City Beat

Jennings wins seat on Sacramento City Council; Harris, Shah in run-off

Nonprofit executive director Rick Jennings has won a seat on the Sacramento City Council, defeating former Fire Chief Julius Cherry in a closely watched race in the Pocket, Greenhaven and Valley Hi neighborhoods.

Also determined Wednesday was the field for a November runoff for the City Council District 3 seat representing east Sacramento and South Natomas. City parks commissioner Jeff Harris and financial adviser Cyril Shah will face off in that race, emerging from a field of seven candidates in the primary.

Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine said that election officials have finished counting ballots for the June primary and that the results are final.

Jennings had 50.53 percent of the votes, enough to avoid a runoff with Cherry in November by just 54 votes.

“I’m so excited,” Jennings said. “I’m looking forward to representing the people and the businesses of District 7 and being the council member that will represent their voices.”

The campaign pitted two well-known, well-connected candidates against one another. Jennings and Cherry have lived in the district for years and combined to spend roughly $240,000 on the race as of the middle of May, the latest date for which campaign finance records are available.

Two issues came to define the race: the public financing of a new downtown sports arena and the candidates’ connections to Mayor Kevin Johnson. Jennings is a vocal supporter of the City Council’s decision to spend $255 million on the arena, and he once led the nonprofit organization founded by Johnson. Jennings’ wife, Cassandra, is a special adviser in the mayor’s office.

Cherry, meanwhile, sought to distance himself from Johnson early in the campaign, proclaiming on his website that he wasn’t “the mayor’s favorite candidate.” He also opposed the arena financing plan, arguing it carries too much risk and could hamper the city’s ability to provide core services such as police and fire protection.

Cherry said he called Jennings on Wednesday and left him a message congratulating him on his victory.

“I’m tremendously proud of the campaign we ran, and I’m grateful to all the people who helped me out,” Cherry said. “Ultimately, I came up short, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of the last year for anything.”

Jennings will replace Councilman Darrell Fong, who is running for the state Assembly.

In east Sacramento and South Natomas, Harris received 26.2 percent of the vote and Shah 23.6 percent. Seven candidates ran for the seat being vacated by Councilman Steve Cohn, who is stepping down from office after 20 years to run for the Assembly.

“Coming out on top was nice, considering the amount of money that was spent,” Harris said.

Harris said he spent about $12,500 on the primary campaign. The most recent campaign finance records showed Shah had spent roughly $120,000 – more than the rest of the field combined.

“I’m grateful to have won a spot in the runoff,” Shah said. “I look forward to a new, spirited campaign and to a healthy debate about our experience, our qualifications and our ideas.”