City Beat

Jerry Brown expresses support for strong-mayor systems

Gov. Jerry Brown, who successfully campaigned for a strong-mayor measure when he was elected mayor of Oakland, indirectly threw his support behind the strong-mayor proposal in Sacramento on Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, Michelle Rhee, the mayor’s wife and one of the Measure L campaign’s lead public figures, addressed the previous day’s revelation that she is not registered to vote in Sacramento. Rhee is registered to vote in Tennessee.

Brown’s comments about Measure L were released by the campaign in favor of the measure on Wednesday morning. “In a large, diverse city, there has to be a unifying force, and an elected mayor with executive authority fills that bill,” the governor said in a statement. “It’s more democratic for the people to elect the one who has the authority and is not just a figurehead.”

Johnson, the lead proponent of Measure L, said Brown “knows exactly how essential it is to have a city government work well.”

In a written statement, Johnson called the governor’s comments “a huge boost for our campaign to move Sacramento forward with Measure L.”

Brown successfully passed a strong-mayor ballot measure in Oakland in 1998 as he campaigned for the job. The measure earned 75 percent of the vote.

Oakland voters decided to permanently re-approve the strong-mayor measure with a “sunset” vote in 2002. Sacramento’s measure calls for a sunset vote in 2020.

The governor’s statement did not amount to a formal endorsement, as he has declined to back specific ballot measures and initiatives around the state this year, instead choosing to focus on state water bond and budget propositions on the November ballot.

Also on Wednesday, Rhee offered more information about why she is registered to vote in Tennessee rather than Sacramento.

Rhee said she has joint custody of her two children and spends most of her time in Tennessee, “where my children are in school.” She said she and her ex-husband “have an agreement that I establish residency in Tennessee because it’s better for the kids in lots of ways.” She declined to provide more specifics.

Johnson and Rhee have been married for three years. When Rhee announced in August that she was stepping down as the head of national education organization StudentsFirst, she said it was to focus on Johnson’s political efforts. She has represented the Measure L campaign at three debates.

Councilman Steve Hansen, the lead spokesman for Stop the Power Grab, the opposition campaign to strong mayor, debated Rhee on Tuesday at the Sacramento Press Club. Asked about Rhee’s voter registration, Hansen said Wednesday that “it’s curious our first lady does not have a say in what we are doing, but that’s her choice.

“We need to stick to the merits of why Measure L is good or bad and leave it up to the people who can vote on it,” he said.

Jessica Levinson, an ethics and campaign expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Rhee’s voter registration would not have been a campaign issue had she “been forthcoming with it earlier.”

“It fundamentally boils down to whether the public is going to trust her argument less because she’s advocating for something she can’t vote on,” Levinson said. “It will likely be the case that some people will want to hear from her because they think she’s an expert and other people will say this doesn’t affect you, why are you weighing in?”

Rhee said her voter-registration status does not impact her credibility on the issue.

“As the person who knows (Johnson) best and spends the most time with him, we thought it would be helpful to add my voice to the conversation as I think I have a unique perspective,” she said.

Measure L would allow the mayor to appoint and fire the city manager, essentially transferring many of the day-to-day responsibilities of the city manager to the mayor. The city manager is currently appointed and removed by the City Council.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at

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