Sacramento's arena war hit new levels of intensity this week after Seattle financier Chris Hansen was revealed as the secret source of money for a petition drive to put the city's arena plans to a public vote.
Seizing on outrage at the news, arena supporters took to the streets Saturday, hanging more than 1,000 fliers on front doors asking residents who signed the petitions to withdraw their signatures. "Don't let Seattle money steal away our chance at 4,000 jobs for Sacramento!" the fliers urged.
Arena backers, a group that includes many of the city's prominent business people and politicians, argue the Seattle funding offers proof that the two-month-old petition drive is really an attempt to derail the city's downtown arena plans and push the Kings out of town.
Yet Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, the group behind the ballot measure, insists it is a homegrown effort, aimed at giving voters a voice. Its leaders today vowed to come back fighting - possibly with a local fundraising effort.
The STOP group, organized by downtown activists Julian Camacho and Jim Cathcart, initially aligned itself with an Orange County political firm that pumped funds into a separate paid signature-gathering campaign.
A STOP spokesman acknowledged the group's efforts suffered a setback with Friday's revelation that $100,000 in unreported contributions funneled through the Orange County firm had come from Hansen.
Hansen, a San Francisco-based hedge fund manager, led a group that tried to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle this year. His name came to light after the state Fair Political Practices Commission filed a lawsuit demanding the donor's name be revealed.
STOP's newly hired spokesman, John Hyde of Bullet Marketing, said the group will rebound and could even benefit from the news media spotlight if it leads to more public debate of the city arena subsidy.
"News like that is pretty sensational, but it will pass," Hyde said. "It's a temporary setback. But it has definitively brought STOP to the forefront in the awareness of Sacramento citizens."
Several local political consultants said the STOP group could still succeed, but faces a tougher challenge because of the Hansen revelation.
"It has begun to shift the question from 'yes or no' on voting on this arena subsidy to, 'Who are you for, Sacramento or Seattle?'" political campaign veteran Richie Ross said. "That cannot be helpful."
Political consultant Phil Giarrizzo said it's not unusual for campaigns to seek an upside amid bad news. "When you have egg on your face, you usually say something like, 'Boy, doesn't this egg look good?' "
Giarrizzo said the petition drive faces a more serious long-term challenge.
"The real issue right now is, do any real, legitimate community leaders - people of substance and stature - step up and say they support the vote issue," he said. "Unless some credible, local backers step up, I think the campaign is in trouble."
While STOP regroups, supporters of the city's plans for a publicly subsidized arena are pushing hard to take advantage of anger caused by the Hansen revelation, and to avoid a ballot showdown next June.
Joshua Wood of the Region Builders building industry group, which is part of the pro-arena campaign, said his group is printing 4,000 more door-hangers to be handed out in neighborhoods where the petition campaign has made its presence known the most. Those areas include Land Park, Curtis Park and east Sacramento, neighborhoods that are generally seen as supportive of an arena vote.
Wood's group is financed by donations from a handful of building industry companies and unions in the Sacramento area, including the Sacramento Builders Exchange and the National Electrical Contractors Association/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
"We are going to go to every voter in Sacramento and give them an opportunity to remove their names from the petition," Wood said.
As of today, the Sacramento city clerk's office reported it had received more than 1,600 signed forms from voters asking that their signatures be removed from the arena petition.
Brad Buyse, a Sacramento County elections spokesman, said that is, by far, the most he is aware of in a local campaign.
Midtown resident Cindy Pecoraro is among those who rescinded their support of the petition after hearing about Hansen's involvement.
"I don't like finding out after I signed that it's the guy who lost out on the team that is funding it," she said. "I feel misled, I feel robbed. It's completely different than a group in Sacramento who oppose the arena and are trying to get going."
But the STOP group also has ardent supporters who say the issue is not about Hansen, but about giving the public a say.
City resident Karen Solberg is among those who have signed the petition and are opposed to the city subsidy in the arena deal.
"It's hawking a city resource in favor of rich people," she said. "I think Sacramento doesn't do enough for its youth. Why don't we invest in that? Let the billionaires build their own stadium."
An image change
STOP officials declined to offer details Monday on where their group goes from here, other than to say they are revamping their effort. STOP members were not actively gathering signatures Monday.
"You will see some changes to STOP's image," Hyde said. "We are in the process of building out plans to raise money and improve our outward communications."
Hyde, a Sacramento-based marketing consultant, said the group believes it has well over half of the 22,000 signatures necessary to qualify for the June ballot. STOP has until December to complete its drive.
"We are confident we will succeed," Hyde said.
STOP had $10,200 on hand as of the end of June, recent financial disclosure records show. All of the donations the group reported through the first six months of this year came from individuals giving between $100 and $500.
There remain some question about the signatures that were obtained by paid signature gatherers, under the control of the Orange County-based operatives. That portion of the petition campaign has been shut down, and Hyde said today he did not know where those signatures were. State elections officials, however, said they think the signatures gathered with Hansen's money are valid, and will count toward the 22,000.
The STOP ballot measure would require voter approval before the city could subsidize a sports facility. Its approval would necessitate a second vote specifically on the City Council's decision to dedicate $258 million in public money - mainly from downtown parking revenues - to a Downtown Plaza arena.
Sacramento voters in 2006 decisively turned down a proposal to use public funds for a downtown arena. Unlike that plan, however, the current one doesn't call for a broad tax increase. It also includes a contribution of about $190 million for the city-owned arena from the Kings' new owners, who recently bought the team from the Maloof family.
Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Follow him on Twitter @tonybizjak.