Schenirer the only clear winner in contested Sacramento City Council races

Sacramento Councilman Jay Schenirer, representing neighborhoods across the city’s south side, won a second term Tuesday night, while nonprofit executive director Rick Jennings is on the verge of grabbing the council seat representing the Pocket, Greenhaven and Valley Hi neighborhoods.

With all precincts reporting, three candidates were bunched together at the top in the campaign for the seat representing east Sacramento and South Natomas. General contractor Jeff Harris led with 25.8 percent of the vote, public school teacher Ellen Cochrane tallied 23.1 percent and financial adviser Cyril Shah gained 22.9 percent. None of the candidates were close to receiving 50 percent of the vote, meaning the top two will face off in the November general election after the votes are certified.

Schenirer totaled 62 percent of the vote, leading labor organizer Ali Cooper’s 37 percent in the district covering Curtis Park, Oak Park and a swath of diverse neighborhoods just south of downtown and midtown.

Jennings had a surprising 50.7 percent of the vote, topping former city fire chief Julius Cherry’s 41.3 percent. With three candidates in the race, Jennings will win the seat outright if his lead remains above 50 percent after all the votes are certified. Many observers thought the race would end up in a run-off.

“We are tired, exuberant and excited,” Jennings said Tuesday night before all precincts were reported. “We want to declare victory.”

Mayor Kevin Johnson and former Councilman Robbie Waters, who represented the district for 16 years, dropped by the event at Giovanni’s Pizzeria in South Land Park.

“I just really believe that this is just what I need as a replacement,” said Waters, who was defeated in 2010.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby did not have an opponent in North Natomas and was re-elected to a second term.

The District 7 race in the Pocket, Greenhaven and Valley Hi neighborhoods was an expensive endeavor, with Cherry, Jennings and Abe Snobar combining to spend more than $240,000. The campaign also grew increasingly contentious in the closing weeks.

A statewide political committee funded nearly $40,000 in mail ads attacking Cherry for his taxpayer-funded pension of $188,000 a year. Cherry, who served in the city Fire Department for 30 years, receives the largest annual retirement of any former city employee.

Jennings also was hit by campaign pieces. One piece called him “Jackpot Rick” and said he was closely tied to developers, political insiders and big business. The ads were funded by the Sacramento Central Labor Council, a regional coalition of unions that supported Cherry.

Cherry drew a contrast with Jennings by distancing himself from Mayor Kevin Johnson, proclaiming on his website that he wasn’t “the mayor’s favorite candidate.”

At his campaign headquarters in Greenhaven, Cherry said he was “a little disappointed, a little down” with the results.

“I expressed concerns about the arena,” he said. “I got a lot of punishment for that.”

Jennings, on the other hand, has close ties to the mayor. His wife is a special adviser in the mayor’s office, and Jennings once led the nonprofit organization that Johnson founded.

In District 5, Cooper sought to portray Schenirer as a downtown insider who has been more concerned with a new arena for the Kings than the needs of the challenged neighborhoods that make up the district. Cooper was backed by many of the city’s labor unions and Democratic Party clubs.

Those groups are upset with Schenirer’s vote last year to ease restrictions on big-box superstores in city limits. The new rules would make it easier for chains such as Wal-Mart – a company that has battled with unions for years – to open in the city.

Still, Schenirer had the support of many neighborhood leaders in his district who said he has supported causes from after-school programs to neighborhood beautification efforts. WayUp, a nonprofit Schenirer founded after his election in 2010, has raised more than $1 million for health screenings and mentoring programs in Oak Park.

Schenirer also was supported by building trades unions whose workers will help build the new downtown arena.

One of the most crowded fields of candidates in recent memory battled for the District 3 seat covering east Sacramento and South Natomas. Seven candidates campaigned for the seat, which is being vacated by Councilman Steve Cohn.

Cohn has occupied the seat for 20 years and is the longest-serving council member in the city’s history.

The debate over whether the city should approve the McKinley Village housing development near east Sacramento dominated much of the campaign.

Financial adviser Shah spent more than the rest of the field combined, and his campaign produced a large number of signs around the district. Also vying for the seat were Cochrane, a teacher; business owner Deane Dana; real estate broker Efren M. Guttierrez; general contractor Harris; housing analyst Adam Sartain; and children’s services director Rosalyn Van Buren.

Related information:

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