The pastor in the ointment

After bigger-name challengers never materialized, retired pastor is the only candidate left facing incumbent Supervisor Patrick Kennedy

Ronald Bell, left, has moved from running for Sacramento City Council to challenging Patrick Kennedy, right, for his seat on the county Board of Supervisors.

Ronald Bell, left, has moved from running for Sacramento City Council to challenging Patrick Kennedy, right, for his seat on the county Board of Supervisors.

Raheem F. Hosseini contributed to this report.

When next month’s June primary ballots are counted up, the most powerful political body in Sacramento County will likely be unchanged—unless Ronald Bell has his way.

The retired pastor and frequent political candidate is providing the only intrigue to a drama-free election season for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. Two incumbents face no competition, while a third member of the five-person board, Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, is favored to defeat Bell on his way to a second term representing the Pocket, south Land Park, Hollywood Park, south Sacramento, Valley-Hi and Greenhaven communities in the unincorporated parts of the county.

Indeed, Bell's campaign is as grassroots as it gets. His wife is his campaign manager, his son-in-law is his consultant and his seven sisters make up his team, which is going door-to-door distributing signs.

“It doesn't take all they say it takes to run a campaign,” Bell said. “If you've got a good team, you can make it happen.”

Local politicos give Bell virtually no shot at dethroning Kennedy.

“What race?” said Steve Maviglio, a Sacramento-based Democratic consultant. “There doesn't seem to be any real effort or opposition on behalf of Bell. It's difficult to take out somebody who's all over the place like Patrick.”

Tab Berg, a right-leaning political consultant, agreed.

“In campaigns, you never say never—there's an upset in every cycle—but I just don't see any of those indicators that an upset is in progress,” Berg said.

Kennedy's election four years ago, meanwhile, is responsible for altering the complexion of the board from a center-right political body that killed the county's pioneering inclusionary housing ordinance to a center-left body that will soon determine the fate of the Sheriff's Department's detention contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In the unlikely case of his election, Bell would be the only African-American member of a board that has resisted diversity.

Bell has been counted out before. He ran for Sacramento City Council’s District 8 seat three times—finishing second in each contest. In 1992, Bell lost to Sam Pannell, who died in 1998 and was succeeded by his wife Bonnie. In 2014 and 2016, he finished second behind current Councilman Larry Carr.

Before he was elected supervisor, Kennedy served on Sacramento City Unified's school board from 2008 to 2014, leading the campaign to pass bond measures Q and R. Four years ago, Kennedy defeated Jrmar Jefferson in a landslide, garnering 84 percent of the vote after Jefferson's late entry into the race. Kennedy is running this time on his track record as supervisor.

“We [the board] opened up an urgent care facility, where we allow walk-ins and law enforcement drop-offs, instead of just taking [mentally ill individuals] to an emergency room,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy anticipates a significant improvement in homeless services over what he hopes to be his second term.

“We've increased the options for homeless families and individuals,” Kennedy said. “If you have a dog, there's now somewhere you can go. If you wanna keep your stuff, we've got a place you can go. If you're addicted to drugs and alcohol, we're not going to turn you away.”

Despite his commitment to the less-fortunate, Kennedy's campaign is primarily financed by development interests. Among his top donors are California Real Estate PAC, DeSilva Gates Construction, Silverado Homes and Teichert Inc. Kennedy has raised nearly $31,000, campaign finance disclosures show. Bell estimates he has $14,000, all from his recent retirement as a California DMV supervisor. Bell says he's taken a vow of financial modesty.

“I'm not seeking funding or endorsements from anyone,” Bell said. “I don't want to be beholden to anyone when I'm elected.”

In past races, Bell has campaigned on opportunities for youth. This year, in light of the Parkland shooting and recent gun violence scares in Sacramento-area schools, Bell just wants to ensure schoolchildren make it home for dinner.

“We live in a brave new world now,” Bell said. “The No. 1 concern of parents in the county is if their kids are going to come home from school. Reassuring parents that their little Johnny or Mary are going to make it home from school should be the No. 1 priority of the board.”

Citing the community backlash to the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black father fatally shot by police, Bell also vowed if elected to declare a state of emergency in District 2, particularly in the lower-income areas east of Freeport Boulevard and south of Fruitridge Boulevard.

“The climate in this district is very tense,” Bell said. “A state of emergency would drive funding, social workers, psychologists and physicians into District 2 and highlight all of the issues going on.”

Not that long ago, Bell wasn't the only person rumored to be coveting Kennedy's seat. Two former Sacramento City Council members, Robert Fong and Robbie Waters, reportedly considered running. Waters was listed as a candidate on the county's public portal online, but told SN&R he wasn't running.

Waters has been in the political wilderness since losing his council seat in 2010, which he blamed on a $2 million developer noncollection scandal his son presided over while employed with the city. Waters is also a former county sheriff who retired one year into his second term in 1987.