Wild wild West Sacramento

Christopher Cabaldon.

Christopher Cabaldon.

West Sacramento is a weird place. It’s just across the river, magically hidden under our noses and largely ignored by the major local media. Which is too bad, because politics there can be every bit as bare-knuckled as they are on this side of the muddy Sacramento.

Consider Christopher Cabaldon’s bid for re-election as West Sacramento’s mayor against his challenger West Sac City Councilman Mark Johannessen. One of Cabaldon’s supporters, former Mayor Greg Potnick, last month filed complaints against Johannessen with the Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging a conflict of interest because the candidate owns property near a couple of proposed development projects.

Johannessen recused himself from city council discussions on the projects, but wrote an opinion piece about one of the developments in the local newspaper, the West Sacramento News-Ledger. He’s also held meetings with residents about the projects outside of City Hall.

Cabaldon says these things are strictly prohibited. Johannessen says he’s just exercising his First Amendment rights and is well within the FPPC’s rules. Indeed, the FPPC has already rejected one of the complaints.

It turns out that Cabaldon’s opponents filed a similar FPPC complaint against the mayor—also rejected—concerning one of the same development projects. In that case, Cabaldon voted to support the development while taking thousands of dollars from the developer during his campaign against fellow Democrat Mariko Yamada, who narrowly beat Cabaldon to win the Democratic primary for state Assembly this year.

Cabaldon supporters have also accused Johannessen of being a closet Republican because a few months ago he attended a John McCain fundraiser. But Johannessen explains that he was invited by his dad, former Republican state Sen. Maurice Johannessen, who was one of the hosts. He didn’t see any reason to turn down the invitation. “I wasn’t impressed,” he said of meeting McCain.

“My dad is a Republican, too,” Cabaldon countered. “It doesn’t mean I should hang out at McCain fundraisers.”

Johannessen has cultivated an image as a representative who is accessible and listens to constituents. He even puts his home phone number on his campaign materials. He accuses Cabaldon of being an aloof and at times ruthless politician.

For example, Cabaldon is still resented by some of his fellow Democrats for using and abusing the West Sacramento Democratic Club in his primary fight against Yamada. Back in the spring, Cabaldon supporters signed up hundreds of new members—some of them unwittingly—into the club. Cabaldon used his campaign funds to pay the membership dues, and parlayed the newly fattened membership roster into more delegates for himself in the state Democratic Party’s arcane endorsement process (see “A delegate situation,” SN&R Frontlines, April 10).

It’s loopy, inside-baseball stuff, but the end result was that Cabaldon’s maneuver has since made it impossible for the West Sacramento Democratic Club to get a quorum or to conduct official business. That’s a tough spot for a political club to be in in the midst of the presidential election. Johannessen says it’s an example of Cabaldon putting personal ambition above the best interests of the community. Cabaldon says the controversy is just campaign “noise” and a distraction from the real issues facing West Sac.

Which is probably true. But it makes for good political gossip in a race that is in some ways every bit as fun and weird as the Johnson/Fargo race.

Consider that both Kevin Johnson and Johannessen got the support of the police and firefighters unions. On this side of the river, the public-safety unions backed the jock over the woman, and on that side of the river, they backed the straight guy over the gay guy. Hmm …

There are of course, big differences. In West Sacramento, the city has largely avoided the kind of budget crisis that faces Sacramento—thanks to a combination of good timing, prudent planning and plain dumb luck. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, unlike the mayoral race in Sacramento, these two have to go back to work together right after the election. Good luck, fellas.