Sacramento Mayor-elect Steinberg names chief of staff, senior team

Mike McKeever
Mike McKeever

Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg has picked his right-hand man: Mike McKeever, the well-known transportation and urban-growth guru.

McKeever, 61, will be Steinberg’s chief of staff, bringing heft to the new mayor’s pursuit of power beyond city borders with his years of contacts and clout.

McKeever has headed the Sacramento Area Council of Governments since 2004, wrangling representatives from more than two-dozen local governments in the six-county region in a bid to create managed growth. In that role, he has pushed to contain sprawl and create neighborhoods where residents can walk and work. SACOG decides how transportation dollars will be spent, and also works on such issues as housing and air quality.

Steinberg and McKeever first worked together in 2008, when Steinberg was in the state Senate and passed the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, Steinberg said.

“Mike was really at my side,” Steinberg said. “We worked together negotiating … a very complicated bill.”

Steinberg said he tapped McKeever for this job because, “he loves the city and the region, and he has the relationships and skills.”

McKeever is retiring from SACOG at the end of this year, but decided to keep working after Steinberg asked for his help. Steinberg said McKeever at first thought the job offer was a gag, “but I was not joking,” he said.

McKeever has been advising Steinberg on a volunteer basis for months as the mayor-elect endures an unusually long transition period after a decisive June election victory kept him off the November ballot and gave him six months as mayor-in-waiting.

Steinberg, former president pro-tem of the California state Senate, has used that period to begin working on specific, often regional plans, for issues like homelessness and housing.

Steinberg takes office Dec. 13, but McKeever will not officially start until January.

McKeever will likely only serve for a year to help the mayor get his agenda up and running, Steinberg said. He also announced that Crystal Strait, Mayor Kevin Johnson’s chief of staff, will remain at City Hall as one of his senior team members.

Steinberg also said that Kelly Rivas, who headed Steinberg’s campaign for mayor, will also head to City Hall as a senior adviser.

Strait will likely focus on economic issues, including innovation programs around high-tech, as well as acting as a liaison on federal and state issues.

Steinberg said he chose Strait because she is “deft at working to solve problems.”

Strait has been with Johnson for just over a year. Prior to that, she worked at the state Capitol as chief of staff to Sen. Richard Pan. She spearheaded efforts to pass a controversial bill last year that abolished religious exemptions to childhood vaccinations. That law has boosted vaccination rates for kids in California.

Strait also worked as Sen. Barbara Boxer’s political director on her 2010 campaign, as well as serving as the political director of the California Democratic Party for more than three years and communications director for Southern California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine. She has also served as president of the California Young Democrats of America.

Before managing Steinberg’s campaign, Rivas worked for 2 1/2 years as field director and press secretary in Rep. Ami Bera’s field office. Prior to that, she worked for political consultant Jim Gonzalez & Associates on a variety of congressional races and issues. She started her career as a community organizer, working on a statewide ballot initiative with iconic labor activists Dolores Huerta and Fred Ross Jr. She is a founding member and past president of the Sacramento chapter of the Fem Dems, a local Democratic Party organization for young women.

Steinberg said Rivas is “multitalented” and “has the unique ability to work with everybody.”

Rivas will likely be charged with handling press, as well as working on issues of police reform and community outreach.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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