Where amazing happens?
Sacramento's done everything the NBA asked. As for everyone else …
Crime is up, schools are shutting down, and the city barely works for anyone—except maybe the whales. That’s the real “State of the City,” though you wouldn’t get that from Mayor Kevin Johnson’s highly varnished event last week.
Outside, Sacramento city elementary students protested the bewildering actions of a bunch of men who were supposed to help their schools, but decided to close them instead. Outside, community activist and crime fighter Dave Jenest and his friends were denied the right to set up a table to show videos and distribute info to passersby about police cuts and rising crime rates. “What would the billionaire backers, purportedly buying the [Sacramento] Kings and subsidized by taxpayers, think?” Jenest snarked. What indeed, but we’ll get to the billionaires. They were the main attraction, after all.
Inside, for all the choreography, for all the corporate sponsors, for all the Mark S. Allen, the event wasn’t terribly effective propaganda. The mayor listed the city’s big accomplishments of the last year, but it was a weirdly unfocused and uninspiring list.
For example, Johnson said City Hall “addressed the pension crisis” in local government. But he didn’t mention that his staunch allies in the police union torpedoed talks over their pensions—the most generous in the city. Johnson boasted of “selling Downtown Plaza [and] getting it into the right hands.” Except Johnson had nothing to do with the Westfield Group’s long, long overdue sale to JMA Ventures. In fact, in 2009, Johnson very publicly told Westfield honchos they needed to invest in the dead mall or get out—and they very promptly ignored him.
The mayor then laid out three big goals for the city, green jobs being the first. He, apparently, hasn’t fired the person who came up with the cringe-inducing tagline “Emerald Valley,” so that’s one opportunity missed in the last year.
His green agenda is more problematic than that, being tangled up with his Greenwise nonprofit. The mayor’s 501(c)(3) groups are not the kind of charities that you donate to if you’re picky about good accounting and transparency. They are great, however, for big companies looking to curry favor with a high-profile politician. The city manager kicked Johnson’s nonprofits out of City Hall last year—seeing as they blurred the line between political branding and public office—but that accomplishment didn’t make it into the big speech this year.
The second priority Johnson outlined at his State of the City event was education. He announced a plan for getting reading glasses to kids that need them. Sounds great. He said that “63 percent of our third graders cannot read.” Which is a ridiculous thing to say, but no one noticed. They were waiting for the part about the whales.
One more thing about education: Johnson left out the part about how hard he’s been working to promote a certain “radical”—to use his wife Michelle Rhee’s word for it—version of corporate-flavored education reform, one which aims to deprofessionalize and disempower teachers and privatize public-school facilities. He didn’t mention how much time he has spent traveling away from Sacramento on behalf of that cause, or how much money he’s raised for it—leveraging the prominence of his office to do it.
But send in the whales, and the mayor’s last, though anything-but-least priority: shoveling public subsidies at the NBA in hopes of keeping the Kings in town.
Johnson may occasionally take credit for other people’s accomplishments, but whatever happens with the Kings, good or bad, will be on K.J.’s account.
As Sactown Royalty blogger Tom Ziller put it: “I think it’ll be hard to tell the city—and all small market cities, in the league and not—that the NBA doesn’t value cooperation, partnership and major public subsidies. No one tells a saint to go to Hell.”
And without a doubt, Johnson has been a godsend for the NBA. “We epitomize what the best of the NBA offers,” he crowed last week. “We are a city that has developed a first-of-its-kind plan to invest just over $250 million of public funding [for an arena], without raising taxes. We never give up!”
The truest thing Johnson said all night. That, and, “We’ve done everything the NBA has ever asked of us. Everything.”
Not enough of the things that Sacramento’s citizens have asked, to be sure. But the NBA’s wish list? Done and done. And that’s an accomplishment that Johnson will long be remembered for.