Known as a
scrappy, hard-nosed fighter on the basketball court,
three-time NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson is finding out that
politics can be every bit as rough.
campaign to unseat two-term incumbent Heather Fargo in
Tuesday's mayoral election has been dogged by old sexual
abuse allegations, complaints about his nonprofit
development agency, and criticism from gay activists
over a remark about same-sex marriage.
It has been a
rude awakening for the 42-year-old hometown hero who had
hoped to talk more about his success in turning around the
academic fortunes of his old high school and
rebuilding the economy of the tough Oak Park
neighborhood where he grew up.
earned a political science degree while playing basketball
at the University of California, Berkeley, became an NBA
star during his 12 seasons as a point guard with the
The Suns retired
his number 7 jersey when he left the team in 2000 and
returned to Sacramento, focusing on rebuilding his boyhood
neighborhood. Through his development organization,
St. HOPE, Johnson transformed his failing alma mater,
Sacramento High School, into a charter school that
says most of its graduating class has been accepted to
his campaign in March shortly after the city announced a
$58 million budget deficit. He said Fargo has not moved fast
enough on several major redevelopment projects, has
been nonchalant about the city's homeless problem, and
has presided over a spike in crime.
''With the right
leadership, I think this could be a great city and not
the halfway point between Tahoe and San Francisco,'' he told
the Associated Press on Monday. ''We've had tons of
But from the
beginning, Johnson has been haunted by two previous
investigations into whether he behaved inappropriately with
investigated an allegation that Johnson, then 29, molested
a 16-year-old girl in 1995. No charges were filed. The
Sacramento Bee obtained a draft legal document
that showed Johnson paid the girl $230,000 in a confidential
In 2007 a student
at the school Johnson helped develop, Sacramento
Charter High School, accused him of touching her
inappropriately. Police investigated after a teacher
reported the allegation and found the claims to be
without merit. As in Phoenix, no charges were filed.
authorities are investigating whether St. HOPE followed
proper procedure in reporting the California girl's
allegations. The nonprofit has received $807,000 from
the federal AmeriCorps program since 2004.
Johnson was forced to apologize after the Bee
reported that half of St. HOPE's 37 properties had
been cited for code violations over a 10-year period.
Vacant lots were left barren and sometimes filled with
garbage. Johnson has since moved to clean up the
local gay and lesbian activists recently when he said
marriage should remain restricted to a man and a woman.
Activist Steve Hansen said gay rights are a key issue
in California's seventh-largest city, where there have
been several high-profile hate crimes against gays.
Johnson told the
AP that voters have only rarely asked him about the
sexual misconduct allegations. That demonstrates they are
more interested in serious issues such as crime and
downtown development, he said. He has refused to
address the accusations in detail, citing confidentiality,
and emphasizes that he was not charged in either case.
He criticized the
attacks on him as part of a ''dirty campaign'' that was
designed to deflect attention from the issues.
''That's not what
Sacramento deserves,'' he said.
character during a mayoral debate last month, Johnson said,
''It's unfortunate that when you decide to run for public
office, there are going to be a lot of allegations and
mudslinging and things that aren't true.''
Fargo, 55, also
was put on the defensive when the Bee reported she
had taken numerous international trips to
environmental conferences of dubious benefit to the city.
Critics said she
needs to concentrate more on fixing Sacramento's
problems, but Fargo said she has been doing just that,
noting increased commercial development over the last
eight years. There are 1,000 new housing units and two
libraries under construction. Thousands of people now
turn out for special events, including the Second Saturday
better. There's more fun in the city now,'' Fargo said. ''I
think that's a sign of progress.''
superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Magic Johnson have headlined
Johnson campaign events. Johnson kicked off his campaign
with a personal loan of $500,000, the kind of money
not seen previously in a Sacramento mayoral race.
Fargo, a former
community activist, ran largely unchallenged in 2004. If
no candidate wins more than 50% in the field that also
contains some lesser-known candidates, the top two
vote-getters will compete in a runoff in November. The
mayoral election coincides with California's regular
statewide primary. (Juliet Williams, AP)