It’s definitely an honor for Kevin Johnson, who was sworn in Wednesday as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Elected by his peers, he rose quickly through the ranks.
More importantly, his prominent new post could be very rewarding for Sacramento – if Johnson can deliver on his plans for using it.
He wants to cement ties with top White House and Cabinet officials to land federal aid, most notably closing the deal to finally finish the levees ringing Natomas. He also wants to strengthen relationships with corporate CEOs to bring jobs and investment to Sacramento, Johnson told The Bee’s editorial board Wednesday.
More broadly, he wants to give Sacramento more national exposure as what he calls the nation’s next emerging city. He’ll have a chance to do that in September, when he plans to host about 40 mayors during Sacramento’s farm-to-fork festival.
Johnson’s bigger role as Sacramento’s chief cheerleader is right in his wheelhouse – and he offered strong reassurances that it won’t interfere with his duties as mayor.
“Your city is always your first priority,” he said.
Already out of town more than previous mayors, it’s possible he may miss more City Council meetings once the downtown arena deal is done next month.
Johnson said he plans to limit his travel (paid for by the mayors group) to one event a month, and said he can build his own schedule so he doesn’t miss any important council votes. The mayor also noted that the council has prepared for his new role by naming both a vice mayor and mayor pro tem to preside over meetings if Johnson is elsewhere.
Then there’s the strong-mayor measure on the November ballot. If it passes, Johnson would gain “executive mayor” powers on Jan. 1, while his term at the mayors group goes until June 2015. The mayor’s job would be expanded, such as proposing an annual budget and taking a bigger role in overseeing the city’s departments.
Johnson said there wouldn’t be a conflict, noting that other leaders of the Conference of Mayors have come from strong-mayor cities. He will have the help of an ample staff at the mayors group, and can delegate to other mayors.
Besides promoting Sacramento, the presidency will give Johnson a platform to engage on national issues. No surprise, one of his top two priorities will be improving public schools. He will also help lead the group’s perennial push to fix the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, as well as be a voice on gun violence.
He’ll be a prominent advocate for cities when there’s a growing awareness of the crucial role that metro regions play in economic growth and when local officials are not waiting on a gridlocked Washington to tackle big issues.
“Mayors are where things get done,” Johnson said.
Johnson and his city should be proud that he’s the first Sacramento mayor to lead the mayors group in its 81-year history. What would be a bigger accomplishment is for Johnson to deliver as the city’s traveling salesman, while not letting his responsibilities at home slide.