Politics & Government

Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson looks forward in speech at mayors conference

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Kevin Johnson and President Barack Obama at the event.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Kevin Johnson and President Barack Obama at the event. The Associated Press

In his final hours as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson shared a stage with politicians and music icons, athletes and CEOs.

He shook hands with President Barack Obama, kissed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the cheek, posed for pictures with MC Hammer, asked Carlos Santana where he most prefers to perform (answer: Fresno), screened an ESPN documentary about the new Sacramento Kings arena and launched a youth initiative standing alongside the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

It is a fittingly glitzy end to his yearlong tenure, which has raised Johnson’s political capital and, he has said, elevated the national profile of Sacramento.

“For Sacramento, it has always been important,” Johnson said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee earlier this month. “It gave me direct access to the White House, federal agencies. It increases the city’s visibility 1,000 percent.”

Johnson presided this weekend over the group’s annual meeting – a four-day extravaganza of conferences, cocktail hours, a light show at San Francisco City Hall, concerts, parties and speeches that attracted nearly 300 mayors from Alaska to Maine.

Through it all, Johnson’s defining project, coined Cities 3.0, held center stage.

It’s a vision Johnson has made it a point to see through in his hometown as well, making “Sacramento 3.0” a well-known buzzword of his time in office. It’s what Johnson has said will shape the city’s economic future.

Agriculture and the Gold Rush, he has said, were Sacramento 1.0, and becoming California’s political hub led to the city’s 2.0 iteration.

But, according to Johnson, 3.0 is all about technology driving economic growth.

“Our 3.0 cities are paperless, they’re wireless and they’re cashless,” he said in his farewell address. “There are more cellphones than landlines, more tablets than desktops and more smart devices than toothbrushes.”

Corporate sponsorships have increased under Johnson’s reign, as has the mayors group’s membership and revenue.

Clinton, who spoke to the mayors early Saturday, applauded Johnson’s tech-centric vision.

“Kevin Johnson, who has led both Sacramento and this conference so ably, calls this renaissance of urban innovation ‘Cities 3.0’ ” Clinton said in her address. “And talks about open source leadership and mayors as pragmatic problem solvers. That’s what we need more of in America.”

But even days of revelry could not overshadow the tension of a country wrestling with racial tensions and mistrust of law enforcement.

The Wednesday slaying of nine congregants at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., hung over the conference in its opening days. Johnson on Friday asked a packed ballroom of politicians and press to hold a moment of silence for the victims. Clinton and Obama gave speeches about the shooting.

On Monday, Johnson and Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. are to join other mayors and public safety officials to discuss race relations and law enforcement.

In his final address to the group, Johnson reached back to his humble beginnings as a “poor kid from the poor part of Sacramento.”

Flanked by prominent politicians and powerful CEOs, Johnson recalled the awe and disbelief he felt on his first trip to the White House after he was elected mayor in 2008.

“Who would have thought a poor kid from the poor part of Sacramento would be invited to the White House and serve as the president of this esteemed organization?” he said, then looked to his mother standing in the audience. “Mom, we did it.”

Marissa Lang: (916) 321-1038; @Marissa_Jae

Related stories from Sacramento Bee