The Sacramento City Council that takes office in December will have almost completely turned over since 2010, with retirements, runs for higher office and incumbents getting knocked out. The newcomers have brought common sense and cohesiveness to the council.
The city needs more strong leaders during the crucial next few years. It is on the cusp of growth, with the planned downtown arena, and projects in the nearby railyard, Delta Shores and perhaps even Natomas. At the same time, Sacramento’s existing neighborhoods need nurturing.
While the budget crisis has eased, City Hall still faces nearly $2 billion in unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities over the next 30 years.
Of the bumper crop of 12 candidates for three contested seats on the June 3 ballot, the standouts are Jeff Harris in District 3, incumbent Jay Schenirer in District 5 and Rick Jennings in District 7. They receive The Bee editorial board’s endorsement.
In this district, which includes east Sacramento and South Natomas, 20-year council veteran Steve Cohn is giving up the seat to run for state Assembly.
Of the seven candidates, Harris is a cut above. He will continue Sacramento’s long tradition of hands-on neighborhood leaders who learn the ropes on city boards before moving up to the City Council.
A general contractor, he is past president of the River Park Neighborhood Association and current chairman of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, where he played a key role in what became Measure U, the local sales tax hike that has helped restore parks and public safety services. Harris will be a thoughtful and pragmatic councilman.
Cyril Shah, an American River Flood Control District trustee who is on the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency board, also has the potential to be a good council member.
He is also the apparent frontrunner, raising far more money than anyone else, largely from business and construction interests. But Shah does himself no favors by acting like it. In a Bee editorial board interview with three opponents, he barely paid attention when the others were talking.
With so many contenders, it appears likely that no one will win a clear majority in June. The top two finishers would face off in November.
In this district, centered on Oak Park and Curtis Park, Schenirer is facing a challenge from Ali Cooper.
During his first term, Schenirer has been a smart and compassionate voice on the council and has worked to improve Oak Park and help young people. In a second term, he pledges to do more to help the homeless and create health sciences jobs. After helping shepherd the city through the budget crisis, he now wants to help guide Sacramento through better times. That’s a reasonable request.
Cooper promises to advocate for the powerless, growing out of a compelling life story. He was a Vietnam War baby whose family fled just before Saigon fell, who grew up poor in Los Angeles and who found his calling in community and labor organizing. He has worked as a community organizer and for local and statewide unions, most recently as political director at SEIU Local 1000, which represents state workers.
He does not, however, make a convincing case why he would better represent the district and the city.
This district, which covers Pocket/Greenhaven and Valley Hi, is also an open seat, with first-term Councilman Darrell Fong seeking another state Assembly spot.
Both Julius Cherry, a former city fire chief and county planning commissioner, and Jennings, a past city school board member, are impressive contenders with a history of public service. It’s too bad that they’re running for the same seat.
What would be worse is if this race were decided not by their qualifications, but by the political factions lining up behind them.
Jennings has the endorsement of Mayor Kevin Johnson and his supporters, the police union and the business community. Cherry is backed by former Mayor Heather Fargo, the anti-Johnson faction on the council and most labor unions.
It’s a close call, but Jennings gets the edge because of his proven track record in elected office – 12 years as a reformer on the Sacramento City Unified School Board, ending in 2008.
He has since broadened his leadership experience as CEO of the Center for Fathers and Families, a nonprofit that provides after-school programs and parenting classes.
The third candidate, Abe Snobar, stresses his ties to Valley Hi.
Whoever wins this seat must pay more attention to that needy neighborhood.