Nine things that burn in your brain when the mayor sues you

A special Mayor Kevin Johnson listicle

“Dear Hillary, any tips? How do I squeeze my way out of this one?”

“Dear Hillary, any tips? How do I squeeze my way out of this one?”

illustration by brian taylor

This week was at once weird, unexpected, electric and head-scratching. We got sued by the mayor, what the hell is going on? Only a listicle will do. And, so: Nine things that burn in your brain when K.J. sues you.

1. Wait, did we really just get sued by K.J.? Our attorney reassured us that Johnson’s attorneys likely wouldn’t follow through with their threat of litigation. Why would they? Journalists enjoy a legal right to newsgathering, including the request of public records. It’d be supremely dumb for them to sue us. And yet, it happened.

2. Why didn’t the Bee tell the mayor’s lawyer to buzz off? The mayor’s attorney, David Pittinsky, threatened our writer Cosmo Garvin and Marissa Lang, a reporter at The Sacramento Bee. This attorney was clearly harassing these journalists. Garvin, what with his zero-tolerance policy for empty threats and white-collar intimidation, ultimately ignored Pittinsky. But Lang sort of acquiesced to Pittinsky’s demand, even writing the polite, “Let me know if there’s anything else you need from my end” on her email communique. (In her defense, Pittinsky then totally mischaracterized what she’d agreed to as part of the final lawsuit.) Still, why didn’t the Bee tell K.J.’s lawyer to go burn some popcorn? Their decision is symptomatic of Scoopy’s soft spot when it comes to the mayor, and the Bee’s post-lawsuit coverage of the email shenanigans clearly suggests embarrassment at The Hive. (Read Rachel Leibrock’s essay on page 21.)

3. Someone in K.J.’s office actually gave this the thumbs-up? I keep imagining this scene as a Woody Allen film:

K.J. (in mayoral library reading Nietzsche): “I’m sick of that pesky Cosmo Garvin digging in my emails. Have my attorneys do something about it.”

Staffer (polishing mayoral bust): “Sir, yes sir.”

(Staffer calls attorney.)

Staffer: “Do something about these damn hacks snooping in our emails.”

Lawyer (sipping espresso with pinky pointed toward the sky): “I have the perrrfect solution.”

In all seriousness, there’s clearly information in these emails that will impact the various National Conference of Black Mayors lawsuits. Ironically, suing SN&R makes it even more likely that those messages will see daylight.

4. Nobody seemed to care about K.J.’s private Gmails months ago when Cosmo Garvin was writing about it. What changed? This paper’s been banging the drum about the mayor using secret Gmail accounts for public work for months. We served it up on a silver platter, comparing Johnson’s email practices to those of Hillary Clinton while Secretary of State (we even commissioned the sweet illustration on this page). Yet not a peep from the Bee editorial board or any other news media outlet. Until K.J. made the mistake of suing us—and now it’s front-page, 5 p.m. news. Nice one, traditional media!

5. K.J. says his national profile is good for Sacramento. But how does a “coup” with a black mayors group benefit the 916? There was a PowerPoint presentation, prepared by city staff and emblazoned with the city of Sacramento official seal, titled “Annual Meeting ’Coup.’” This was prepared for a meeting to brainstorm how Johnson could overtake the National Black Conference of Mayors, an admittedly embattled group with Lehman-esque financial woes. The mayor likes to say that his work across the country raises Sacramento’s profile. But how is shaking down the NCBM, what with a protracted legal battle involving an inordinate amount of staff hours, a good thing for the city?

6. K.J. won’t talk to SN&R any more, so what can I learn from his last interview with us, in 2012? It’s been nearly three years since I met face-to-face with the mayor, in November 2012, just after his re-election. The second term’s four years are nearly up, and you have to wonder if he envisioned this type of attention going into the last year of Act 2. Probably not.

Back then, he said the one thing he hoped to accomplish in these four years was making Sacramento a leader in green tech and environmentalism. “So when you think of Sacramento, it’s the Emerald Valley. It’s ’Man, we lead in green jobs, we lead in green growth, we’re a hub for clean technology.’ This notion that we can transform Sacramento into the Emerald Valley.” Not so much.

Another fun flashback from that ’12 Q-and-A, this time on his vision for the new downtown mall: “It’s got to be outward-facing, it’s got to have connectivity to the grid, to the rest of K Street.

“You can’t have it feel like it’s a fortress.”

Along came a Kings arena …

7. Who the heck upped K.J.’s staff payroll this year? The mayor hides his email on Gmail servers, deletes text messages despite admonition from the city attorney, partakes in coups of national nonprofits and uses city staff for private fundraising. So, what does city council do? They expand his powers, giving him a cool $700,000 to hire more staffers. How does this happen?

8. Damn, I’m going to have to pore over some 500 email logs this month. Awesome? Last Thursday during SN&R’s court appearance, we proposed the creation of what is called a “privilege log.” This document would account for the senders, receivers, time stamps and more for the approximately 100 emails in question. That log is due imminently (except that Johnson’s attorneys are dragging their feet).

About those emails: “Out of an abundance of caution,” the city has now flagged nearly 500 emails as potentially private conversations between K.J. and his attorneys.

Who does the city work for, again? (P.S. There goes my weekend.)

9. Will K.J. run again? Labor Day weekend. It looms. And after Labor Day is when candidates typically begin rolling out their election plans. So, will the mayor run for a third term in 2016?

My Magic 8 Ball says, “Reply hazy, try again later.”

But if I had to place a bet, here’s how I see it playing out: Johnson takes his sweet, sweet time and doesn’t make an announcement until the new year. Council members Angelique Ashby and Steve Hansen are already in the ring. Ashby suspends her campaign. Enter K.J. vs. Hansen, the sequel.

I’ve got a headache just thinking about it.