Sacramento's newly drawn City Council District 4 is like a city unto itself.
It covers the high-rises of downtown and the boutiques of midtown, the leafy streets of Land Park and the new subdivisions of River Oaks in South Natomas. And the two men vying to represent the area at City Hall come from very different parts of that landscape.
One is Steve Hansen, a 33-year-old manager in a biotech firm who lives in Alkali Flat, a historic and somewhat gritty section of downtown. Hansen admits to being perhaps too outspoken about his views and, if elected, would be Sacramento's first openly gay council member.
"There's nothing classic about me or this campaign," he said.
The other is Joe Yee, who is 62 and has lived in Land Park since before his opponent was born. Yee is an architect and former planning commissioner who exudes a deliberate approach to policy and business. While Hansen portrays himself as the outsider, Yee touts his own experience.
"I have unique perspectives and a deep understanding of how things work," he said.
The race is a tight one; just 75 votes separated the pair in the June primary as they emerged from a field of seven competitors. Now, they are set to square off in the Nov. 6 election that will likely attract the highest turnout rates in the city.
The district's boundaries were redrawn last year as part of the city's redistricting process. As a result of that process, the central city was consolidated into a single district after years of being represented by three council seats.
Downtown interests have a lot at stake in this election; Hansen would be the first council member from downtown in 30 years.
"One representative is going to be overseeing waterfront development, Downtown Plaza and the neighborhoods," said Wendy Hoyt, who chaired a Downtown Sacramento Partnership redistricting committee. "It's the highest-profile (district), most dynamic, maybe the most challenging. There is so much to take into account."
Land Park still makes up the district's core. The politically active neighborhood south of downtown has been home to the district's last three council members including current Councilman Rob Fong, who is vacating the seat after two terms.
The neighborhood's issues are hyper-local. Residents have strong opinions about a plan to add bike lanes and cut one automobile lane on Freeport Boulevard, the traffic impact of a potential Sacramento River bridge at Broadway and whether the city should curtail leaf collection by "the Claw."
The neighborhood, one of the city's most affluent, has also seen some of its landmarks including Ford's Real Burgers and Capital Nursery close lately.
"Land Park is looking for somebody who understands their issues," said Scott Rose, the former head of the Land Park Community Association and a Yee supporter. "These are bread-and-butter issues. And I think Joe's got a unique combination. He's able to bridge local neighborhood concerns and city concerns because of his experience."
A voice for downtown
Sitting on the front porch of his century-old home in Alkali Flat last week, Hansen portrayed himself as the outsider attempting to break into an embedded status quo at City Hall. He described his opponent as a member of the Sacramento political establishment and said his own campaign has "the scrappiness of a start-up."
"No one anointed me," he said.
However, Hansen has his own ties to some of the city's traditional political powers.
He is supported by the police and firefighter unions, as well as the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. Hansen also recently received the endorsement of state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a presence on the city's political landscape for 20 years.
The Stonewall Democrats a large and active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization have also campaigned heavily for him. Hansen said he feels a responsibility to the LGBT community, which also lobbied for the gay-friendly central city to be placed into a single district with the hopes of electing the city's first openly gay council member.
"To be so proud of our diversity but to never have done this (elect a gay council member), I think is something that we should not be naive about it being meaningful," he said.
"But," he added, "it's not why I'm running."
Hansen, who was born in Minnesota, said he was raised by a single mother and at times lived on public assistance while growing up.
"I thought I would grow up to push shopping carts," he said. "And to be here at this moment in my life is really a special thing that I don't want to take for granted. We have a lot of people in this city who have been disadvantaged for a lot of reasons, and I want people to have the same opportunities I've had."
His supporters think Hansen, a former vice chairman of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, would be an important voice for downtown.
"Having someone from that neighborhood would be a huge benefit with all the things we're trying to do down there," said Councilman Jay Schenirer, a Hansen supporter. "I think he would bring fresh ideas to looking at what the city should be like and how we can attract a new creative class."
To help foster that sector, Hansen said he would donate his City Council salary to an "innovation fund" that would help attract and retain technology startup firms.
Another investment Hansen would make is tied to the November ballot measure seeking to raise the sales tax in the city. He had initially opposed the plan, but says he now supports the tax and would like to see some of the revenue invested in cultural amenities such as the proposed B Street Theatre complex in midtown and the planned Powerhouse Science Center.
A neighborhood advocate
Yee rejects Hansen's criticism that he is a product of the political establishment.
The son of Chinese immigrants, Yee learned to speak English as his second language in elementary school. He helped build two businesses here and oversees 30 employees at a downtown architectural firm.
"If all of that makes me a part of the establishment, I will take that as a compliment," he said, sitting in his midtown campaign office, sipping a Diet Pepsi and eating a bag of cookies he said would serve as his dinner.
Yee argues that Hansen's labeling of him as part of the status quo "is just wrong." He said he helped drive many transformative initiatives in the city while serving on the City Council and planning commission, including being a part of the city's adoption of a mixed-income housing ordinance that requires developments to include affordable housing. He also chaired the city's General Plan Advisory Committee that placed an emphasis on infill development.
Yee has the support of outgoing Councilman Fong.
"His vision and his integrity would be two critical pieces for the city and the council," Fong said. "I think he gets not only the district, but the whole city."
And while Yee has some political experience he served on the City Council for seven months in 2000 following the death of former Mayor Joe Serna Jr. he said he is more a neighborhood advocate than an aspiring politician.
"I believe in a strong neighborhood voice," he said. "But I also believe in a balance with the commercial and business voice. We need that diversity."
Like Hansen, Yee said he supports the city's sales tax measure. In addition to core services such as pools, parks, fire protection and police officers, Yee has floated the idea of using some tax revenue for financial assistance to help retain and recruit small businesses.
Yee said he has the background the city will need as the economy recovers and development picks up again.
"The pressure is going to be to move forward very, very quickly," he said. "And it takes some knowledge, it takes some experience to be able to make those decisions quickly while still balancing the overall need to preserve what we have, to make sure those movements forward are positive.
"I don't know when experience and knowledge became bad things," he added.