After months of cordial – even complimentary – exchanges at debates and forums, the two leading candidates for Sacramento mayor jabbed at one another during a 90-minute televised debate Wednesday night.
Councilwoman Angelique Ashby criticized former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg for scandals that occurred in the Senate while he was Senate president pro tem and for the end of a vital funding stream for affordable housing.
Steinberg responded by saying Ashby had not “owned” her overstatement of a crime reduction in her City Council district.
The tense exchanges began early in the debate televised and hosted by KCRA. After Ashby blamed the state Legislature – under Steinberg’s watch – for dismantling redevelopment agencies and thereby cutting off a large affordable housing funding mechanism, Steinberg fired back.
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“Sometimes you have a habit of not checking your facts,” he said, his first direct public shot at Ashby since the campaign began.
Ashby had said at previous forums that crime in her district decreased 48 percent in her first term. But after The Sacramento Bee questioned those numbers in March, the Police Department, city manager and Ashby said she was provided inaccurate numbers to calculate the change. Subsequent data provided by the police showed that crime remained flat in Ashby’s district.
Later in the debate, Steinberg said, “Ashby had been running around the community, saying that crime had been reduced 48 percent in her district. I don’t think a reasonable person could conclude that crime had been reduced by that amount.”
“When you make mistakes, own them, don’t blame the city manager or the police chief,” he added.
Ashby noted Wednesday she has the support of most of the region’s public safety unions and said there has been a “high success rate in my own district” in addressing crime. The crime rate in North Natomas is among the lowest in the city, and the area has ranked at or near the bottom in the city in most crime categories.
“Public safety is the No. 1 issue and my No. 1 priority not only as a council member but coming in as mayor,” she said, adding her focus on youth programs, police officers in schools and libraries has helped make North Natomas one of the safest parts of the city.
Also for the first time, Ashby went after Steinberg for scandals that hit the state Senate while he was its leader. Three senators were arrested and “scandal has been rich at the state level,” Ashby said when asked about recent ethical concerns at Sacramento City Hall.
“That builds distrust just as much as an environment at City Hall,” she said. “People need to trust their elected officials; we have to earn that.” Earlier in the debate, Ashby had said, “This race isn’t about the Senate; this is about Sacramento and who is all in – and that’s clearly me.”
Steinberg responded to Ashby’s criticism by saying he “handled (the three arrests) exactly the way it should be handled as a leader” by suspending the two senators who faced the more serious allegations.
“It was the necessary and right thing to do,” he said.
Also taking part in the debate were disability rights activist Russell Rawlings and former boxing champion Tony Lopez.
“I understand the struggles a lot of Sacramentans face,” Rawlings said, adding that he lives in public housing in Oak Park. “We just need to encourage those who have been able to benefit from our growth to share a little bit with our neighbors.”
Lopez said he’s “not a politician. I’m a problem solver.”
He said the city has not done enough to develop its riverfront, “needs to get crime under control” and make sure the elderly and “ones on fixed income are taken care of.”
Ashby and Steinberg are the front-runners in the June primary campaign, having amassed the longest lists of endorsements and largest campaign bankrolls. Both are also well-known in the city; Ashby has represented North Natomas on the City Council since 2010 and Steinberg spent two decades in elected office on the City Council, state Assembly and, most recently, the state Senate.
Ashby told The Bee in October that she was running for mayor, hours before Mayor Kevin Johnson told The Bee he would not seek a third term. Ashby later said she was prepared to take Johnson on and released a poll showing she could have beaten the two-term mayor.
She has the support of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the unions representing city police and firefighters, state Sen. Richard Pan and Assemblyman Jim Cooper.
Ashby opened her remarks in the debate by casting herself as a leader in city politics who entered City Hall when “bad decisions and dysfunction” had contributed to budget problems, a struggling downtown and neglected neighborhoods.
“I ran for City Council because I wanted to change that,” she said. “I am proud of what we have achieved in the last six years.”
Steinberg’s inclusion in the race was rumored for weeks before he announced his run nearly a week after Ashby. He has the support of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, pro-business group Region Business, six City Council members and a majority of the Sacramento city and Natomas school boards.
Steinberg promoted his 20-plus years of experience throughout the debate. He said he was uniquely positioned to drive public investment in the city’s infrastructure, affordable housing and housing.
“I have always (delivered) in ways that seek to bring people together and have never hesitated to tackle the most complex issues,” he said. “You can trust me to work with you to deliver results.”