The guy running Sacramento has spent the past several weeks driving key personnel and policy decisions at City Hall, attending ribbon cuttings and attempting to place his signature on a massive public project downtown.
No, it isn’t Kevin Johnson.
Darrell Steinberg is “mayor-elect” of Sacramento in title only. There are times when Steinberg acts like the mayor of Sacramento. And then there are times when he’s treated like the mayor – even if he doesn’t get sworn in until December.
Take Steinberg’s appearance at The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board last week, where he sat next to Barry Broome of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council to promote that group’s new “mega-region” campaign with its counterpart in the Bay Area. It was surely unintentional, but over the course of the hourlong meeting Broome referred to Steinberg as “mayor” four times.
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It’s hard to blame Broome for the slip. Steinberg is already making good on his post-election promise to use the political capital he earned in a landslide victory in the June primary.
Steinberg spent $1.6 million on his successful campaign. Councilwoman Ashby spent just over $400,000.
He’s campaigning and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Measure B, a sales tax on the November ballot that would fund transportation projects. He’s also campaigning for Measure G, a local parcel tax measure for city school programs. That’s a stark contrast to Johnson, who in recent years largely avoided campaigning for political causes he didn’t have a personal stake in, like his failed strong-mayor measure of 2014.
Steinberg’s public calendar over the last several weeks included a ceremony for a renovated light-rail station at Seventh Street and Capitol Mall and a rally on the steps of the Capitol for a little boy whose Make-A-Wish dream to become a garbage man came true for a day in front of thousands of spectators. Johnson was not at either event, leaving the role of mayor to be played by Steinberg.
He also appeared at events where Johnson was present, most notably the various Golden 1 Center ceremonies over the past two weeks. As Johnson took the stage the day a new $8 million sculpture by Jeff Koons was unveiled outside the arena, Steinberg sat in the audience with members of the City Council like he was already on the team.
In an interview, Steinberg said he keeps showing up at events because “I get invited.”
“I’m trying not to weigh in on every single issue,” he said.
It’s a strange time at City Hall. City Manager John Shirey is getting ready to leave next month. Johnson will be right behind him after eight tumultuous years. Interestingly, there hasn’t been much of a power struggle on the City Council to fill the leadership void.
That can likely be attributed to Steinberg’s popularity with his future colleagues on the City Council. Nearly all of the council members endorsed Steinberg. Publicly, Steinberg and Councilwoman Angelique Ashby – whom Steinberg defeated in June’s election – appear to have a cordial relationship developing.
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Steinberg argues he should be getting involved in some issues, especially those with long-term ramifications that will greatly affect his time in office.
As The Bee’s Anita Chabria reported last month, the national search for Shirey’s replacement has been delayed until Steinberg takes office, allowing him to lead the hiring process.
And while Golden 1 Center will be the physical legacy of Johnson’s terms, it appears Steinberg sees the renovation of the convention center and Community Center Theater as his chance to leave a mark downtown. He wants a decision on that project – with a price tag in the neighborhood of $200 million – to also be delayed until he’s in office.
All this leading from the on-deck circle is what the 62,000 people who voted for Steinberg wanted, he said.
“Mayor Johnson is leading on a lot of things,” Steinberg said. “But the voters would think a lot less of me if I didn’t spend these six months (between the June primary and his first day as mayor) aggressively getting prepared.”