Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Sacramento's political prowess helped keep the Kings

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

Making certain that the financing of a downtown arena never landed on a public ballot was one of the key triumphs of a shrewd political strategy to secure the future of the Kings in Sacramento.

It was coolly executed by the likes of Chris Lehane, a political operative with a national profile who advised Mayor Kevin Johnson in developing a plan to neutralize legitimate opposition to the arena.

Major factions were all aligned: labor, business, key players at the Capitol – both Democrat and Republican – and a large majority of a formerly fractured city council.

You can't find a soul with any money or clout willing to oppose the arena project at the Downtown Plaza.

Some grass-roots folks are trying, but they don't have deep pockets and are seeking help in far-off Orange County.

As I sat on a panel of the American Association of Political Consultants on Tuesday, I asked if any local political pros would throw a line to the grass-roots effort.


There are too many constituents with juice or politicians with muscle who want the arena, which is why opposition is headed by two older gentlemen working on principle.

Some senior citizens consistently have been the most passionate arena critics because they oppose a public subsidy or don't want anyone messing with their idea of what Sacramento should be.

Rob Stutzman, a GOP strategist who ran Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign, is like many politically savvy supporters of an arena. He wanted the Kings to stay in Sacramento, hated the previous Kings owners, and saw economic benefits for his city and himself if the franchise remained and an arena was built.

Frankly, the biggest threat to the arena is if the main players – the new owners and their various constituencies – were to have a falling out during the daunting process of delivering an arena in three short years.

Those who oppose the public financing piece of the arena – $258 million raised mostly by borrowing against future revenue of downtown garages – refuse to admit a central truth: That decision was a policy call well within the discretion of elected officials.

It was a broad-based decision of the City Council aggressively sought by John Shirey, the Sacramento city manager who is no close ally of Johnson.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg convinced the NBA that a downtown arena would not get bogged down by environmental challenges. State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, was an early and vocal arena supporter. Consequently, right-leaning, anti-tax groups sat out the campaign.

It's no wonder Sacramento overwhelmed Seattle in the quest to keep the Kings. Politics is the local business, and this was the king of all plays.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.