Why I’m voting No on Strong Mayor

Stop-Power-GrabMayor Kevin Johnson is the villain you love to hate.

He’s the magician who does a great hat trick, but only later do you realize he stole your wallet. He is a beautiful rose with so many thorns you cannot enjoy it.

He swoops into Oak Park, saves Sacramento High School, rebuilds Oak Park, gets elected mayor, saves the Kings, pushes for more police officers and improved fire service, and even saves a few pools when the city can’t keep them open!

I mean, Sacramento got a black president and black mayor all in one night: talk about progress. Let’s be serious. He has had dinner with Oprah and Barack Obama; for much of the black community it cannot get any better than that.

But wait – it does. In 2012, Johnson started Indivizible, a group for the African-American community that seeks to mobilize around education, economics and political development. All this without mentioning the national positions he holds and the recognition he has brought to Sacramento.

So if it seems that to offer any criticism would be crazy, well listen up.

One of the arguments for the “Yes on L” campaign (the Strong Mayor Initiative on the November ballot) is that many people are shocked to learn the mayor does not have more power.

They tell stories where the mayor talks to people and constituents are discouraged when they find out he does not actually have the power to do various tasks.

To me, this means apparently Johnson is doing a great job if the average person thinks he already has “strong mayor” power. There must be something right with the current system if people do not know how much power the mayor really has.

Another problem is that Measure L claims to make government more accountable. How so? Just because we know who is to blame for bad policy doesn’t mean those elected officials are held accountable.

The last argument from the “Yes on L” campaign is that the mayor is elected citywide and therefore the people are deciding who they want running the city.

The “yes” side argues that the mayor should be the most powerful person in city government, because he is the person who all of Sacramento wants in office.

OK, lets break this down: Just because the mayor won a popularity contest, we now should hand him the keys to the city and let him run wild? I don’t know about you, but I think not.

Elections are subject to the candidates who run. This does not ensure the best person for the job is being elected. There are no educational requirements to running for mayor (I don’t think there should be). This means that someone without formal training can become the CEO of the city. Alternatively, hiring a city manager ensures that there is someone well versed in management, municipal government and (ideally) economics in charge of city functions. Also, the city council itself serves as a checks-and -balance for the filtering of ideas.

Now I get that some other big cities have strong mayor; that does not automatically mean we should too. Other big cities have corruption, bankruptcy and high unemployment. Should we follow there as well? Sacramento can work together. We see it in the revitalization of various communities.

I take this strong mayor idea personally because I am active in my neighborhood association. On many occasions we have asked the mayor to attend events or lend support. We have yet to see him.

Mayor Johnson loves to acknowledge South Sac, but he isn’t referring to south of Oak Park. My fear with strong mayor is, if your community is like mine, with not enough votes to make a difference, or not enough money, you may get left out of the Sacramento power game.

Giving the mayor the power to line item veto anything is too much power. He could decide to cut everything for my neighborhood, and then six of the eight council members would have to vote to stop him. The mayor talks about neighborhood advisory panels; well, why doesn’t he just attend Sacramento’s vibrant neighborhood associations?

Why can’t Sacramento strive to be a city that is about cooperation and working through the tough things? To me, strong mayor is a cop out. Let’s just give one guy a lot of power so I have more time to sip my Pina Colada.

I don’t think that is the Sacramento we want. I think we want a city were everyone is accountable for what happens.


Nailah Ware

About Nailah Ware
Ms. Ware attends California State University, Sacramento, and works as an assistant at the California Secretary of State election office. She is president of the Glen Elder neighborhood association, and is passionate about the way political decisions impact individual neighborhoods. She is especially interested in issues involving public transportation.

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