Election Endorsements

Sacramento must separate Measure L from the mayor

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers the State of the City address in February.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers the State of the City address in February. Sacramento Bee file

There are reasonable arguments both for and against the “strong mayor” measure before Sacramento voters on Tuesday.

But in some quarters, the Measure L campaign has turned nasty, especially the vitriol aimed at Mayor Kevin Johnson. That’s not how this defining decision in Sacramento’s history should be made.

Even though he grew up here, Johnson has never been fully accepted in some circles in Sacramento. No doubt, he’s ambitious for himself and his city. One knock on him is he did not pay his political dues before jumping into the mayor’s chair in 2008. Still, it does make you wonder whether some of these personal attacks on Johnson, Sacramento’s first black mayor, have something to do with race.

Because Johnson is such a lightning rod, the merits of Measure L are in danger of being drowned out. As The Bee’s editorial board said when endorsing Measure L, how the city is governed goes way beyond whether you love Johnson – or hate him. While he would be the immediate beneficiary if voters give the mayor’s office more power, this decision is about what’s best for the future of this entire city.

Some in the old guard in Sacramento would prefer to keep a political system that worked when the city was smaller – and that worked for them. That time has passed. A diverse range of community, business and labor leaders and groups recognize that, and have joined behind Measure L to make sure City Hall works as Sacramento grows.

With the regional economy finally recovering and with downtown and the riverfront on the brink of development, Sacramento is positioned for major progress. We believe that the mayor – as the only official elected citywide – should have the authority and accountability to determine that course, in consultation with the City Council.

And yes, council members would still have quite a bit of power under the new system. In fact, it would be their responsibility to make the other essential parts of Measure L work.

Within 180 days, they’re the ones who must adopt an ethics code for city elected officials and appointees, and a “sunshine” ordinance to guarantee public access to city meetings and documents. They would decide the qualifications to serve on the independent commission that will draw new council districts after the 2020 census. And they would be the ones to create a neighborhood advisory committee.

If you haven’t noticed, none of those important provisions have anything to do with Johnson.

The mayor is a polarizing figure, yet voters must separate the measure from the man. And if you do that, it becomes clear that Measure L is the right move for Sacramento.