The voters shrug

This was supposed to be the election where Kevin Johnson flexed his political muscle, and helped elect a council that would back him in building the “world-class” city he talks about so much.

The voters’ response: “Wait, there was an election?”

Johnson himself got 58 percent of the vote against a weak field—well more than he needed to avoid a run-off—but, then again, do you think 23 percent of voters even knew who Jonathan Rewers was? He got their votes anyway, just by not being Johnson.

The mayor spent a jaw-dropping half-million dollars in campaign funds this election—though much of the money he raised he just funneled into his pet initiatives, like Greenwise and Think Big.

Rewers by contrast spent just $1,669. Another way of looking at it: Rewers spent about 13 cents per vote to Johnson’s $15 per vote.

So, what should we make of the big anti-K.J. vote? Well, if you look at similar elections in recent history, K.J. performed just as you might expect a big-money incumbent lacking a serious challenger to perform. In this case, the money advantage and the weakness of the field of challengers was pretty exaggerated. But the pattern is pretty much the same.

In Heather Fargo’s 2004 re-election against gas-station flower mogul Ross Relles and deputy attorney general Mark Soble, she drew 59 percent while Relles won 21 and Soble got 11. Leonard Padilla ran that year too, he got 8 percent.

Joe Serna’s 1996 re-election was of the same type. He won 57 percent to his strongest rival, Jim Hastings at 23 percent. There were a couple of also-rans, including the perennial Padilla, who got 7 percent of the vote.

With 58, 59 and 57 of the vote, should we conclude that all three of Sacramento’s recent elected mayors were more or less equally popular? Or rather, that elections follow certain models, with limited inputs and predictable outputs?

Good for Misty Yaj coming in third in the Sacramento City Council District 2 (North Sacramento, Del Paso Heights) race—with all of 500 votes. There were more Misty Yaj signs in Del Paso Nuevo—the subdivision that Allen Warren built—than there were Allen Warren signs. Still, Warren will face Rob Kerth in a November run-off, and Bites can’t wait for those debates.

Bites thought it would be Kim Mack somewhere in the top three, if only by force of personality. She was one of a handful of candidates who tried to channel voter anger over issues like redistricting and the strong-mayor proposal. Mack thought District 2 voters cared that the council had refused to put Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor measure on the ballot. They did not, and she got less than 300 votes.

And no matter how much fuss Jay Schenirer and Kevin Johnson made about the rape of Oak Park in last year’s redistricting battle—by Kevin McCarty and his council allies—the voters were unfazed.

In fact, voters around UC Med Center (“stolen” from Oak Park and Schenirer’s District 5, you’ll recall) voted overwhelmingly for McCarty in his District 6 election to city council and strongly against Kevin Johnson in his.

Likewise, in District 4 (Land Park, Midtown, downtown) Phyllis Newton, the business candidate The Sacramento Bee endorsed, also ran against the perceived “dysfunction” on the city council, and voters said “not interested,” advancing planning commission stalwart Joe Yee and mayor of Facebook Steve Hansen to the finals this fall.

The mayor’s coattails came up short in District 8, too, where Betty Williams had an awful lot going for her. The pro-K.J. businessmen’s Better Sacramento PAC put out a wildly misleading attack piece against incumbent Bonnie Pannell. Williams had the mayor’s endorsement, in a district where the mayor is still pretty popular. But Pannell won—albeit more narrowly than she would have liked—because she’d actually done some things for the people of District 8. Crazy.