The ground game

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When Bites heard that Richie Ross would be running the campaign to stop the strong-mayor initiative, Bites thought, “Why not just coronate Kevin Johnson now?”

Ross got creamed running Heather Fargo’s campaign for mayor, in the media, in the debates and on the ground. Christopher Cabaldon’s campaign for state Assembly was Ross’ to lose, and darned if Ross didn’t lose it. The list goes on.

So Bites started calling around and asking, “Why Richie Ross?” Bites even called Richie Ross to ask, “Why Richie Ross?” though that call went unreturned.

Well, apparently Bites wasn’t the only one asking that question, because last week, word came that Ross is out and political consultant Phil Giarrizzo is in, hired by the building trade unions and the Sacramento County Democratic Party to stop the measure.

Giarrizzo is said to bring a real “ground campaign” to the contest. After all, he ran the field operation for the unions that torpedoed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special-election package back in 2005.

So Bites called up Giarrizzo and asked, “OK, how do you plan to beat this thing?”

“Oh, is it Wednesday?” Giarrizzo replied. “Because Wednesday is the day I give away all my secrets.”

Bites persisted. What about the ground game? Will there be sprinting from door to door, à la K.J.? Phone banks? Die-ins at City Hall?

“Right now, I’m not so focused on the ground campaign as I am on the discussion that needs to occur,” Giarrizzo told Bites. “There has to be a real discourse in the community about what the measure does and what it doesn’t do, and whether it’s necessary.”

Huh? Discussion and discourse? What about clobbering people?

Fargo tried the smarty-pants stuff and lost. Likewise, Johnson has a very good chance of winning this one by using the exact same script he used last time: Vote for K.J. and he’ll put more cops on the street. Vote for K.J. and he’ll put more cops on the street.

Repeat as often and as loudly as necessary.

“My response to that is, why can’t he put more police on the street now?” asked Giarrizzo. “The real issue is, where are you going to get the money?”

See? That must be some of that discourse Giarrizzo is talking about.

Speaking of cops, Giarrizzo does know a little something about them. Last year, he ran the independent campaign waged by the Sacramento Police Officers Association and the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association—for the election of Kevin Johnson.

“I support Kevin Johnson, I support his leadership and I want him to be a successful mayor,” Giarrizzo explained. He just thinks the strong-mayor plan is a really bad idea with a really bad process behind it.

True, he’s also getting paid pretty well to try and kill it. But he points out that most other big California cities have been much more deliberative about changing their city charters.

“In L.A. they went through months and months of discussions,” Giarrizzo explained. They gave the mayor some executive powers, true. But they also came up with term limits, an ethics commission and campaign-finance reform.

They also instituted a system of neighborhood councils and a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment—so that political power would be spread more broadly, and not just concentrated at the top. Being a democrat—instead of a Democrat—that sounds about right.

All of which, Bites supposes, could be part of the “more intense and more insightful” discussion about charter reform that Giarrizzo says he wants to make happen. Bites is looking forward to that. If it happens.