The celebrity who became Sacramento’s mayor is now a celebrity mayor.
In his splashy State of the City performance, Kevin Johnson also took on the roles of salesman and showman.
He’s selling a vision he calls “Sacramento 3.0” – a high-tech hub centered around innovation (an entire district in the downtown railyard anchored by the UC Davis World Food Center), infrastructure (citywide Wi-Fi, 10,000 new housing units downtown and possibly a sparkling new performing arts center) and inclusion (jobs for veterans, housing for the homeless, a more diverse police force and possibly a higher minimum wage).
Like a good showman, Johnson saved his big reveal for last: San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York and other team owners are joining Sacramento Republic FC’s bid to bring a Major League Soccer franchise here.
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“Sacramento, we’re on a roll,” the cheerleader-in-chief declared Thursday night. “Sacramento has crazy momentum and energy right now,” he said later.
Since he is a star, Johnson was introduced by Scott Moak in the same over-the-top way he does the player introductions at Kings games: The mayor – a hero, a dreamer, an implementer.
“Our mayor is cooler than your mayor,” Moak said.
Even President Barack Obama might agree. After Johnson introduced him at an event last week in Washington, D.C., Obama said, “Kevin has that flair about him.”
Johnson is accustomed to the spotlight. He jumped into politics after a career in the NBA; one of the pre-show giveaways was a pair of his Converse sneakers, apparently a collectors’ item.
As mayor, his profile took a leap last spring when he helped lead NBA players in their successful push to oust L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling over racist remarks. When Johnson became president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors last summer, it gave him a national platform to tackle issues such as race, poverty and the fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.
Like other celebrity politicians, Johnson is getting more accolades on the national stage than back home. And here, he’s more popular with business leaders (who filled the VIP section at Memorial Auditorium) than the public at large (lots of empty seats in the general admission section in the balcony). While CEOs and developers backed him on the downtown arena, those pesky voters refused last November to give him more power.
Speaking of which, Johnson announced that even without “strong mayor,” he plans to take a bigger role in drafting the city budget. He presented it as a way to give the community more say, but it would diminish City Manager John Shirey’s authority. So it’ll be fascinating to watch whether Johnson can do this without sparring with Shirey – or even prompting Shirey to jump ship.
If the mayor can pull off that trick, then he can add another line to his résumé – magician.