Veteran politicos debate strong mayor initiative
When a group of opponents to the “strong mayor” initiative talked to reporters earlier this month, a spontaneous debate over the initiative took place between two local veteran politicos.
Steve Maviglio, public affairs consultant and Mayor Kevin Johnson’s unpaid spokesman, sparred with Phil Giarrizzo, a political consultant who is working for the camp that opposes the strong mayor initiative.
Johnson, who leads the campaign for the initiative, would attain new powers if it passes. He would assume the duties of the city manager and create the city’s budget, among other responsibilities. Johnson’s campaign says that more than 50,000 people signed petitions to put the initiative on the ballot.
The Sacramento County Registrar of Voters has confirmed that the initiative received the required 32,433 signatures.
The initiative goes to the polls June 8.
The group that Giarrizzo represents is Support Accountability, Voice & Ethics in Sacramento (SAVE Sacramento), which opposes the initiative and backs a lawsuit that was filed against it on Dec. 1 in Sacramento County Superior Court.
Bill Camp, executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, is the plaintiff who is suing the city government, the City Council and Thomas Hiltachk, the attorney who wrote the strong mayor initiative. Camp does not represent the labor council in the lawsuit; he filed it as a private individual.
Camp argues in his lawsuit that the initiative breaks state law because it would cause changes to the city’s charter, which is the city’s version of a constitution. While an initiative can be used to amend a city charter, it can’t be used to make major changes, Camp contends.
The city’s current system includes a powerful city manager. Hiring department directors and drafting recommendations for the city’s budget are two of City Manager Ray Kerridge’s many responsibilities.
Maviglio and Giarrizzo hashed it out after SAVE Sacramento’s Dec. 1 press conference, which aimed to draw attention to Camp’s lawsuit.
Steve Maviglio (reacting to criticism from opponents that the initiative was written by a “lawyer in a room”): An initiative by its nature is written by a lawyer in a room. We had more than 50,000 people sign it. I can’t imagine more public participation. The charter committee that [opponents of the strong mayor initiative] defend had about 250 people in about 10 rooms over the series of a few months. That’s not my idea of public participation. When people want something on the ballot, then they deserve the right to do it. And special interests shouldn’t charge taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars because they don’t want to see it on the ballot. It deserves to be on the ballot and the people have the right to be heard.
Phil Giarrizzo: And any reaction to the tens of thousands of dollars you’re spending on running a campaign [and] paying lawyers to draft initiatives? Yet, you criticize other people who disagree with your position … The lawsuit is only one part of the campaign. Whether or not the courts find it technically appropriate to take the measure off the ballot is one part. The other part is: If it does go to the ballot, the people of Sacramento are going to vote this measure down because it’s not necessary, it does give more power to any mayor and there [are] no checks and balances. It’s an unnecessary measure at a time when the city should be focusing on jobs, helping to revitalize schools and focused on the task at hand. This is not a way that you run government.
Maviglio: I find it particularly amusing that [democrats] like Phil Giarrizzo, who’ve worked for good democratic mayors like Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown, Antonio Villaraigosa — all of who’ve worked in a strong mayor system — have an objection to this [strong mayor proposal] by our democratic mayor here.
Giarrizzo: There is no comparison. There is no comparison in those cities. And when you … bandy about those names, you have to look at the structures of government in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and there’s no comparison to how the cities are run.
Maviglio: I think that’s the difference here. They don’t want to have [a] debate; the mayor wants to have that debate over the charter. He wants the people involved — not a few hand-selected politicos and inside hacks that had a meeting.
Giarrizzo: Oh, he must be talking about the people who wrote his measure.
Maviglio: Well, I guess you’re never going to vote for an initiative again, Phil? Is that true? Are you never going to vote for an initiative again?
Giarrizzo: You know what, there could be a time, yes…
Maviglio: You can’t really use that argument if you’re getting paid for people to work for initiatives …
Giarrizzo: We believe differently that …
Maviglio: We believe there should be things on the ballot — you apparently don’t. And you’re willing to charge the taxpayers of Sacramento to prevent [from] doing that.
Giarrizzo: No, we’re not charging the taxpayers.
Maviglio: You are — you filed the suit.
Giarrizzo: You’ve just moved the debate.
Maviglio: You filed the suit.
Giarrizzo: The issue here is: Should there be a debate by the way you and your advisers constructed this measure with no public opinion, misstating the intent of the [California] Constitution. That’s what the court will decide.
Maviglio: Well, the 50,000 people … who signed the petitions …
Giarrizzo: … I know that when you go to the ballot box, you’ll have had a change of heart and seen the light. And you’ll be saving Sacramento with the rest of us over here.
Maviglio: I look forward to that day (laughs).
Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.