City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

June 12, 2012
Evangelist Luis Palau pokes fun at Mayor Johnson - and gets away with it

The short list of people who can stand in front of a bunch of reporters and make fun of Mayor Kevin Johnson apparently includes evangelists who have preached to a billion followers.

Luis Palau, described by many as the heir apparent to Billy Graham, is in town for a festival at Cal Expo this weekend expected to attract 50,000 people. Speaking at a press conference this morning at the downtown Sheraton to promote the event, Palau took the opportunity to let a few good-natured jabs fly at Johnson - who was sitting a few feet away.

The two have known one another since 1988, when Johnson was playing for the NBA's Phoenix Suns and Palau conducted a pre-game prayer service for Johnson.

"He wasn't the same man he is today," Palau said of the mayor. "He was single then, a happy, free man. Look at him now. But he's won two elections and that makes him a champion."

With Johnson smiling, Palau kept up his commentary on Johnson's marriage to Michelle Rhee.

"Greetings to your wife," Palau said. "It took him a while, but he got married at last. And we're very proud of that. It's OK to say that, right? The city knows about it?"

As you might recall, Johnson and Rhee were married last year in Tennessee - without many here in Sacramento knowing about it. The couple had tried hard to keep the ceremony a secret after a previous wedding was postponed following a Bee story that reported details of the event, including the fact that it was to be held at the Arden Oaks mansion of developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, whose name was misspelled on the invitations.

Johnson took the jokes well. On a more serious note, he lauded Palau and other members of his organization for organizing an effort in Sacramento that has put more than 20,000 volunteers to work on home renovations, food drives and tutoring programs.

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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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