State of the 2010 Sacramento City Council Races

By Dan Roth,  Founding President of the Sacramento Stonewall Democratic Club and District Director, Office of Councilmember Raymond L. Tretheway

American campaigns, whether it is for city council or President of the United States, are the product of four ingredients: candidate, message, money, and organization.

Since the election of Kevin Johnson as Mayor of Sacramento, there has been a lot of attention focused on the upcoming city council races and the outcomes of these elections.

 

Johnson has been at the losing end of several crucial council votes and many city hall watchers have wondered if Johnson would use the upcoming election as an opportunity to support those who have supported him, replace those who have opposed him, and send a message to the other council members of what happens to those who stand in his way.

Being six months out from the June 8th election money is the best indicator of the health of campaigns. The deadline to report fundraising totals up to December 31, 2009, has now passed and I have prepared this article based on reports submitted to the Sacramento City Clerk. I have included total cash raised (non-monetary contributions are just synonyms of padded campaign filings) and cash on hand, which is how much candidates will have to communicate their message through the campaign.

The results are surprising given the conventional wisdom of some of these campaigns a year ago and where they are today.

District 1
District 1, which includes North Natomas, South Natomas, and Downtown, was supposed to be highly contested. Heather Fargo had represented this district on the city council before being elected Mayor. However, Kevin Johnson overwhelmingly carried the district and many political pundits had written Councilmember Ray Tretheway, who had endorsed Fargo, off for dead. However, Tretheway is clearly dominating this race. He has raised $134,306.00 and has $101,404.32 cash on hand for the election.

Challenger Angelique Ashby has raised $32,098.67, with $19,399.85 cash left to spend. Efren Guttierrez filed late and has raised $100.00 and has $100.00 in his account. Natomas Unified School Board Member Lisa Kaplan had raised $12,765.00 and had $3,247.24 remaining, but she dropped out of the race on December 31 2010.

District 1 is by far the largest council district in the City of Sacramento and candidates will need a great deal of money to be successful here. Candidates at this point should have raised a minimum of $60,000 with $40,000 cash on hand to be considered competitive.

Ashby’s $19,400 will be no match against Tretheway’s $100,000. Her only hope is that Guttierrez’s surname will pull enough votes along with a strong IE on her behalf to somehow force a run-off in November, but at this point Tretheway is the clear favorite to win outright in June.
Conclusion: Lean Tretheway

District 3
District 3, which includes East Sacramento, portions of North Sacramento, and the Midtown, has the second largest number of voters in the city. Steve Cohn has represented the district since 1994. Cohn’s endorsement of Johnson did not seem to sway many voters as Fargo did very well in this part of the city, barely carrying East Sacramento but winning the Midtown handedly.

Rumors have abounded that former State Senator Deborah Ortiz may enter the race. (Rumors have also circulated that a poll was commissioned pitting Cohn against Ortiz.) However, at this point Cohn has yet to draw a first tier challenger. Cohn’s fundraising was a little anemic for an incumbent, so far raising $50,585.00 with a respectable $43,072.28 left on hand. (He has $65,845.66 left over in his 2006 account, so he can draw on that for some expenses.)

However, neither of his opponents have yet to catch much fire. Chris Little has raised $12,180.10 with $11,682.25 left and Shawn Eldridge has raised $2,275.00 and has $2,275.00 remaining.

Given the success of Fargo in this district it is safe to say that voters are pretty happy with the status quo. Cohn may have been vulnerable, but every day that passes without a major challenger getting into the race only is one day closer that Cohn is to easily winning re-election in June.

Conclusion: Lean Cohn

District 5
District 5, which includes most of Oak Park, Hollywood Park and Curtis Park, was supposed to be the battle royale in Sacramento, pitting Fargo ally and current Sacramento City School Board Member Patrick Kennedy against Johnson ally and former Sacramento City School Board member Jay Schenir. Johnson and Fargo nearly split the district down the middle, with Johnson winning Oak Park and Fargo winning Curtis Park.

Many City Hall watchers were somewhat surprised when State Senator and Fargo ally Darrell Steinberg endorsed Schenir and thought this might sway other Fargo loyalists into Schenir’s camp. However, Kennedy seems to be pulling away in the money race. To date is he is the clear leader, having raised $96,339.26 and has $66,350.18 to spend.

Schenir has raised a respectable $69,512.00, but has spent a larger percentage of any other candidate and only has $23,959.85 cash on hand. To put this into perspective Kasey Cotulla has raised 26,740.00, which includes a loan of $26,000, but beats Schenir with cash on hand of $25,338.44. Other candidates Terrie Johnson has raised $8,830.00 with $6,249.83 and Henry Harry having raised $508.92 with all of it remaining.

Kennedy is pulling away in money and endorsements. Given the number of candidates in the race and lacking an incumbent this race may be forced into a November run-off, but expect Kennedy to be the top vote-getter. Schenir, unless he changes his spending habits, may just run out of money in the next four months and put his fate in a last minute IE.

Conclusion: Lean Run-off. Kennedy top vote getter followed by Schenir

District 7
Incumbent Robbie Waters, and his son (and interestingly now former campaign treasurer Dan Waters) may be involved in controversy involving permits issued in North Natomas, but it is clearly not impacting his fundraising. Waters’ greatest asset remains he is the only Republican on the council, and he has deep roots in Sacramento given his electoral successes as Sacramento Sheriff and having served on the Council since 1994. To date he has raised $159,300.00 and has $137,492.28 left on hand, being the clear money leader of all the council members.

Ryan Chin is putting up the biggest fight of any of the current challengers taking on an incumbent, having raised $83,494.89 and has $67,597.58 left on hand. Former Sacramento Police Captain Darrell Fong has raised $64,869.00 and has 44,527.91 remaining.

Of all the races, District 7 is by far the most interesting. Johnson did very well in this district during his match-up against Fargo, which might reflect a feeling of voter dissatisfaction with city hall. This dissatisfaction might also be reflected in Chin and Fong’s successful fundraising, by far the best of any of the candidates challenging sitting incumbents (and better than Cohn for that matter.)

The demographics of this district are also intriguing. The district swings democrat and has a large API constituency. The camps behind Chin and Fong are also exceptionally strong in their own right. Chin having a long history with CAPITAL, and Fong’s brother having success in Sacramento’s restaurant industry and having been endorsed by Councilemember Rob Fong. There is a small chance that either Fong or Chin may pull out of the council race and run for Sac City School Board instead, which at this point does not have an API member and will have its first district election for this seat in November. But at this point neither camp is blinking and both are committed to the city council.

If both Chin and Fong turn their fire onto Waters, Waters may very well find himself to be the one incumbent forced into a November run-off where a year ago conventional wisdom was his support of Johnson combined with his deep roots in the district would lead to an easy June victory.

The run-off is where things will get interesting. If a majority of voters in the district vote for someone besides Waters in June, many City Hall watchers will hedge their bets and back whoever pulls out of the primary with Waters. This race could get costly and heated in November. Given Chin’s fundraising and endorsements he is most likely to follow Waters out of the June Primary.

Conclusion: Likely run-off with Waters as top vote getter followed by Chin.

Over-all Analysis
Mayor Johnson will probably need to fulfill his promise to work more collaboratively with the current city council members as it appears that one of his allies, Lauren Hammond, is likely to be replaced by Kennedy and another ally, Waters, will be in a political fight in a November run-off. Just as we witnessed in Massachusetts last month with the victory of Republican Scott Brown in a state where President Obama won by over 20 points, each campaign is unique. And using one previous election as the soul source of future electoral success will lead analysts scratching their heads come the next election.

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