Several leaders of Sacramento’s business community released a pro-growth manifesto this week to the candidates running for Sacramento mayor. The document, spelling out goals for making the city more prosperous and business-friendly, raises some interesting questions.
Is this an attempt to turn Darrell Steinberg into Kevin Johnson?
The document started with developer Mark Friedman and attorney Stan Van Vleck, who originally set out to give Darrell Steinberg a sense of what a pro-business city agenda could look like. But the fundamentals of the platform — pro-development, fiscal conservatism, easing regulations, elevating the brand — could have been penned by Mayor Kevin Johnson.
Many business owners consider Johnson their champion, both for his pro-business politics and his talent for using celebrity power to lure new investment. The two leading candidates for the job — City Councilwoman Angelique Ashbyand former Senate leader Darrell Steinberg — are each making the case that they would carry that torch for the business community.
Steinberg’s case is particularly interesting, however. While he has a weak legislative record for supporting pro-business causes, he enjoys close relationships with political power brokers in California and Washington D.C.
“When Kevin Johnson became mayor, people weren’t sure what his politics were, but with his national stature he could achieve things that no previous mayor could,” said David Townsend, founder and president of Townsend Raimundo Besler & Usher.
“The community has learned that a mayor of statewide stature is exceedingly important,” he said.
In an interview, Steinberg acknowledged that some expect him to continue Johnson’s economic policies. Steinberg said he approves of Johnson’s basic outlook on economic growth, but that he will soon be giving voters a sense of how he is different.
“I have my own record of effective service and my own style and my own way. I will obviously be my own person,” he said.
Why was the priorities paper released now?
The most obvious answer is that the Sacramento Metro Chamber’s political action committee could soon make its endorsement. But chamber CEO Peter Tateishi says the statement of business priorities is not tied to that decision.
A big-picture answer is that Sacramento executives have recently taken a more active interest in policymaking. Last week, Barry Broome, leader of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, announced plans for a “competitiveness council” that would have local executives personally lobbying for pro-business policies.
And late last year saw the introduction of Region Business, an aggressive political organization that is expanding in part to respond to a national trend of organized labor pushing political fights into cities.
What about Sacramento’s other constituencies?
Steinberg and Ashby both welcomed the business priorities list. But neither had asked for the document, and neither expressed immediate buy-in. They each promised to study the document before articulating how it could fit into their respective agendas.
Steinberg said he thought the authors were “being assertive — but there is nothing wrong with that. My friends in organized labor are clear about their agenda as well.”
Experts said both candidates still have to consider the interests of all voters, despite the power and stature of development groups.
“Downtown developers have done OK” economically, pointed out Andrew Acosta, a political consultant with Acosta Consulting. “I’d like to see the city (residents) being engaged — not just business owners — on what the entire city is going to look like.”