It should have been routine business for the Sacramento City Council: Welcome a delegation of municipal officials from Russia who are visiting to learn about local government in America.
Instead, the Russians got a lesson in small-minded politics.
Vice Mayor Jay Schenirer decided to pull the welcome from Tuesday night’s agenda. There was no explanation at the time, but he says he and other city officials are concerned about Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and its anti-gay legislation.
The snub is not quite an international incident, but it was a misstep that sends the wrong message about Sacramento.
Schenirer told The Bee’s editorial board Thursday that he still believes it was more appropriate to present the welcome certificates to the five Moscow-area officials in private – which he did before the council meeting. A public recognition could have been misconstrued that the city was fine with Russia’s misdeeds, said Schenirer, who was elected vice mayor in January and was running the meeting in Mayor Kevin Johnson’s absence.
That seems unnecessarily sensitive. Merely being hospitable does not mean endorsing everything that Russia is doing.
And by that standard, the council should not have recognized Sacramento Beer Week, either.
As the Russians sat quietly in the back, the council let the event’s organizer speak, allowed craft brewery owners to pose for a photo with the city resolution and applauded them all. That didn’t somehow mean the council was in favor of getting drunk in public or driving under the influence.
The Russians are here at the invitation of the Open World Leadership Center, a nonpartisan agency of Congress. Started in 1999, the center originally focused on Russia, but has broadened to include other former Soviet republics – including Ukraine. It has linked more than 19,000 leaders from those nations to their counterparts here – the kind of soft diplomacy that is good for America.
The Russians were among 50 who met with officials in Washington, D.C., before fanning out to several state capitals. The five arrived in Sacramento last Friday and are scheduled to leave Saturday, said Marty McKnew, president of the local chapter of Friendship Force International, which provided host homes.
Hopefully, the Russians won’t go home too disappointed. They met Sacramento County supervisor Don Nottoli, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, Sheriff Scott Jones, Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine and the staffs of Reps. Ami Bera and Doris Matsui. They sat in a Sacramento State class and saw the Kings actually win a game.
City officials talk incessantly about making Sacramento a world-class city. They want to increase trade, attract foreign investment and build the city’s international stature.
What happened at the City Council makes Sacramento look small and provincial. We’re better than that, or at least we should be.