With a strong field in District 4, the winner will be anyone’s guess.
Votes are already coming back in the mail for Sacramento City Council races. In District 4 (covering Land Park, Midtown, downtown and River Oaks), Rob Fong has decided not to run again, and there’s a crowded field of would-be successors. An architect, a couple of attorneys and a state Assembly staffer lead the pack. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in voting on June 5, then the top two vote-getters will go to a runoff election in November. With seven candidates in the running, it’s a good guess there will a runoff. But it’s a lot tougher to guess which two will make the cut.
Getting down with business
Phyllis Newton figures this story will be a hit piece. After all, “I’ve heard it all, that I’m a right-wing Republican. That I was recruited by the mayor to run for council.”
Yes, we’ve heard all that, too. And? “Actually, I’ve been a registered Democrat for 38 years.” As for being the mayor’s candidate, Newton says, “It’s a myth.”
Newton has made her living as an attorney to architects—at one time that included architect Joe Yee, one of her opponents in the race. She boasts time served on several city advisory boards and commissions, and more recently has joined Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief, traveling to Haiti to rebuild schools destroyed in the devastating earthquakes there.
“I think we probably have a very similar vision for the city,” says Newton of Mayor Kevin Johnson. But she says, “I’m a genuine person. I’m not a puppet or a mouthpiece for anyone.”
In fact, Newton says she’s had just one meeting with the mayor, “And he didn’t ask me any political questions.”
Had he asked, he would have learned that Newton did indeed support putting Johnson’s strong-mayor measure on the ballot—which a majority of the city council rejected earlier this year.
She says the council’s refusal to advance one of the mayor’s signature initiatives reflects the “factionalization” in City Hall. This has been a common talking point for all the business-backed candidates for city council this year (see “North by northeast,” SN&R Feature Story, May 10).
Newton’s got the endorsement of The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, Region Builders and Sacramento Restaurant Association.
She’s got the most money of all the candidates in the race—more than $120,000 raised by the last reporting period in March. A good chunk of that is $50,000 she loaned herself, but it also includes large donations from local developers and real-estate groups.
Like many candidates, she says Sacramento has to “grow our way out” of its financial troubles, and says Sacramento needs a “cultural change” to be more business friendly.
As for the city’s immediate budget shortfall—$16 million this year—Newton says she thinks there are “still efficiencies to be realized” in some city services, like garbage collection and parking, and in consolidating some services with county government.
She also won the support of the Sacrametno Area Firefighters Local 522. When asked if she supports the city manager’s recent proposal to make police and fire pay a much bigger share of their own retirement, she hedged, noting that the firefighters have already made concessions on their retirement.
Democracy and the claw
Terry Schanz is an entirely different political animal from Newton. He’s been endorsed by the Sacramento Central Labor Council, the Sacramento City Teachers Association and several of the city’s Democratic Clubs, including the Sacramento Young Democrats and Women Democrats.
The 33-year-old Schanz grew up in District 4, went to C.K. McClatchy High School before heading off to UC San Diego for a political-science degree and post-graduate work in Cape Town, South Africa.
Most of his political experience has orbited around the Sacramento state house, rather than City Hall. He worked for Bob Matsui, and currently serves as policy director for Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton).
Schanz dismisses all the hand-wringing over recent disagreements on the council. “I reject the idea that because people disagree with somebody’s agenda, then democracy is somehow broken.”
Schanz also rejects Mayor Johnson’s bid for greater power, and says he’s against the creation of an elected charter commission to review and possibly recommend government reforms.
“I opposed the first, second and third strong-mayor proposals. Sacramento faces a fiscal crisis, not a governance crisis. Changing the city charter is not going to change the fact that there’s more money going out than there is money coming in.”
Schanz is fourth in the money race, and The Sacramento Bee recently named Yee, Hansen and Newton the “top three” candidates likely to make a runoff. But with his list of endorsements and a lot of hustle, Schanz says “I think I’m as competitive as any candidate out there.”
Schanz was an early skeptic of the failed arena proposal, saying, “It was just a bad deal.” He suggests greater focus at the Westfield Downtown Plaza, which has become “a shell” in our downtown. “Instead of building two entertainment zones, let’s look at all our options. We’ve torn down and rebuilt Downtown Plaza before. You could really build a great entertainment complex there,” Schanz says.
Asked how Sacramento can grow its economy, he notes one of Sacramento’s particular assets: aging baby boomers, retiring from government jobs.
“These are folks who have insurance and need a lot of services. Let’s make Sacramento a regional center for health care.”
More than the arena and jobs and politics, Schanz says, “The No. 1 thing voters ask me about is ‘the claw,’” referring to the city’s recent decision to stop allowing residents to pile their yard clippings in the street.
“A lot of stuff grows in this city,” and residents worry about having to cram all their yard waste in those green bins. The concerns about the claw, he says, are a “solvable problem,” but go to show, “at the end of the day, city government is about the things you can see when you walk out the door in the morning.”
