Two years ago, Sacramento elected Darrell Steinberg as mayor.
How’s it going for him so far? Good enough that we just let him talk us out of more of our money.
By Wednesday morning, Measure U, the 1 cent sales tax that Steinberg conceived and championed, was passing with 56 percent of the vote. It raises our city sales tax to 8.75 percent — one of the highest rates in the region.
The majority of us voted to hold our noses and open our wallets. Name one other local politician who could persuade us to do such a thing?
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Who but Steinberg could generate enough faith in an electorate to get us to approve a tax without even knowing where the revenue will go — because that’s the bottom line on Measure U. There are lots of promises but no guarantees about how the city will spend its $100 million a year.
We all know where a big chunk of the original Measure U tax has to land: covering labor costs, especially for police officers and firefighters. That stinks, but Steinberg made it clear if we want our city to keep functioning, we had to do it.
Fine. But the other half-cent increase was different. The other part of the penny is meant to pay for our dreams.
By the time Election Day arrived, Steinberg had pitched and proselytized before any group that would have him in one coffee klatch and rubber chicken lunch after another. Without flagging or losing his composure or being tempted to ram his head into a steel beam to make it stop, Steinberg posited Measure U as the cure for any manner of community ills and the down payment on our future.
Steinberg vowed the new revenue will pay for a cornucopia of cool things: low-income housing; neighborhood equity; homeless programs; grants for entrepreneurs. Early on, there was even talk of an aquarium, an icon to revitalize the waterfront.
Steinberg has a lot of ideas.
But now he also has our money. He has said repeatedly that he would stake his reputation on making good on all promises to all people.
He has the heart of a social worker but the ambition of a big-time player. He yearns to help the homeless, the mentally ill, the neighborhoods that Sacramento has always neglected. But he also wants a convention center that can bring more investment to Sacramento. He wants a destination waterfront like other, more notable, cities have. He wants more jobs, more amenities.
Steinberg is criticized for wanting to be all things to all people, and with Measure U, he makes an easy target for over-promising.
We all know what comes next: the teardown. Measure U can’t pay for everything. Steinberg knows it. We know it. Some of those promises Steinberg made are going to come back to haunt him.
Sacramento is full of big mouths who stand on the sidelines. These arbiters of outrage are great at identifying what is wrong and why it’s wrong. They are terrific at pounding on guys like Steinberg who have vision, and who aren’t afraid to go for the big plans.
That’s what Steinberg does. And to do that, you have to be willing to be bigger than the lowest criticism hurled at you. You have to sound the bugle and rally the brigade to battle for a cause and then not lose your resolve when you look over your shoulder and see your allies trembling or deserting.
That’s where a lot of lesser politicians get scared. They give up or cut their ambitions.
Steinberg is not that kind of guy. But he does know how to read a room, and a city. Steinberg knows something about us that I’m not certain we know ourselves.
We aren’t happy with our city. We want more. We want the waterfront and the convention center. We want autonomous cars and neighborhood equity and a new Community Center Theater and homelessness solved.
Maybe not the aquarium.
So save me the coming critique of everything Steinberg is about to do wrong, and dishonorably. Spare me the broken promises tirade.
We want it all, we just don’t want to say it, and we don’t want to figure out how to do it. And that’s ultimately why we voted for Steinberg as mayor and now why we’ve voted to give him more money — because he will try to figure it out, and he will try to keep his promises.
We bought Steinberg’s vision of Sacramento Tuesday night. Let’s give him a chance to deliver it.