Sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Johnson have been reported locally for nearly a decade, and voters have twice elected him Sacramento mayor by wide margins.
But the newly surfaced video of a teenage girl sitting on her hands in a police interrogation room has proved so powerful nearly 20 years later that it could affect his political prospects more than the transcript of her interview did before, campaign experts said Tuesday. The head of the local Democratic Party, a past Johnson critic, quickly seized on the situation and called for the mayor to resign.
Johnson has yet to announce his political plans once his second term expires next year. The video posted last week by the sports website Deadspin poses new problems for Johnson, especially if he tries to introduce himself to unfamiliar voters, said Democratic political consultant Andrew Acosta.
“You read the stories, you read a transcript from a court case and that’s one thing,” he said. “But you see this young girl (in a video) and it has a different impact. We’ve followed the story for years in Sacramento, but if it’s the first time you’ve seen it, I’m assuming it’s powerful to people.”
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Johnson has long denied the allegations by Mandi Koba that he molested her when she was a teenager, and authorities who investigated the claims did not pursue charges. The Sacramento Bee previously reported that Johnson and Koba signed a draft settlement agreement for $230,000 in 1997.
Johnson told reporters Monday night that the video of the teenager and ESPN’s decision Monday to shelve its national release of a documentary on Sacramento’s efforts to keep the Kings would play no role in whether he runs for an unprecedented third term next year. He said he would make a decision “pretty soon here.”
“It’s unfortunate that stories like this continue to come forward,” the mayor said outside the Crest Theatre, where the ESPN documentary was shown at a premiere sponsored by the Kings. “When I ran for mayor (in 2008), I knew these were all going to be a part of fair play. Politics is a game that throws out dirty things along the way and you’ve got to take hits on the chin.”
Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, told The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday she thinks Johnson should resign so that “the focus returns to the city’s needs and not more reports of impropriety.”
Asbury said the party’s executive board has not taken a formal position on Johnson’s future and likely won’t until at least its Nov. 12 meeting. However, after speaking to other members of the party’s leadership, she said, “If I were putting down money on which way the committee would go, I would bet on a call for resignation.”
“At a minimum, I think he needs to not seek re-election,” Asbury said. “I feel the integrity of the mayor’s office has been broken.”
The local Democratic Party has never endorsed Johnson, a Democrat, and was instrumental in the successful campaign to defeat his strong-mayor ballot measure last November. The feud dates back to 2003, when Johnson’s nonprofit St. Hope organization was awarded control of Sacramento High School and began operating the campus as a charter school employing non-union teachers.
She said the video has added a new dynamic to the situation.
“When you see how young she is (in the video), it legitimizes it in a way,” she said. “I do think anytime in an investigation that you see a video, it changes your perspective.”
Steve Maviglio, the mayor’s political spokesman, fired back at the Democratic Party, saying, “most Sacramento Democrats believe that their party’s organization should be spending its time electing Democratic candidates instead of attacking them.”
The intensified criticism of Johnson comes after ESPN delayed the national premiere of “Down in the Valley,” a documentary from its award-winning “30 for 30” series on Sacramento’s campaign to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle in 2013. Johnson led that effort and is featured prominently in the film. ESPN said it decided to delay the film’s release due to “a recent, renewed focus on allegations” against the mayor.
ESPN’s announcement has been covered this week by national media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, Slate, The New Republic and The Washington Post.
Paul Mitchell, a Sacramento political consultant, said ESPN’s decision has elevated the profile of the story.
“ESPN is an independent and trusted entity and a brand that is external to the Sacramento political debate,” he said. “Somebody might see something attacking Kevin Johnson and think it’s part of Sacramento political dysfunction, but now it looks like it’s a real problem.”
The video posted by Deadspin shows Koba in an interview with Phoenix police accusing Johnson of molesting her at his Phoenix home. No charges were filed against Johnson.
Koba spoke to Deadspin last month, saying she had remained silent because of her settlement agreement but now decided “to say what I want.” She has not returned phone calls and emails from The Bee.