Longshot mayoral hopeful Russell Rawlings pushes issues that matter to Sacramento’s disenfranchised
‘Most people are less than one paycheck away from being on the streets, and it’s a really scary reality’
Russell Rawlings jokes that he spent most of his life prior to running for mayor simply learning how to live. The 38-year-old Sacramento State student has the use of just one hand due to cerebral palsy, and he needs a motorized wheelchair to get around. But Rawlings says he will fight more for the rights of poor and disenfranchised people than any other candidate in the mayor’s race.
“Most people are less than one paycheck away from being on the streets, and it’s a really scary reality,” Rawlings said.
“He’s not a politician,” his caregiver Kim Fuller told SN&R. “There are a lot of people who are interested in a candidate that’s not a politician.” It’s true that Rawlings is foremost an activist: a veteran of the Occupy movement and also head of DOGFITE, a group that lobbies for disability rights.
With little in his campaign coffers and facing very long odds running against Darrell Steinberg and Angelique Ashby, Rawlings looks to foster discussion about a variety of progressive ideals, such as having the Sacramento Police Department hire more from the LGBT and minority communities.
“It’s well-known that the hiring practices of the police department don’t truly represent the communities that they’re serving,” Rawlings said. “So we need someone who’s going to be a champion for changing that.”
Similarly, Rawlings would like City Hall to follow through with its ethics commission, and one with legal enforcement power to hold public figures accountable. “There’s a lot of distrust,” he said. “People feel like they don’t have a voice. And I think empowering people is going to be a big key component” to getting votes in June. Specifically, he said the pathway to empowerment includes more affordable housing and less gentrification.
Public transit is a major issue for Rawlings as a candidate. But it also impacts him personally, since he can’t drive. He wants Regional Transit rail and buses to be more accessible for everyone.
For instance, there was a mayoral forum recently at KVIE, whose headquarters is more than an hour by RT’s Paratransit service from Rawlings’ Oak Park home. So Rawlings needed a $40 ride in a specially equipped taxi just to make it to the debate.
Rawlings is modeling his campaign in part after U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who bills himself as a democratic socialist. “It’s not about me as a person,” Rawlings said. “It’s about us as a community, and I think that’s a great message.”
Lack of money, both personally and in the form of public campaign financing, makes running a challenge, however. “I don’t have financial resources to donate to the campaign. … I don’t really have any kind of dedicated staff at the moment. However, I intend to push these issues out into the forefront, and I honestly hope to inspire others to come to the table.”
It’s working: At the end of the KVIE mayoral forum last month, audience member Alex Hilke approached Rawlings about getting involved with DOGFITE and volunteering on his campaign.
“It was like a West Wing moment,” Hilke told SN&R. “I just kind of sat there, and I’m like, ’This guy’s actually making sense. He’s talking about it in an astute way, where he understands the issues more than most people up there.’ I thought at times he outperformed even Steinberg.”