The hunger

Bill Durston.

Bill Durston.

Last week, Bites was talking to a neighborhood activist who neatly summed up Sacramento’s mayoral race this way: “People are hungry for change. They are so hungry for change that they’ll eat anything.”

Which makes about as much sense as anything else Bites has heard to explain Kevin Johnson‘s likely win in November. Unfortunately, some of his policy ideas are pretty unappetizing.

For example, he’s called for a full 60 percent of the city budget to be spent on cops and firefighters—up dramatically from the 53 percent public safety commands now.

That would of course mean deep cuts to other departments—the ones that provide after-school programs, clean up graffiti, fix sidewalks and yes, even keep tabs on the city’s old trees so they don’t fall and kill people.

“Basically what it means is that he’d need to come up with five votes for closing down parks or for closing down libraries,” added Councilman Rob Fong, who’s supporting Heather Fargo this go-round.

Which points out the bigger problem: Mayor Johnson won’t have nearly the political juice that candidate Johnson thinks he will.

Consider this excerpt from Johnson’s public-safety platform: “As the Mayor and leader of this city, one of my primary responsibilities will be ensuring the safety and security of our citizens. … And it will be a priority in my administration.”

Where Johnson says “my administration,” read “my four-year term as a glorified city council member serving on a legislative body where most of my colleagues don’t support me and some flat out undermine me because they think I’m a goober.”

Johnson’s track record—beginning with the takeover of Sacramento High School and culminating in already nasty divisions on the Sacramento City Council—is hardly that of a uniter.

And as Bites last counted, three council members were supporting Johnson’s candidacy: Robbie Waters, Sandy Sheedy and Steve Cohn. Backing Fargo were Rob Fong, Kevin McCarty, Ray Tretheway, Lauren Hammond and Bonnie Pannell. Many of that second group have been openly derisive of Johnson’s public-safety plan and other policy positions. It’ll be interesting to see who’s really calling the shots in a future Johnson “administration.”

Just how hungry for change are voters? Hungry enough that Bites almost believes Democrat Bill Durston can beat incumbent Republican Dan Lungren in the 3rd Congressional District.

The district stretches from Alpine County on the Nevada border, takes in Amador and Calaveras counties, Folsom and Citrus Heights, then jogs left to though Elk Grove and into the Sacramento Delta before whipsawing north again to swallow parts of Solano County. It’s shaped that way for one reason—to be a safe seat for Republicans.

But Durston, an emergency-room doctor and a consistent critic of the war in Iraq, has been giving Lungren hell in his second try at the seat. Now, a poll conducted last week by the firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates (and paid for, it ought to be said, by the Durston campaign) puts Durston’s support at 30 percent, to Lungren’s 33 percent—which is statistically a dead heat.

Lungren’s campaign has naturally dismissed the poll—saying that their own internal polling shows Lungren with a double-digit lead over Dr. Durston.

But perhaps more statistically significant is the fact Democrats have been eating away at the Republican advantage in the 3rd District. In the spring, the GOP only had a five-point advantage; at the time, The Sacramento Bee called it the “slimmest registration edge of any Republican-held congressional district in the state.” And Bites hears that voter registration among Democrats is still surging. People are so hungry for change, they’ll eat anything. Even the safest of safe seats.