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Former boxing champ Tony Lopez to run for Sacramento mayor

Three-time world boxing champion Tony “The Tiger” Lopez, seen in 2008, worked as a bail bondsman after retiring from the ring and now is in the Sacramento mayor’s race.
Three-time world boxing champion Tony “The Tiger” Lopez, seen in 2008, worked as a bail bondsman after retiring from the ring and now is in the Sacramento mayor’s race. Sacramento Bee file

Former professional boxing champion Tony Lopez plans to announce Friday he will run for Sacramento mayor, pitching himself as an underdog contending with two established politicians.

Lopez, 52, was a three-time world champion in the late 1980s and early 1990s, becoming one of the city’s biggest celebrities at the time.

Nicknamed “The Tiger,” Lopez retired in 1999 with a record of 50-8-1, according to the website boxrec.com, and he has since worked as a bail bondsman in downtown Sacramento. He plans to formally launch his campaign Friday evening at Vallejo’s Restaurant on O Street in Sacramento.

With Mayor Kevin Johnson declining to seek re-election next year, Lopez will face former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, both of whom already have secured significant endorsements. Steinberg also can tap most of the $1.4 million in campaign funds he raised while he was in state office.

Lopez is a registered Republican, while Ashby and Steinberg are Democrats. In the city of Sacramento, just under 20 percent of voters are Republicans, compared to nearly 52 percent who are Democrats, according to county records.

“I know Steinberg has a million in the bank and that’s great, but we’ve started our social media campaign,” said CT Perez, a campaign spokesman for Lopez. “We’re going to run a new kind of campaign on social media. We’re not going to have the money we want and we know that, but we’ve got a lot of followers.”

Perez added, “We really think people from the middle and lower class will support this kind of contender. He comes from a tough upbringing in Oak Park and went to one of the toughest schools in the region,” referring to Luther Burbank High School in south Sacramento.

Steinberg said Thursday in a text message, “I welcome and respect anyone who puts themselves out there and wants to serve the public.” Ashby was not available for comment.

Andrew Acosta, a Democratic political consultant, said Lopez’s team is likely underestimating the competition and the challenge of running a campaign as an everyman.

“History shows it’s really hard to win races like this when you don’t have infrastructure and a campaign measure and plan, other than your boxing picture on a flier,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s room for a third candidate who can’t put it together organizationally, or with a budget.”

Lopez has staked out one policy difference from Steinberg and Ashby, according to Perez – opposition to the downtown sports arena opening next year as Golden 1 Center.

“He wasn’t a big fan of the taxpayer-funded arena,” Perez said. “You’d think a big sports guy would support it, but he didn’t think it was smart.”

In an August interview with the boxing website ES News, Lopez said he wants to bring more jobs to Sacramento.

“I think Sacramento is going in the right – well, kind of going in the right direction,” Lopez said. “I think we obviously have a homeless problem. We have an elderly problem, and we need to bring more jobs to Sacramento because, you know, now we have probably by the time it’s over, a $400 million debt with a new arena, and we’ve got to bring something to support it. We have nothing to support that.”

Sacramento has committed to contributing $255 million toward the arena. The city is counting on higher parking revenue to replenish city coffers and help pay off arena bonds.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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