Former NBA star Kevin Johnson launches his campaign for Sacramento mayor’s seat
SACRAMENTO – Former NBA star Kevin Johnson jumped into the Sacramento mayor’s race Wednesday, announcing he would challenge three-term incumbent Heather Fargo in the municipal election in June.
Johnson, 42, made the announcement at a news conference at the Guild Theater in Oak Park, the low-income Sacramento neighborhood where he grew up and where he has devoted himself to urban-renewal projects after retiring from professional basketball.
“We need a change in the city, and I believe we need a change now,” he said.
“As I went out the last month and talked to people around the city, folks have said to me they believe city government is nonresponsive, tired, uninspired and bureaucratic. They want something different in Sacramento. (They’re) clamoring for change.”
Fargo, 55, said she was “looking forward to holding my record up against his record. I think the voters will find more credibility and progress in my record than his.”
“We’ve been making a lot of progress throughout the city,” she said. “He has a great image and a great star quality as a basketball player, but that’s a far different job than being mayor of a city.”
Johnson, who did not take questions at his news conference, is the only serious opponent to Fargo, who has governed the capital city as it has slid into a deep real-estate slump.
The slumping economy has threatened marquee redevelopment projects such as the revitalization of K Street, the main downtown business strip near the state Capitol. The city has begun laying off workers to make up for a revenue shortfall estimated at more than 10 percent of its budget.
Johnson’s redevelopment projects also have met with mixed success.
His nonprofit community development corporation, St. HOPE, transformed the failing Sacramento High School into a successful charter school.
St. HOPE also developed the 40 Acres Art Gallery and Cultural Center, with a book store, lofts and Starbucks, in the commercial heart of Oak Park.
But community leaders have criticized Johnson for failing to keep up other run-down properties he bought with an eye toward redeveloping them.
Johnson was forced to issue a public apology after The Sacramento Bee ran a story that said half his group’s 37 Oak Park properties had been cited for code violations over a 10-year period. Vacant lots had been left fallow and had become filled with garbage.
Johnson has since moved to clean up the properties and said he would press ahead with his redevelopment plans by bringing a Fresh & Easy market to a key Oak Park intersection.
He returned to Sacramento after retiring from the NBA in 2000 to head up St. HOPE.
Nicknamed “KJ,” Johnson was one of the more popular players in the history of the Phoenix Suns.
The 6-foot-1 point guard played 683 of his 735 career games with the Suns after beginning his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who drafted him out of the University of California, Berkeley, with the seventh overall pick in 1987.
He is Phoenix’s career assists leader and is one of five players in NBA history to average 20 points and 10 assists in three straight seasons.
Johnson played in the 1990, 1991 and 1994 All-Star games and was a five-time All-NBA selection. He was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 1989.
The Suns retired his No. 7 jersey in 2001, and his picture hangs in the team’s Ring of Honor at U.S. Airways Center.
– Associated Press Writers Laura Kurtzman and Don Thompson in Sacramento, and Andrew Bagnato in Phoenix contributed to this report.