem to know how to talk about crime to voters.

“She’s fallen into this trap. Because she’s sort of a technocrat, she tries to explain what’s actually going on. Voters don’t want to hear that, they want to hear ‘I’m going to stop crime,'” says Kevin Wehr, a sociology professor at Sacramento State. He added that crime is “a classic challenger’s issue.”

Political consultant Doug Elmets agrees. “If you’re the incumbent, you can’t just sit there and say everything’s fine. Things are never fine,” Elmets said. “There’s always crime.”

In order to fight this pretend crime wave, Johnson wants to plow more and more millions into the police and fire departments—arguing that 70 percent of the city’s discretionary budget just isn’t enough.

When his political opponents point out, rightly, that Johnson’s cops-über-alles budget would likely mean slashing other departments, like Parks and Recreation, to the bone, Johnson tries to trivialize those other services as mere luxuries.

“If it comes down to picking up leaves one less day, the citizens of Sacramento are willing to make that sacrifice,” he insisted in one campaign statement. It’s a good line. But like a lot of things Johnson says ("No charges were ever assessed towards me,” “Merely administrative mistakes,” “Vote for me. I’m just like Obama"), it makes a lot less sense once your brain kicks in.

Kerchunk! How many days a week do leaves actually get picked up? That’s right, just the one. And where does the money to pay for leaf pickup actually come from? We pay it with our utility bills—it has nothing to do with the general fund. So eliminating leaf pickup wouldn’t free up one more dime for cops.

Does Johnson know that? Maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe he’s just faking it.