Graswich Unleased: Anyone Could Be Mayor

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Russ Solomon, who founded, expanded and finally lost the Tower Records chain, says being from Sacramento is a good thing.

“If you’re from New York or Paris, you don’t want to go and see what life is like anywhere else. You figure you’re in the center of the universe,” Russ told me. “When you’re from Sacramento, you have a healthy curiosity about other places. You know you have to get out and see things.”

Russ went out and saw. Tower Records became world famous. But Russ always came back to Sacramento. His spirit roamed, but his heart never left home.

Russ Solomon is the kind of person I would like to see become mayor of Sacramento. He has imagination and vision. He’s gone places and done big things. 

But he’s not running. The mayor’s race is being contested by a handful of others, all with unique motives, qualities and limitations. It’s not my job to make endorsements, and this isn’t that kind of column. Still, there are ideas worth discussing as the June mayoral primary campaign builds to its crescendo.

Endless profundities have been expressed about the two major candidates, Heather Fargo and Kevin Johnson. The coincidence that they mirror the Democratic Party presidential contenders in gender and ethnicity has escaped exactly no one. Likewise the gulf between an incumbent who has been receiving mail at City Hall for two decades and a political rookie from the wrong side of Alhambra Boulevard. Political observers are nothing without a firm grasp of the obvious.

Less obvious is the importance of the candidate’s ability to strike a pose. Facades mean everything at the mayor’s office. Why? Well, the job of being mayor in Sacramento adds up to almost nothing without the facade.

Frankly, it’s not much of a job. Pay is modest—cops and firefighters make as much, with overtime. Power is watered down—the mayor has one vote, same as the councilmember from Tahoe Park. Big issues loom, but most decisions are dreadfully dull: which sump pump to improve, whether to secure cash flow from the gas tax.

The mediocrity of pay, power and issues has diminished the office of mayor. It’s almost as if anyone could do the job. I’ve spent time at City Hall, and can report that the place really is run by bureaucrats whose goals in life are to keep their desks clean and avoid controversy. They are happiest when nobody bothers them.

Which may explain why Sacramento has been, as Russ Solomon noted, a place that inspires its best and brightest to go elsewhere. It was no accident that four early champions of Sacramento—Crocker, Stanford, Hopkins and Huntington—all left town.

The good part is, none of this is drilled in granite. It all can change. The sleeping sickness that has settled over City Hall can be cured, no matter who gets elected. The job title—Mayor of Sacramento—is enough to break the malaise, if the winner is willing to use the office as a battering ram, tickle feather and shield, all in one.

Political pros say only three political offices strike deep, personal chords with citizens: president, governor and mayor. The ability of those offices to inspire runs deeper than pay and legal authority.

It’s all about the strength and charisma of the person with the crown. Don’t believe me? Explore and study New York and Paris, and then come home.

R.E. Graswich co-hosts “The KFBK Afternoon News” weekdays with Kitty O’Neal and reports nightly for CBS 13.