Against challengers he repeatedly reminded us were not credible and whom he vastly outspent, he appears to have failed to reach 60 percent of the vote. The City Council candidate whom he and his business allies put the most energy and money into supporting lost. And in his victory speech, the mayor basically conceded that he hadn't given voters an agenda.
Johnson told supporters Tuesday night that before he takes the oath of office in November, he plans to come up with a "clear vision" so he can "hit the ground running."
He also vowed to unite the fractious council and to build new coalitions that "transcend old divisions."
The results in the four council races on Tuesday's ballot, however, suggest that will not be an easy task.
In south Sacramento's District 8, incumbent Bonnie Pannell staved off former local NAACP leader Betty Williams, who had Johnson's active support as well as boatloads of campaign cash from Better Sacramento, the political action committee created by business leaders who support Johnson.
In District 6, Kevin McCarty easily won a third term. He has been one of the most vocal opponents of Johnson's proposals to give the mayor's office more power, and was also a skeptic on the mayor's push for a downtown arena.
In the District 4 seat being vacated by Rob Fong, Phyllis Newton - the choice of the Better Sacramento PAC - did not make the November runoff. It will instead feature Steve Hansen, a midtown activist and Genentech manager, and Joe Yee, a longtime city planning commissioner who lives in Land Park. Both oppose Johnson's "strong mayor" proposals.
The mayor still has a chance to add an ally in north Sacramento's District 2, where Sandy Sheedy - a thorn in Johnson's side - is stepping aside. Developer Allen Warren, whom Johnson backed, made the runoff against former councilman Rob Kerth.
All in all, Johnson can celebrate four more years in office, but he would be fooling himself to see the election results as a ringing endorsement.
To be truly effective in a second term, he has to follow through on his pledges to unite the city behind a shared vision. He says he believes that Sacramento's best days still lie ahead. He has a lot of work to do to lead the city toward that future.