The other guy: Who is Sacramento County supervisor candidate Jrmar Jefferson?

And should we take his campaign seriously?

One-time reality TV contestant Jrmar Jefferson poses beside his campaign poster inside a south Sacramento restaurant. Despite being heavily outspent, Jefferson believes he can win next month’s election to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors’ second district.

One-time reality TV contestant Jrmar Jefferson poses beside his campaign poster inside a south Sacramento restaurant. Despite being heavily outspent, Jefferson believes he can win next month’s election to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors’ second district.

photo by raheem f. Hosseini

It’s a steamy afternoon at a south Sacramento Panda Express, subbing in as campaign headquarters for an unlikely political aspirant.

Styrofoam boxes slopped with noodles have been shoved aside to make room for a laptop, an oversized calculator and bundles of mocked-up campaign materials that Jrmar Jefferson can’t afford to produce. The new father recently spent his own limited funds printing up 1,000 fliers and posters, then crisscrossed the county’s second district—bordered on the west by the Sacramento River and encompassing Pocket, Greenhaven, Valley Hi and Vineyard neighborhoods—to get his glossy face out there.

Maybe you’ve seen the glamour-shot images of Jefferson, dressed in a fitted blazer and staring out assuredly—some say cockily—beside a message that bears his name and asks for your vote.

That old saying about politics being show business for ugly people? Jefferson lasers a rebuttal: “Well that’s changing right there,” he says, then laughs. “That’s why a few people say I’m flashy.”

Those who have heard of him, anyway.

A last-minute addition to next month’s Sacramento County Board of Supervisors race, Jefferson is used to coming up short when the votes are tallied. The unemployed entertainer’s previous claim to fame is as a one-and-done contestant on reality shows varying from American Idol to America’s Got Talent. Local political soothsayers don’t think much of his chances against school board president Patrick Kennedy, who’s eyeing a stress-free ascension to Supervisor Jimmie Yee’s vacated seat. Kennedy boasts name recognition, wads of donor cash and endorsements.

Jefferson hasn’t even raised enough money for the county to require financial disclosures.

So why is the 33-year-old political neophyte so confident? “The power is nothing but fog,” Jefferson insists.

Jefferson took a circuitous path to running for county supervisor. Initially, he pulled papers for Sacramento City Council’s District 7 race, and urged his fiancée to run.

When she decided not to, Jefferson considered jumping into that race himself, but didn’t want to dilute the vote from two strong black candidates. “If you know numbers, you don’t run in a race where everybody’s on your same team, if you know what I mean,” he says.

Jefferson flirted with running for a Sacramento Municipal Utility District seat, then someone told him about the board of supervisors, with its broad land-use authority in the unincorporated county and budgetary control over the sheriff’s department, district attorney’s office, probation department and various health and human services agencies, among others.

“I said, ’Oh my goodness, I never knew about this.’ I thought the mayor was it. The mayor’s not,” he says.

It’d be easy to discount Jefferson for remarks like this. He may be unpolished and new to Sacramento’s political hierarchy, but he’s also quick-witted and a fast study. And he rejects the notion that being a county supervisor is only for the elite. “This ain’t nuclear fusion,” he says. “It’s addition and subtraction.”

And Jefferson knows from arithmetic, pulling numbers out of his head about how many registered voters live in the district, how many voted in the last supervisor race and how many votes he believes he needs to win: 30,000.

Voter awareness typically cools for county races, and in an off year, anything can happen. Kennedy says he’s treating this like any other campaign, even with his opponent’s light résumé. “Running for county supervisor with such little experience in [public service] is a little unusual, to say the least,” he says.“But that’s democracy.”

Though Jefferson says Kennedy’s role in closing seven Sacramento city schools last year contributed to his getting into the race, it wasn’t the overriding factor. “What sealed the deal for me was numbers,” he says.

One of 10 children raised by a single mother in Texas, Jefferson only knew his father as a man behind iron bars.

Jefferson’s dad is Delma Banks Jr., who was accused of putting three bullets into a white 16-year-old near Texarkana before stealing the youth’s car. An all-white jury convicted Banks in the 1980 killing based on the accounts of two lead witnesses who later recanted their testimonies, following revelations that they were paid and coached by law enforcement. The U.S. Supreme Court determined there was enough prosecutorial misconduct at work to overturn Banks’ death sentence in 2004, but the Bowie County district attorney’s office decided to retry the case and again seek death. Over his family’s objections, Banks accepted an offered life sentence during the 2012 retrial.

That kind of gripping backstory has made Jefferson great fodder for the reality TV circuit. But it’s also informed his view of the criminal-justice system. “My father, he’s a moneymaking machine for somebody,” he says.

Jefferson is definitely the only local political candidate suggesting a 50 percent reduction in law-enforcement budgets. He wants to take money out of the jails and invest it in public education and vocational programs, though he acknowledges the board doesn’t have discretion over school funding.

“We need to attack poverty,” he says. “That’s the brick that’s crushing everything.”

Jefferson has talked to a representative of Todd Leras’ district attorney campaign and plans on reaching out to the other two candidates. But his access to the powers that be has been limited. All of his endorsements have come from regular people, which he’s mostly happy about.

During the course of a 90-minute interview, the animated candidate chats up a 50ish black man just off work, a 40ish Latina woman waiting in line and a 60ish Asian woman sitting down to an early dinner. This is the diverse community Jefferson says his opponent ignores and part of the first-timer’s overall strategy.

“I’m doing something that nobody’s expecting,” Jefferson says. “Kennedy’s not coming past the 5, you understand? He’s not coming past the 5. I am. I’m putting those [signs] up.”

Later today, he’ll loop his “campaign mobile” down Pocket Road to Franklin Boulevard and then up to Fruitridge Road to make sure his signs are still up. (He suspects Kennedy supporters of mucking with them.)

Over the next 10 days, the one-man campaign plans to hit up all of Kennedy’s donors. “I’m fitting to go ask the same people, ’You need to give me some of that money, too!” he laughs.

He’s given himself a May 20 fundraising goal of $50,000. Until he gets there, he’s keeping a low overhead and employing a guerilla-style approach.

“People are beginning to believe,” Jefferson says. “I got a strategy, which is simple: My last two weeks of the election is when my campaign really begins. Two weeks. That’s it. Everything is just a setup. Ain’t no different than the Super Bowl.”

There are those numbers again.