Moving the city past strong-mayor defeat

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson leaves with his wife, Michelle Rhee, after speaking to supporters of Measure L at Pizza Rock, in Sacramento on Tuesday.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson leaves with his wife, Michelle Rhee, after speaking to supporters of Measure L at Pizza Rock, in Sacramento on Tuesday. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Mayor Kevin Johnson got what he long wanted – a public vote on strong mayor.

He lost Tuesday, resoundingly.

Now, for Sacramento’s sake, both sides need to work together productively. Johnson has to move on and refocus on his job with his existing powers for the last two years of his term. For their part, Measure L foes shouldn’t gloat, but should find a way to embrace Johnson’s ambition for his city.

While he didn’t hide his disappointment – how could he after six years of trying to win more power? – Johnson struck the right tone at a City Hall news conference Wednesday. You can’t blame him for saying that he needs to take some time to reflect before deciding whether he’ll run again in 2016. For now, he said he will do the best he can within the current governance structure, though it will be more difficult.

“I have to respect the voters,” he said. His only concern, he said, is the apathy shown by the low voter turnout that likely helped doom Measure L.

The verdict of the voters who did show up was clear. Measure L failed badly, 57 percent to 43 percent, even though the “yes” camp had most of the money and broad support from labor and business groups. A healthy majority of Sacramentans like the city’s council-manager form of government just fine and don’t want to give the mayor’s office more power.

While The Bee’s editorial board supported Measure L as good for Sacramento no matter who is mayor, there’s no denying that it was tied closely to Johnson. In general, the measure fared best in many of the same parts of the city where Johnson drew his strongest support in his two victories.

The result is not a repudiation of Johnson’s leadership. Even Councilman Steve Hansen, who led the opposition, says so. The mayor’s job approval rating was above 60 percent – 22 percentage points ahead of support for Measure L – in pre-election polling done by the “yes” campaign. Ironically, the fact that Johnson has done a good job was one of the arguments that Measure L foes successfully used to say he didn’t need more authority.

After a divisive slugfest of a campaign, some healing needs to happen in our community – and quickly. Johnson and the City Council have a lot on their plate: overseeing development around the new arena, the riverfront and the downtown railyard; making sure that the needs of neighborhoods get attention; and preparing for a looming budget squeeze and pension debt.

Part of their to-do list also includes pushing ahead on the other important provisions in Measure L that fell by the wayside but that both sides supported: an ethics code and commission, a “sunshine” ordinance and an independent redistricting committee.

Johnson called them “good governance” reforms. Getting them done is a test of his leadership and his resolve to keep working for Sacramento despite Tuesday’s crushing defeat.