Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby criticized Darrell Steinberg’s legislative record in the first public mayoral debate on Wednesday, while positioning herself as a rising local leader who would funnel the city’s surging economic growth into improved public services.
“I don’t think that state experience necessarily equates to … local leadership,” she said. “I’ve helped solve problems in Oak Park and in Del Paso Heights, with libraries, with school districts, anybody who wanted to partner with the city.”
The debate, hosted by the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce and moderated by former KCRA 3-TV political reporter Kevin Riggs, was civil and substantive. But the two candidates didn’t miss opportunities to criticize each other.
Steinberg dove into specifics for improving Sacramento’s business climate. He said he wanted to hasten the permitting process for development projects to just 90 days. He also supported zero-interest loans for restaurants opening a second location and tax credits for manufacturing and technology companies that vow to create local jobs.
By suggesting new policy ideas, the candidate — a City Council member in the 1990s — sought to send the message that he was ready to return to City Hall. Steinberg also cast himself as a policy wonk who rose to Senate leadership by deftly brokering deals with competing forces. He argued that he helped steer California away from economic calamity after becoming Senate leader in 2009, and that he led the charge on removing some state environmental regulations to rapidly build-out the downtown arena.
“We’re not going to compare resumes here, because our experiences are just vastly different,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg then took aim at Ashby’s record on three infill development projects: Sacramento Commons, McKinley Village and a student housing project at California State University Sacramento. She opposed them all, in two cases as a lone no vote, he reminded the crowd.
“The city is not just Natomas,” Steinberg said. “If we are serious about infill, we need to make sure that we are building housing in these other places.”
Ashby responded that she would have voted for Sacramento Commons and McKinley Village if she believed they would be adequately funded. Moments later, Ashby, who has the endorsement of police and fire unions, pounced on her challenger for his proposal to direct future windfalls of city revenue toward hiring police officers.
“You have to be really careful when you have a surplus in the city and it’s one-time funds,” she said. “I would not use it to hire police officers because you would not have the same money next year, so you would have to let them go.”
Ashby also chided Steinberg for his support of eliminating redevelopment agencies, suggesting that political dealmaking in the Capitol had cost Sacramento a vital economic tool.
Both candidates accused one another of misunderstanding the issue of raising the minimum wage. Steinberg said he supported a proposed ballot initiative to raise California’s minimum wage to $15, but he opposed a citywide $15 minimum wage, for fear of placing Sacramento at an economic disadvantage.
Ashby said she thought the minimum wage issue should be left to statewide voters. But she also favors different minimum wage levels for different regions in California.
Steinberg dismissed the position as naïve, given the political challenges of implementing such a policy. Ashby then accused Steinberg of changing course on minimum wage, because he has also said he would have supported the $12.50 rate approved by the Sacramento City Council in October.