For the first time since he was elected to office eight years ago, Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty has an opponent.
Mitch Netto, an information technology consultant, is seeking to unseat McCarty in the district covering Elmhurst, Tahoe Park and several other neighborhoods on the city's southeast side.
A political rookie, Netto entered the race just three months ago and is facing an incumbent who has represented the area since 2004, running unopposed four years ago. McCarty is well-financed and is supported by many of the city's influential interest groups, political organizations and neighborhood advocates.
For his part, Netto has received the support of the city police union and Region Builders, a coalition of groups involved in development. Business leaders and developers are holding a fundraiser for Netto later this month at the Elks Tower in downtown.
While the odds would seem to be stacked in McCarty's favor, the councilman said he is "running a full campaign."
McCarty has a list of projects he's helped launch that he'd like to see completed during another term.
The city recently received a grant to build a park in the Fruitridge Manor neighborhood of District 6. McCarty is seeking to duplicate that work by raising money to build a park in the College Glen area.
He also wants to expand a program he began that opens the George Sim Community Center on Friday nights and build more community gardens at area schools.
McCarty and city officials are developing a plan to attract clean energy firms to a 150-acre site off Power Inn Road, near Folsom Boulevard. And he partnered with Mayor Kevin Johnson to secure a $100 million plan to retrofit buildings with energy-saving technology.
The firefighter and trade unions support him, as does the local Democratic Party.
Jermain Gill, president of the Avondale Glen Elder Neighborhood Association, said McCarty has been responsive to that area's needs. He credited him with helping to develop a baseball program serving disadvantaged kids.
"He's taken the time to cater to our neighborhoods," Gill said.
Netto argued that McCarty is disconnected from his district and has criticized him for opposing the mayor. McCarty feuded with the mayor during a contentious redistricting debate last summer in which the UC Davis Medical Center was transferred into District 6 from the district representing neighboring Oak Park.
McCarty was also a chief opponent of the mayor's arena plan, arguing it was a bad deal for the city. With the arena deal now collapsed, McCarty said the city should refocus on core services especially as it battles a $15.7 million deficit.
"We need to be focusing on the right priorities," he said. "I think it's important to ask the tough questions."
Netto said two terms have been enough for McCarty. He said he and his team many of whom are college students have already knocked on more than 5,000 doors.
"I think Sacramento just needs a change," Netto said. "And I don't think anybody should run unopposed."
Netto said he was persuaded to run in part by a frustrating home improvement project at a neighbor's house.
A garage wall at that house needed repair and Netto was told the list of permits and fees was significant. He wants to streamline the permitting process for homes and businesses.
"The City Council needs to be policy setters, not micromanagers," he said. "When someone wants to build a door or a window, it should be an easy process."
While acknowledging he would have "a learning curve" if elected, Netto said a fresh approach is needed.
"I love learning curves," he said.
To his supporters, Netto is a neighborhood advocate willing to enter City Hall without allegiances.
"We want to have someone who can come to the council and focus more on the city than the personal politics that we've seen on the council lately," said Joshua Wood, vice president of Region Builders. "And when you have new blood coming in with a new vision that's neighborhood focused, focused on creating jobs and not focused on the next (campaign), that's even better."
Netto has criticized McCarty for having political aspirations that extend beyond City Hall. Netto's campaign manager describes McCarty as "a lobbyist politician who wants to run for the Assembly."
McCarty, a lobbyist for Preschool California, has said he has not ruled out running for the Assembly midway through his next term on the City Council. He ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly in 2010.
"If you're going to do something, do it wholeheartedly," Netto said.
Netto has issues of his own. He has a federal tax lien of $71,642 against him dating back to 2004, according to documents filed at the Sacramento County Recorder's Office.
Netto said the lien was the result of a home break-in during which his identity was stolen.
While the lien was assessed in 2009, Netto has not formally challenged the accusation in court and only recently hired an attorney.
Another state tax lien of $3,324 was recently filed against him from the 2009 tax year, documents show. Netto said he does not know where that lien originated.
"I ignored it for a while," he said of the federal lien. "I don't believe I owe anything. I'm not worried about it and I know it will be settled."