Mayor’s farewell party features cake, accolades and an arena tempest

Step back, Kriss Kringle. December now belongs to KJ.

The City Council passed a resolution on Tuesday naming December in honor of outgoing Mayor Kevin Johnson, who chaired his second-to-last meeting in a chamber filled with well-wishers.

During a reception before the meeting, Johnson said, “It’s been a heck of a ride. It’s been a roller coaster. And that’s what you want on a roller coaster, right? You want ups and downs, you want twists. I ain’t realized I wanted it to that degree.”

Johnson had a final curve on that coaster late Tuesday afternoon when the Kings offered up a rebuke. The resolution passed in Johnson’s honor Tuesday night included an intent to partner with the team “to retire and raise a ‘MAYOR KJ’ jersey in the rafters at Golden 1 Center in honor of the mayor’s outstanding efforts.”

That would put his name beside jersey belonging to Sacramento Kings basketball legends. The Kings have retired 10 player jerseys, including the numbers for Chris Webber, Mitch Richmond and Vlade Divac. The team also has retired “6” in honor of the Sixth Man, a nickname given to the team’s fan base.

But a Kings spokeswoman denied such an honor would take place.

In a statement, the Kings said, “In addition to the wall honoring the mayor and City Council for their efforts to save our team, we do not have any immediate plans to retire his jersey.”

The statement left the possibility for further accolades open. “However our organization continues to look for ways to honor the mayor and all of those who were integral to the building of Golden 1 Center.”

A spokesman for Vice Mayor Rick Jennings, who spearheaded the resolution, said Jennings had discussed the matter with Kings team President Chris Granger. “Mr. Jennings has had a conversation with Mr. Granger, and they are working through the details,” said Dennis Rogers, Jennings’ chief of staff.

The City Council unanimously approved the resolution despite the controversy. Councilman Steve Hansen was not present.

Johnson, who has been protective of his privacy in recent years, shook hands, hugged and snapped selfies with about 200 supporters who gathered in the lobby to eat three kinds of cake from Ettore’s European Bakery and to drink punch.

Alfred Avalos, a 32-year-old lead steward at Golden 1 Center, said he came to express personal thanks to the mayor who helped get the arena built. “For me personally, I’ve benefited from this entire arena project,” he said. “Working (in the arena) is like a dream come true.”

While Golden 1 Center was a hot topic at the gathering, interim City Manager Howard Chan highlighted some of the departing mayor’s lower-profile achievements. Chan credited Johnson with creating a more transparent process for the city budget, and eliminating a 2 p.m. weekly council meeting that made it difficult for some working people to attend.

Chan said Johnson “made it a city for everyone.”

Council members also took turns praising Johnson during the meeting. Councilman Allen Warren, who has known Johnson since their “preteen” years, said he had “never seen an elected official ... work as hard or as long.”

Warren joked that Johnson would, “text us at 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning and then expect you to return them.”

Jennings called Johnson a “change agent,” adding that it’s “a change for the better” and citing Johnson’s work with youths and neglected areas of the city as accomplishments.

Johnson also received a surprise gift from Derek Buford, founder of local startup Quick Legal, an online legal assistance firm. Buford presented Johnson with a glove Muhammad Ali used in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he won a gold medal.

The outgoing mayor also mugged for photos with his mom, Georgia West, known around City Hall as “Mother Rose,” who took his seat on the dais and tried out the gavel.

Johnson will open a brief meeting next week, before recessing to attend the inauguration of Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg at the Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento, but Tuesday marked the official sendoff for the two-term mayor who was also the city’s first African American mayor.

Johnson declined to say what he would do next, but said he was honored to have served as the leader of his hometown.

“I just want to say thank you to Sacramento,” Johnson said from the dais. He said that he hoped, “that the people of the city might look back on my tenure and believe I left the city just a little bit better.”

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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