City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

February 10, 2012
Could Mayor Johnson face a challenger in re-election bid?

For quite some time, opponents of Mayor Kevin Johnson have sought a candidate to challenge the mayor in the June primary. While no one has formally stepped up, talks appear to be getting more serious behind the scenes.

Those talks are being charged by a poll released nearly two weeks ago - found here MayoralPoll1-31-12.pdf - that showed fewer than half of those surveyed would vote to re-elect the mayor. More than half wanted to elect an unnamed "someone else."

The poll was clearly put together - and then distributed to the media - in an attempt to convince a candidate to run against Johnson. It was funded by the Sacramento Building Trades Union.

Mentioned in the poll were several local politicians, along with a labor leader and a former city fire chief. Johnson had the highest "favorable" numbers of any of those people.

However, one person who polled well - and someone whose name is mentioned to me perhaps more than anyone as a potential challenger to Johnson - is Deborah Ortiz, a former councilwoman, Assemblywoman and state senator. Ortiz is now the vice president of government affairs for the California Primary Care Association and serves as a trustee for the Los Rios Community College District.

Ortiz had the highest favorable numbers besides Johnson, with 41 percent of those polled saying they had strong or somewhat favorable opinions of her. I spoke with Ortiz this morning and she didn't exactly rule out a run for mayor.

"This is the season in which lots of polls come out and a lot of names are mentioned," she said. "I continue to be flattered that my name is mentioned."

Asked if that meant she was considering a run, Ortiz replied, "I continue to be flattered."

Another person who polled fairly well was Sacramento Supervisor Phil Serna. Forty percent of those asked had favorable views of Serna.

As luck would have it, someone launched a "Draft Phil Serna for Mayor" Facebook page last night. Serna said in an email that he hadn't seen the Facebook page until I sent him a link and that he didn't "have any comment at this time."

Serna's father, Joe Serna Jr., was mayor from 1992 until his death in 1999.

I also asked Councilman Kevin McCarty if he was considering running for mayor, given that it was his political consultants who released the poll to the media.

"My immediate plan is to run for re-election (for City Council)," McCarty told me. "However, I'm confident that a new mayoral candidate will emerge that can both unite the city and set the priorities that match the problems we face."

So what does the mayor's campaign think of all this talk?

"The mayor will run a campaign at full throttle no matter who his opponent is, and we look forward to a community discussion about whether we want to move Sacramento forward or be stuck with politicians tied to special interests that are satisfied with the status quo," said the mayor's campaign chief, Steve Maviglio.

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at


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