Back from the drawing board
Architect Joe Yee is laid back and self-effacing. Asked what surprises him most about the running for office, he says, “I’ve been surprised by the volunteers; how much people are willing to do to support the campaign.” He says his biggest worry is “letting people down.”
In his professional life, he’s focused on public projects like schools and libraries, and his firm helped with the renovation of the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. He’s spent 14 years on the city’s planning commission, helping guide the city’s development. And he thinks his experience makes him the best candidate to tackle the issues affecting District 4—whether it’s an arena proposal, or consideration of a new Broadway bridge, or the redevelopment of downtown.
“My understanding of the development of Sacramento is important. Understanding how we got here is important,” Yee says.
Where Newton has the backing of the business establishment, Joe Yee is the pick of Sacramento’s political establishment.
He’s actually hoping to return to the District 4 council seat. He was appointed to the council for several months in 2000, after Mayor Joe Serna died and Jimmy Yee (no relation) was appointed to serve out his term, leaving an empty seat on the council.
Yee has the endorsement of the Sacramento County Democratic Party and several local electeds including Sacramento council members Darrell Fong, Kevin McCarty and Sandy Sheedy. Yee also enjoys some heavy labor support, like the Plumbers and Pipefitters, the city employees union Local 39, and the Sacramento Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council.
Even when the arena deal was being celebrated in the local press, Yee was skeptical, saying he thought it was unlikely the project could clear its environmental review and other hurdles in time for a 2015 Kings season-opener.
Yee supports asking the police and fire unions to pick up a greater share of their pension costs. “It’s not disrespecting public safety. It’s not devaluing them. But it’s got to be a fair and sustainable system.”
Geeking out on government
One of a handful of candidates who have raised no money or built a campaign organization, Neil Davidson says up front that his campaign was a bit “last-minute.”
The 35-year-old homeowner and county employee—he’s an information-technology analyst—says he jumped in because he was frustrated with the city’s rate hikes to upgrade its sewer system.
“We’ve known about this for a long time, but the city never put any money aside. What I want most out of government is stability,” Davidson told SN&R, explaining that the city needs to do a better job of planning ahead for its infrastructure needs. His experience as a computer programmer and data-phile might help.
“I’m not really much of a partisan. I want a council member who is really into it technically,” Davidson says.
While boosters of a downtown arena say we’re missing the opportunity to book colossal corporate rock acts, Davidson says the city ought to think smaller. What Sacramento is really missing are good mid-sized venues to attract touring bands and other shows.
“Even if I don’t win this, it is something I think we need to do,” he explains.
Representing the grid
If District 4 was on Facebook, Steve Hansen would win going away. He’s got about 10 times as many likes on Facebook as his nearest council competitor.
Does that translate into votes? Maybe not, but he has raised about $50,000 online, and at the last reporting he’s right behind Newton in campaign money.
“My independence comes from the fact that I don’t rely on the old way of doing things,” Hansen told SN&R.
Hansen locked up early endorsements from the Sacramento Police Officers Association, and the Stonewall Democratic Club of Sacramento (he’s openly gay, as is Schanz).
But the other candidates have divided up the bulk of the usual endorsers. That could be a good thing.
“Both of my opponents come from the construction industry,” says Hansen referring to Newton and Yee. “I’m independent of business, I’m independent of the political machine.”
But hardly unconnected. Hansen works as a government affairs manager at Genentech—though technically he’s not a registered lobbyist; the lobbyists report to him.
If elected, he says he will donate his annual city council salary (just a little more than $60,000) to seed an “innovation fund” to leverage other funds toward worthy initiatives in tech or the arts.
He was a lobbyist for Equality California. He’s on the board of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, and served on the Sacramento Citizens Redistricting Advisory Committee—not without some controversy (see “Sacramento redistricting map scrap,” SN&R Frontlines; August, 4, 2011).
Despite winning the cops’ endorsement, Hansen says he doesn’t support Mayor Johnson’s strong-mayor proposal, and makes somewhat supportive noises when it comes to asking public safety to pay more for their retirement.
“Everyone should pay their fair share, but the collective-bargaining process is our mechanism for doing it,” he told SN&R.
Hansen lives in Alkali Flat, and notes there hasn’t been a candidate from the central city in decades. Neither has there been openly gay council member.
It was Hansen that pollsters working for Phyllis Newton were referring to when they asked voters how they felt about a “candidate who is a leader in the gay-rights movement.”
Hansen has complained about Newton’s poll, saying the question was stirring up prejudice. Newton says her campaign was just “testing profiles” and that the polls asked about lots of other attributes—such as whether a candidate is a woman, or lives in Midtown, is supported by labor, or is an architect.
There’s clearly some animosity between Newton and Hansen, and though they’ve mostly kept a lid on it, it could make for a nasty run-off campaign.