Darrell Steinberg said his mind wasn’t completely made up until the early-morning hours of Oct. 21.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had announced just a few hours earlier that he would not seek a third term, setting the stage for a wide-open race for the city’s top political post. Steinberg’s name had been floated for months as a potential candidate and his cellphone was full of messages from supporters asking him about his plans.
“I turned to my wife and said, ‘Our lives are going to be different,’ ” Steinberg said Tuesday.
But it wasn’t until Tuesday, in an interview with The Sacramento Bee, that Steinberg officially put to rest one of the worst-kept secrets in local politics: He is running for Sacramento mayor.
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Steinberg told The Bee he is getting into the race “with a grateful heart” and that he believes “our community is on the cusp of something great.” He will publicly announce his candidacy Wednesday morning during a rally at the Mill at Broadway, a large new residential development under construction south of downtown.
“We’ve started an economic renaissance, and it’s going to be my job, if I’m fortunate enough to be elected, to not only continue that but enhance it,” Steinberg said. “I think the job of the mayor of a big city is to be the leader on high-wage job creation and economic growth.”
Steinberg will face two-term Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who declared her candidacy Oct. 21, minutes after Johnson publicly announced his decision to depart next year.
Ashby immediately received the support of the city firefighters’ union and state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. On Tuesday, former Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully announced her support for Ashby, saying in an emailed statement that “Angelique has led the way on critical public safety issues including improving emergency response times, establishing Sacramento’s Police Commission, expanding critical community policing programs and protecting vital public safety funding to ensure that our police officers and firefighters can keep neighborhoods safe.”
Even before making his announcement, Steinberg had a large campaign bank account and the support of several big-name politicians in Sacramento.
He has more than $1.4 million in an account he established for a possible lieutenant governor campaign, and city elections officials have said most of the money can be transferred to a mayoral campaign account. Some of the largest donations during his final legislative session came from labor unions, trial attorneys and health care groups.
Steinberg is the first former state legislator to run for Sacramento mayor since it became a full-time position in 2002. State leaders have returned home to serve as mayors in other large California cities in recent decades, most notably former Assembly speakers Willie Brown in San Francisco and Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles; and Gov. Jerry Brown in Oakland.
Supporters printed signs featuring the slogan “Run Darrell Run” last week and Councilman Steve Hansen, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty and county Supervisor Phil Serna have all endorsed his campaign. Region Business, a political advocacy group, announced its support Monday.
“Having known Darrell for 11 years and having always known that he is a fair and straightforward person, I’m excited he’s going to run for mayor and I hope he wins because if anyone can be a mayor for all of us, it’s Darrell Steinberg,” Hansen said.
On Tuesday, former Assemblyman and county Supervisor Roger Dickinson said he also is supporting Steinberg. Dickinson said he had been approached by supporters to run for mayor but ultimately decided not to.
Steinberg said he briefly considered running for mayor in 1999, when the late Mayor Joe Serna Jr. became ill. But he reconsidered and instead served a combined 14 years in the state Assembly and Senate, including as Senate president pro tem from 2008 until the end of his term in 2014.
“I’ve thought about it during various stages of my public service,” Steinberg said. “The timing is right now. It’s almost like coming home, even though I never left.”
Steinberg also served on the City Council in the 1990s and said he was the first president of the Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association in 1991. He said he had contemplated running for statewide office, but said he considers the mayor’s position “a different and vitally important post.”
“I’ve enjoyed being out (of office). I’ve had a really good year,” Steinberg said. “But it’s still in my blood. I’ve always had the energy, and I’m in good shape.”
Steinberg said he has “great regard and respect” for Ashby, who has indicated she will seek to portray herself as the fresh candidate in what will be an expensive race. Last week, Ashby told supporters Steinberg “had a time on the City Council and it was a while back, but I think Sacramento wants to move forward.”
For his part, Steinberg said “elections are not about the past, they’re about the future.”
“When I talk about experience and accomplishments, it’s about what informs the future,” he said.