For Sacramento Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, one part of his campaign isn’t over yet – payback for those who fought against him.
Weeks after winning the mayor’s race in a landslide, Steinberg said he recently met with “some of the folks who opposed my candidacy.” And despite his nice-guy public image, Steinberg said his election foes have some explaining to do before they’re back in his good graces.
“Every conversation I have had has been an honest, no-holding-back conversation,” he said. “I have done well in this bare-knuckle business over 20-plus years for a variety of reasons and I understand how it all works.
“You don’t forget.”
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The mayor-elect’s memory has singled out two groups in particular: the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Sacramento Area Fire Fighters union.
It’s not just that they endorsed his main rival, Councilwoman Angelique Ashby. Steinberg believes both groups took specific, unwarranted actions – the firefighters backing Ashby without interviewing him and the Metro Chamber funding a series of attack mailers he says were misleading.
Both also need the mayor’s support as they face challenging futures. Making amends – or at least making it into the room with Steinberg – is a priority.
In recent years, the Metro Chamber has seen its influence as the voice of local business challenged, notably by the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, known as GSAC.
Since its formation in 2014 by founding members that include Pacific Coast Building Products, VSP, the Sacramento Kings and The McClatchy Co., which owns The Sacramento Bee, GSAC has risen quickly in prominence, becoming a go-to partner for the current mayor with a high-profile staff and larger budget than the chamber.
Steinberg said Barry Broome, head of GSAC, “certainly is somebody that I am developing a strong relationship with.” Many in the business community see the chamber’s political rift with Steinberg as a major obstacle to recovering relevancy.
The negative mailer sent by the chamber was “cynical and quite frankly just stupid from a realpolitik perspective,” said developer Mark Friedman. He is a board member of GSAC and a member of the chamber, as well as a Steinberg supporter.
“They’ve got a lot of ground to make up to be a credible voice for business,” he added.
Metro Chamber President and CEO Peter Tateishi said he sat down with Steinberg recently and stressed that the chamber “stands ready to assist Mayor Steinberg’s vision of economic growth.”
Tateishi said while the mailer was discussed, “Steinberg is a very good man so he didn’t make this a hard process in any way, shape or form ... Darrell has been a very gracious individual, and he understands politics happen.”
The mailers sent in late May attempted to tie Steinberg to corruption scandals that occurred in the Legislature during his tenure as president pro tem of the Senate. They insinuated pay-for-play politics regarding the development of McKinley Village – which Steinberg did not have a direct vote on. And one mailer portrayed him as anti-farmworker for one of his labor contracting bills, despite the fact that it was backed by the United Farm Workers union.
The mailers caused consternation among both Steinberg’s supporters and rivals, including members of the Metro Chamber who were never consulted in advance. The chamber distanced itself from the pieces, which was were funded through an independent expenditure committee run by a San Diego-area consultant. Besides the Metro Chamber, backers included the anti-union Western Electrical Contractors Association and Gerawan Farming, a Central Valley agricultural giant that fought Steinberg in the Legislature.
Steinberg said the negative campaigning made him mad – not for himself, but for the city.
“Whatever harm that they tried to do to me … it’s not about me,” said Steinberg. “I think they owe an apology to the community because we ought to have a standard of behavior around how we communicate, how we engage in civic and political discourse, and in that instance it was violated.”
The firefighters union is likewise scrambling to move beyond mayoral election politics as it faces tough city issues in coming months. The firefighters were one of Ashby’s earliest supporters and a major financial contributor, and she has worked closely with the group throughout her tenure on the council.
Steinberg said he didn’t mind that the firefighters had backed his rival, but he took issue with the fact that the union did not go through its usual competitive endorsement process and give candidates an equal opportunity.
“It’s not secret that I was not happy,” Steinberg said. But “it’s always about the way it’s done.”
The city auditor will release a report soon examining financial issues for the Fire Department, including high levels of overtime pay. The department has about 60 unfilled positions and is having difficulty hiring, according to Fire Fighters Local 522 president Brian Rice. He would like to see that context included in the discussion of overtime.
Firefighters are also in continuing talks with the city over staffing, specifically whether to replace firefighters with less-expensive civilians or paramedics in some emergency roles. The union says the staffing changes could present safety issues for both firefighters and the public, but discussion has largely centered on the financial implications.
Steinberg met recently with Rice, who said they had a positive meeting.
“Is everything healed and is everything perfect? I don’t think so by any means,” Rice said. “We were on opposite sides of an election and that damages a relationship … He’s a classy guy, and I really don’t expect to be cut off at the knees or shunned but we’re going to have to work extra hard to show we are committed to the mayor (elect), committed to the city.”
The Sacramento Police Officers Association, the union for officers, also endorsed Ashby but through an interview process that allowed both leading candidates to meet with its executive board. Union president Timothy Davis said he had spoken to Steinberg numerous times during the endorsement process and called the day after the election to congratulate him. That communication helped maintain a positive relationship, he said.
“The election is over and he’s won and we look forward to helping him,” Davis said. “We’re optimistic that we can work together to find common ground.”
Steinberg also has met with Ashby for more than three hours, a parley both describe in positive terms.
“We both cleared the air a little bit about any lingering things we had from the campaign or things that didn’t feel good when they were said,” Ashby said. “Then I would say the lion’s share, 90 percent of the conversation, was about moving Sacramento forward and talking about things from his plan or things from my plan that we could wed together, how I could help him.”
Steinberg said he believes when he becomes mayor, he will have the support of the full council, including Ashby.
“I’m not playing the game of this faction and that faction,” Steinberg said. “Angelique and I will be fine. She will be a good colleague and we will work well together.”
As for those others, Steinberg said he will forgive. Eventually.
“I have a good, long memory, but I also intend to work with everyone,” he said. “I don’t have time nor the inclination to hold grudges, at least that don’t further my goals.”