Thinking about Darrell Steinberg and Angelique Ashby in a post-K.J. Sacramento

Cosmo Garvin pushes aside the Steinberg buzz to ask some real questions about the candidate

Really? It was the video that did it for you? The transcripts, that whole, “Again, I didn't recall us being one hundred percent naked” conversation—that was OK? But post the actual video of 17-year-old Mandi Koba telling her story to the police and suddenly it's, “Ugh, Kevin Johnson is a creep!”

All right, whatever.

In any case, there was really no point in Johnson running for mayor again. It wasn’t going to get any better for him, or his big-money backers, than “saving the Kings.”

And K.J.’s assorted mini-scandals and ethical lapses were starting to stick. Or at least they were getting the attention of reporters at national outlets, who were writing stories with a pronounced what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-Sacramento angle.

So, time for a new mayor.

If you’re looking for a less-handsy version of the Johnson administration, then Councilwoman Angelique Ashby may be a good bet. She’s spent the last five years as a loyal member of Team K.J., then launched her own campaign for mayor more or less simultaneously with Johnson’s announcement that he wouldn’t run again.

But it’s former state senator and political fixture Darrell Steinberg who is generating the excitement. A not-exactly-grassroots social-media campaign to “convince” Steinberg to run—comprised largely of Democratic politicians, party activists and fundraisers—materialized immediately after K.J.’s announcement.

Steinberg has broad appeal. In fact, lots of people who hate Johnson’s guts want Steinberg for mayor. In their eyes, Steinberg is a policy heavyweight where K.J. is all about branding and government-by-press-release. They see Steinberg as a man of integrity where Johnson is, well, not.

But is the culture of low-grade corruption and self-dealing that thrived under Johnson really going to improve in a Mayor Steinberg administration? I’m not so sure.

Believe me, I understand as well as most the differences between Johnson and Steinberg.Steinberg in many ways turned me on to public policy and public affairs. Anyone remember Steinberg’s Assembly Bill 680, to distribute sales taxes more equitably among local governments? No? I do. It was goddamn brilliant. The more so because it drew howls of “socialism” from the sprawling suburbs, who wanted to keep all that mall money.

Steinberg was one of several Sacramento politicians I met early on who knew their stuff and were generous with their knowledge. K.J. is just the opposite. I remember leaving my first meeting with mayoral candidate Johnson feeling completely deflated, realizing that there was nothing there but a consultant’s script and a bunch of baggage.

So, I get it. I too am looking forward to a mayor who can articulate real policies for Sacramento, not just spew hype.

On the other hand, Steinberg authored special legislation to fast-track the Kings arena. I don’t fault him for supporting the arena as a policy matter. But the dishonesty and the lack of transparency that marked the arena campaign, the extraordinary measures to block a public vote, he’s associated with that now.

He supported Johnson’s deceptive campaign for Measure L. Yes, there was a legitimate argument to be made for strong mayor, but Measure L was a half-baked mess, not worth Steinberg’s credibility.

Yes, it says something that lots of people who opposed the arena plan and Measure L are supporting Steinberg for mayor. But here’s my question: Where the hell has Steinberg been?

While Johnson was turning the office of mayor into an ATM for his private enterprises, walling off a big chunk of city government from public-records laws, turning pay-to-play into standard operating procedure, Steinberg said nothing.

You could argue that it wasn’t Steinberg’s job to speak up about malfeasance in City Hall. But why not? He believed he had a duty to get involved in the arena, in Measure L and in other local issues. Meanwhile, other folks who could have said “not my job” stuck their necks out to fight for ethics and transparency in City Hall. As a major leader of the local Democratic party—the leader, really—it would have helped enormously for Steinberg to speak up.

But at this point I’m not even sure if Steinberg has any problem with the way City Hall does business under Kevin Johnson.

Then again, I know Ashby doesn’t.