Opinion

Commentary: Success as mayor won't be a slam-dunk for Johnson

We've had the pomp. Now come the circumstances. Kevin Johnson promised a lot during his symbolic swearing-in as mayor of Sacramento on Tuesday night. Now, we wait for results, though Johnson faces a far more vexing leadership riddle:

What should he deliver as mayor?

Good luck answering that one because Sacramento is a city lacking consensus.

Power is concentrated in established neighborhoods with the wealth and political access to fight growth and change.

Downtown Sacramento is rife with state buildings that don't generate sales taxes. Trouble spots like the K Street Mall see concentrations of struggling people who exceed the supply of government help.

The Police Department is too small. Local unions and environmental groups are too strong. This thread of civic dysfunction is long and tangled in a liberal city with many people to care for and not enough means to pay for it all.

Good luck, Mayor Johnson. People are calling you "Baby Barack" – or maybe you coined the nickname – due to skin-deep similarities to President-elect Barack Obama.

The more accurate comparison is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – a celebrity with stellar communication skills and big-time personal mojo.

Schwarzenegger is a laudable man whose contributions are more symbolic than substantive. He's endlessly hopeful, extremely popular and has been completely hamstrung by Capitol Democrats and jealous types in his own Republican ranks.

Johnson's looming enemies have taken note from close proximity: The state Capitol and Sacramento City Hall are separated by mere city blocks. They've seen how bureaucratic weasels punctured Schwarzenegger's Hummer. And they are laying thumbtacks on Johnson's red carpet.

What does Johnson have going for him? His boundless energy. A community that cares enough to mass by the thousands on Thanksgiving Day to "run for the hungry."

And a lot of good will from Sacramentans – both wealthy and humble – who've volunteered to help him.

They did so because there is a yearning for leadership in Sacramento. Johnson took note and aims high for big ticket items like a new Kings arena, an enhanced Sacramento waterfront and more.

We've never seen anything like him on the local political level. But he is only one vote on the City Council. For now, most of the other votes are indifferent to hostile toward him. The warring interests of Sacramento are smiling to his face, talking smack behind his back.

Dude will generate lots of media attention for Sacramento, raise tons of money, give great speeches.

Virtually everyone wants him to be a powerful leader as well. Virtually no one agrees on how he should do that.

By comparison, being an NBA All-Star was easy.

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