Well-known Sacramento business leaders presented mayoral candidates with a list of ambitious ideas last week to improve the city’s business environment.
The six-page document details policy ideas on boosting development and holding back new taxes. It shows private-sector executives engaging politically as the election season heats up with no obvious choice for the business community.
Leading candidates Angelique Ashby and Darrell Steinberg both are union-backed Democrats.
Earlier this week the Sacramento Regional Builders Exchange, a trade group representing building contractors, endorsed Ashby. But Steinberg has been endorsed by Region Business, a group that was spun out from the builders exchange.
In the past, the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Ashby for City Council. But Steinberg, who has a weak legislative record for supporting pro-businesses causes, has made important political connections over the past two decades across California and Washington, D.C.
The business community understands what an asset a celebrity politician can be — if that person represents its interests, said David Townsend, founder and president of Townsend Raimundo Besler & Usher.
“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,” he said. “The community has learned that a mayor of statewide stature is exceedingly important.”
Both Ashby and Steinberg have said they would build on Mayor Kevin Johnson’s success in building out the central city.
The business priorities document also was remarkable because it started as a conversation between two businessmen over who they were going to support for mayor. One of those men, developer Mark Friedman, a Steinberg supporter, said the conversation grew into a greater endeavor as more businesspeople and advocates got involved.
Their document calls for top employers to step up their engagement in policymaking. For example, it calls for a mayoral economic advisory team of business leaders, and for more business representatives on the Regional Transit board.
Of course it’s one thing to sign a letter to candidates and another to take a more active role in governance. Aside from the time required, there’s also risk.
For example: After Patrick Diegelman, managing partner at Il Fornaio in downtown Sacramento, publicly spoke out against a local minimum-wage law last fall, about 60 protesters showed up at his restaurant.