Darrell Steinberg on Monday touted his experience as one of the state Capitol’s most powerful leaders, saying it will give him an edge if he’s elected Sacramento mayor.
Angelique Ashby, the city councilwoman running against him for the job, sought to portray Steinberg’s experience as state Senate leader as a liability rather than an asset.
The two met in a sometimes contentious debate that also featured long-shot candidate Tony Lopez at Sacramento State’s University Union Ballroom. The event was sponsored by The Sacramento Bee, ABC10, Capital Public Radio and Sacramento State’s Associated Students Inc.
“It’s getting a little chippy in here,” Steinberg remarked after one heated exchange.
Ashby, who has represented North Natomas at City Hall since 2010, began by highlighting the state of the city. “I’m currently on the council, and I’m proud of the trajectory we’re on,” she said.
“I am your local candidate, I am the person who is all about Sacramento, I am the person who is 100 percent in,” she said.
Steinberg said his long list of support from current City Council members, state leaders, labor groups and business organizations shows he can deliver a coalition to City Hall. During the debate, his campaign announced that he had been endorsed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
“These endorsements reflect a lifetime of work and the fact that people from all communities support me because they know I always deliver for Sacramento,” he said.
Ashby throughout the debate criticized him for not doing enough for the city while he was Senate leader. Steinberg, in turn, said he was proud of his record as Senate leader during a wrenching recession, and noted that his duties included finding a way to close a $42 billion budget deficit.
“You balanced that budget on the backs of local governments,” Ashby snapped back.
The debate exposed some policy differences between the candidates.
Steinberg said he opposes concealed weapons permits. “I think we have far too many guns on the streets,” he said.
Ashby said she was not opposed to the permits, but thinks there are too many in Sacramento. She said the permits are valuable for some people, such as prosecutors and others who work in the criminal justice system.
Ashby said she opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana in California, saying it would create “a bad precedent.” Steinberg said he “reluctantly supports” the proposal. “I would rather have it aboveground and taxed than have it underground and not taxed,” he said.
Much of the focus of the debate was on the candidates’ political background.
Ashby pointed to the state’s decision in 2011 to end redevelopment subsidy programs and criticized the state for not sending money from the state’s cap-and-trade pollution credit auctions to Sacramento for affordable housing.
She blamed Steinberg, saying he “couldn’t protect us” from those decisions. In an interview after the debate, Ashby said Steinberg was a fine state senator.
“I just don’t think he’s meant to be mayor,” she said.
Steinberg said the city was to blame for some of the issues raised by Ashby. For example, he said the first round of cap-and-trade funding delivered to cities occurred in 2015, after he had left the Senate, and the city missed out on receiving any of that money. And he said the Legislature had tried to simply cut redevelopment funding, but that the program was abolished entirely as a result of a lawsuit by redevelopment agencies and cities.
He pledged to bring more state resources to the city to tackle homelessness, vocational education and other major issues.
“I see missed opportunity everywhere in Sacramento,” Steinberg said.
Lopez said he would promote moving job centers into neighborhoods outside of downtown and charge homeless people $100 a month to live in permanent housing. He touted his role as the outsider.
“I don’t owe nobody nothing,” he said.
Ashby again criticized Steinberg’s transfer of $1.4 million he raised for a potential lieutenant governor campaign into his mayoral account. She said “there is no way” Steinberg should be allowed to use the $1.4 million, noting much of the money was donated by special interest groups with business at the Capitol.
Ashby has received donations from and has the support of some notable local interest groups, including the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. An independent expenditure committee has been established in support of Ashby with $125,000 from firefighter and police unions.
Steinberg said he does not plan to spend all the money he’s raised but said the fact that he had closed his lieutenant governor account shows he is “all in. I want to be mayor of Sacramento.” He said the money he has isn’t the full picture of his campaign, noting he has held 53 “meet and greets” in residents’ homes and knocked on 2,000 doors.
“I’m running to meet the people, learn from the people and earn their trust,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with how I’ve run this campaign.”
A city councilman in the 1990s, Steinberg also listed cases in which he said City Hall has not functioned well in recent years. He said the parks department had been decimated and that the city’s ties to public schools should be strengthened. And he said the structure of city government should be reorganized to place a larger emphasis on neighborhood services.
Ashby said some of Steinberg’s criticism of the city’s performance was unfair. “In fairness, we’ve been in a recession,” she said. “We’re rebuilding now.”
In an interview after the debate, Steinberg said the city’s shortcomings are the result both of the system and the people in leadership positions. But Steinberg stopped short of criticizing the work of the City Council; he has the endorsement of six current council members.