With friends like these
“Well, that’s a bit presumptuous,” Ms. Bites grumbled.
“Sorry, I just thought—” Bites stammered.
“No, not that. This,” she continued, and then spun her laptop around on the dining-room table to show Bites an e-mail she’d gotten from Kim Mack. Mack was the director of Sacramento for Obama but has since signed up as a volunteer with Kevin Johnson‘s bid for expanded mayoral power. Mack’s new organization, Sacramentans for Accountable Government, has dispatched an army of signature gatherers, funded by as-yet-unnamed private donors to put a “strong mayor” initiative on the ballot later this year.
“In November, you voted for change—in our city and in our nation,” Mack’s message begins. “Now the work begins—right here in Sacramento—to change our community into the world-class city it can be.”
It wasn’t hard to see the first flaw in the message, the way it assumed Obama voters are Kevin Johnson supporters. Then there was the tired “world-class city” language, but that’s really another column. But what was bugging Bites’ darling was a little link at the bottom of the e-mail saying her information had been obtained from “Friends of Obama.” Checking around, it appeared Friends of Obama is a list of donors (including, in this case, donors of very small amounts) to the Obama campaign that was given, or perhaps sold, to the Johnson group. Bites called up Mack to ask what gives.
“It didn’t come from Sacramento for Obama,” Mack said. “I’m a huge advocate for privacy. And I’m absolutely adamant that information not be shared.” In fact, Mack said, “They asked me for my list, and I said I wouldn’t do that.”
She suggested talking to Mark Friedman, one of Kevin Johnson’s big fundraisers who’s also helping with the charter overhaul. But Freidman said the Friends of Obama list wasn’t his. Next up, Chris Young, Obama’s Northern California field organizer, and now a special adviser to Johnson. “I don’t know anything about it,” Young told Bites. So much for accountability.
There were a lot of reasons the Bites family supported Obama. It wasn’t his unfortunate support of the mythical “clean coal” or the equally mythical “traditional marriage.” It was Obama’s explicit promise of openness and inclusion. As Jim Hightower told Bites back in the summer, Obama’s support among progressives came from the notion that “he wouldn’t go in with just the special interests. Rather the people themselves, outsiders, would be a force in his administration.”
It’s a hopeful assessment, but here at home Johnson appears to have taken the opposite approach. The strong-mayor proposal was drafted by attorney Tom Hiltachk, who has represented the California GOP, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Sacramento Kings, and disgraced former Republican state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, among other unsavory characters. The Johnson transition team that helped Hiltachk write the measure on Johnson’s behalf is chock-full of real-estate attorneys, developers and other interested parties with business before the city.
Worried about all this, Bites contacted Johnson spokesman Steve Maviglio, who was ready with reassurances. First, he said that no money had changed hands and that list swapping “is not unusual in politics.” He didn’t have an answer for who gave up the “Friends of Obama” list, but added that “Kevin overwhelmingly won Obama voters.” So there you go, you friends of Obama out there. You can be at ease knowing that your data, and your city, are in good hands.