For 20 years, the mayor of Sacramento has delivered a State of the City address to a room full of influential business leaders and politicians dining on crisp salads. It wasn't the kind of event where one might find a rock musician or a TV host known for chatting up celebrities.
But in 2013, the State of the City will be a little more festive and a little less corporate.
Mayor Kevin Johnson's office is planning an address for Feb. 28 that will be free and open to the public, reversing two decades of tradition in which the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce hosted the staid luncheon for hundreds of its members.
Previously delivered in the middle of the workday at the Sacramento Convention Center most years, the speech is now planned for a Thursday evening at the Memorial Auditorium. The timing of the event will allow regular folks, including city employees, to attend after work, the mayor's office said.
What's more, Jackie Greene Sacramento's renowned blues rocker will open the evening by singing the national anthem. Mark S. Allen, the colorful local television personality who has bantered with the likes of Joan Rivers and Robert Pattinson, will emcee the event.
"Kicking off (Johnson's) second term, we thought it was a good idea to expand it and also make it into a citywide event," said Cassandra Jennings, a senior adviser to the mayor. "Everybody should probably hear it."
Former Mayor Joe Serna Jr., who had a reputation for making big proclamations during his State of the City addresses, used the speech as a platform to announce a plan to lure the Oakland A's to town and to file a lawsuit against gun manufacturers for selling products he said were leading to crime in his city.
Former Mayor Heather Fargo, more comfortable discussing policy than hosting a gala, pushed universal preschool in one of her speeches and blasted a plan to reduce a utility tax in another.
Johnson's speeches so far have been big on broad ideas, with some announcements sprinkled in. He has promoted his effort to build a new basketball arena downtown, pushed the region's green technology sector and, in 2011, announced that the national education advocacy organization operated by his then-fiancée, Michelle Rhee, was setting up shop in Sacramento.
The 2013 speech, as in past years, will likely focus on repairing the city's struggling economy the theme of the event is "Sacramento Next." That message has been particularly poignant for the Metro Chamber, which represents nearly 2,000 businesses in the region.
At first, some members of the business community apparently expressed dismay that their annual schmoozefest with the mayor was being altered. Those interests especially the leadership of the Metro Chamber are among Johnson's most staunch supporters.
However, Roger Niello, the chamber's president and CEO, said some of the reaction was likely just a matter of confusion over why the two-decade tradition was ending. In fact, Niello said he had been exploring cutting off his organization's link to the State of the City for months.
"It's the State of the City of Sacramento and he's the mayor of Sacramento. What's there to be upset about?" Niello said. "(Hosting the event) only lives for so long. You want to transition away from that maybe a year before it overstays its welcome."
That's not to say Johnson is severing the event's corporate roots. Wells Fargo and AT&T are among the affair's largest sponsors and most of the donations sought to fund the night will come from local businesses, Jennings said.
Event organizers are attempting to raise $150,000 to pay for the festivities, which will cost $50,000. Any money raised over that amount will be given to the offices of the mayor and City Council to donate to the charities of their choice. So far, the committee has raised $75,000.
Attendees are also being asked to bring canned food to be given to the River City Food Bank and Sacramento Food Bank.
Editor's Note: This article has been changed from the print version to correct the fund-raising goals of event organizers and the cost of the event. Corrected on Dec. 28, 2012.