Sacramento is a city divided, with Mayor Kevin Johnson the point of division.
While Johnson cruised to victory on Tuesday with 58 percent of the vote, his support varied widely across city neighborhoods. Where he did well, so did the candidates he favored. And where Johnson's showing was weaker, candidates backed by the Democratic Party or labor unions won the day.
These traditional political powers, the mayor's chief political antagonists, celebrated significant victories in City Council races Tuesday, overcoming deep-pocketed business groups and a campaign effort led by the mayor.
Andrew Acosta, who ran campaigns for three candidates seen as opponents to the mayor, said the business interests allied with Johnson need to put up more qualified candidates if they want to unseat incumbents.
"You have to show there's an alternative with some substance," Acosta said.
Now, Johnson and the interest groups that oppose him will regroup, as two City Council races head for the November runoff election. They'll battle for influence in a city where political allegiances can vary block by block.
Nowhere is the disparity more evident than in the neighborhoods on the city's northeast side, where a field of six candidates ran for the seat being vacated by Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy.
The area's former councilman Rob Kerth received the most votes Tuesday in his bid to return to City Hall representing District 2. Backed by the Democratic Party of Sacramento County and the city's trade unions, Kerth dominated the neighborhoods of Woodlake and Old North Sacramento. Johnson failed to get 50 percent of the vote in those areas, according to reports analyzed by The Bee.
At the same time, developer Allen Warren a longtime friend of the mayor's whose campaign Johnson supported easily claimed victory in the neighborhoods around Del Paso Heights. Johnson also won those areas by a large margin.
Kerth and Warren are headed for a runoff after neither received at least 50 percent of the vote.
"We will continue to fight into November," said Steve Maviglio, the mayor's campaign spokesman.
Political loyalties also played out in Tahoe Park and Colonial Heights, neighborhoods where the mayor received less than 44 percent of the vote. Councilman Kevin McCarty supported by labor and Democratic interests dominated those areas in his successful re-election bid.
Johnson opponents scored another victory in south Sacramento, where longtime Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell, whose late husband previously held the seat, withstood a challenge from former NAACP branch President Betty Williams. Johnson had tried to oust Pannell after a series of votes on the City Council in which the councilwoman opposed the mayor's initiatives.
Overall, Johnson had some of his strongest support in portions of Pannell's district, just as he did in his successful 2008 campaign. The Williams campaign sought to capitalize on Johnson's popularity in south Sacramento. It wasn't enough, particularly in the few parts of the district where Johnson didn't fare as well precincts where Pannell's margin of victory was significant.
In the five precincts where the mayor had the strongest showing, Williams ran tight with Pannell, losing by just 25 votes out of about 1,000 cast.
The effort to unseat Pannell was spearheaded by the mayor and Better Sacramento, a political committee funded by developers and business owners that paid for several campaign mail pieces. Campaign finance documents show that Better Sacramento poured more than $70,000 into the south Sacramento race.
The group also spent heavily in the race for District 4, the seat covering Land Park and the central city. But its candidate in that campaign attorney Phyllis Newton finished third and failed to make the runoff.
"We have a very sophisticated, savvy voting base and money alone is not going to buy their love," said candidate Steve Hansen, who will face architect Joseph Yee in the November runoff. "You just can't expect to sit in a dark room and pour money into a campaign and have it turn out well."
Tuesday's results showed that traditional political powers those aligned with Democratic Party organizations and labor groups continue to have influence over city politics. Those organizations spent money on the races, but not nearly as much as the business groups.
Candidates backed by the Democratic Party of Sacramento County either won or made the runoff election in all four council races. A pro-labor candidate also fared well in each campaign.
Democratic activists said the results spoke to a city not swayed by monied donors backing negative campaign ads.
"These communities are very in tune to what's really going on," said Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County. "You only start attacking when you're losing."
Maviglio said the results were less a matter of influence and more a result of the election's low turnout.
"In a low-turnout election, the status quo wins because they're the most motivated to come out and protect their interests," he said. "It's really difficult to fight a machine in a low-turnout primary, because they have the organization to get the voters out."