My conclusion after covering the fight over Measure L, Sacramento’s strong mayor initiative, is the “No on L” side ran a great campaign but had a horrible election night party. A few blocks away, “Yes on L” ran a bad campaign but had a great party.
It was the voters who had the final say on Kevin Johnson’s six-year effort to transform the Sacramento city charter into a strong mayor form of government. Measure L, which would have greatly increased the mayor’s authority over hiring and the budget, was rejected by 57 percent on election day.
After following both sides of Measure L, I have a few observations. The “Yes on L” campaign had a few holes. The strategy was not able to connect with voters. The campaign was top-down and felt like any grassroots effort was lost.
The successful funding of the Kings’ new arena was the main “Yes on L” rationale for why a strong mayor was needed; but the arena was financed under a council-manager government. The “yes” side never made the connection of how having a strong mayor would directly improve things for voters.
On the other hand, the “No on L” side missed an opportunity to celebrate Sacramento’s diversity. Diversity is one of Sacramento’s claims to fame. There were many people against Measure L who didn’t feel like they could tap into the “Stop the Power Grab” campaign.
From the outside looking in, it appeared as if “No on L” was run by an elite group of insiders. This was a great (but missed) opportunity to say: We don’t want power concentrated in a mayor; we want power concentrated in the people, with a large, diverse group running the campaign.
Strong mayor is dead, but here are three tips for anyone contemplating future municipal charter changes:
1. Diversify your campaigns—Sacramento is one of the most diverse cities in the country! There is no reason why nearly all the people at the “No on L” campaign should look the same (white and older). Besides the red “Stop the Power Grab” signs, there was very little color in the room. Oppositely, there is no reason why “Yes on L” had most of Sacramento elite behind it but few community supporters.
2. Connect your message to voters—The “Yes on L” side essentially said we need a strong mayor because other cities have one. Voters want to know about job creation, public safety and education. There was little talk about how the strong mayor actually would improve the lives of Sacramentans. Then we had “No on L,” which connected to voters on principle but not in practice.
3. Be intentional—Sacramento is a political city, but it’s not solely filled with politicians. Those who have power, be it strong mayor or council-manager government, need to be intentional. Sacramento is growing and where it’s going is undecided. People in power have to look to Sacramentans for guidance. The future of Sacramento is not decided in City Hall. It’s decided on the streets, in the grocery stores, at the parks, around the dinner table: with the people of Sacramento.
My last message is to the people of Sacramento. This is our city. Sacramento has one of the most open governments. Our city council members and even state officials are right here in our backyard (heck, in our front yards too). There is no reason why there are uninformed voters in the city. There is no reason voter turnout is so low.
No matter what side you’re on, you need to vote. These three suggestions can go for my fellow citizens as well. Diversify your circles, connect to your politicians, and be intentional about the city’s future. Forget about strong mayor. Let’s have a strong Sacramento!