Judge mayor on his record, good and bad

Mayor Kevin Johnson, then president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, speaks in Dallas in June 2014.
Mayor Kevin Johnson, then president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, speaks in Dallas in June 2014. Associated Press file

When you’re a celebrity mayor, you can’t be too shocked when the occasional sordid accusation gets thrown your way.

So it is with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is being shadowed by a new focus on old allegations first made in 1996 that he molested a teenage girl while playing for the Phoenix Suns. On Tuesday, the head of Sacramento’s Democratic Party called on him to step aside, or at least not seek re-election.

Without solid new evidence, we don’t know if the allegations are true. He has denied them consistently and only he and Mandi Koba were in the room. We do know that while no criminal charges were filed, Johnson paid a $230,000 settlement to Koba. We also know it was inappropriate, reckless even, for a 29-year-old NBA player to be spending time alone at his home with a 16-year-old girl.

The Sacramento Bee and other media outlets thoroughly reported on the case during Johnson’s first campaign for mayor in 2008. Voters elected him anyway, and re-elected him overwhelmingly in 2012.

What is new is that Deadspin, a sports news website, found Koba and got her to talk last month. Then late last week, it posted videos of her police interviews, adding a visual to the transcripts already published in The Bee and elsewhere.

That apparently prompted ESPN to delay the national broadcast of a long-awaited documentary on Sacramento’s successful effort to keep the Kings in town, a film that starred Johnson. That’s what major corporations do – they protect themselves. Still, the timing of the announcement was awkward at best, literally hours before the documentary had its premiere Monday night in Sacramento. ESPN’s move is drawing more national attention to Johnson and his city, this of the unwanted variety.

Johnson should be judged by his performance as a public official – whether he has delivered and conducted himself with dignity while mayor. So it’s troubling that he also faces sexual allegations while in office. In April, a former aide to the city manager accused Johnson of sexually harassing her multiple times during a seven-month period at City Hall.

Johnson denies the allegations. Again, we don’t know for sure what happened. We do know that the city’s human resources department and an outside law firm found the allegations to be unsubstantiated and the city denied the $200,000 claim. It’s not clear whether Johnson paid a private settlement to the woman. Johnson should state whether he did. The murkiness only feeds suspicions that the mayor should want to quash, given his history.

If Johnson seeks a third term next year, voters will judge him again. They ought to weigh the totality of his record as mayor. He can claim credit for finding a way to build a new arena that is boosting a downtown renaissance, and for helping steer the city through a deep recession. Now, he faces the challenge of a spike in violent crime.

Voters must decide whether his successes in Sacramento outweigh the accusations against him, including what may have happened nearly 20 years ago in Phoenix.

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