Ashby vs. Steinberg
Illustrations by Charlie Powell
Darrell Steinberg, with his back to the window, hunched over a latte at Café a Côte on K Street, is tearing a yellow sweetener packet into tiny squares. His fingers move lazily, without obvious intent. Maybe he’s bored. Maybe he’s nervous. Bored is the best guess, because Steinberg is talking about something that should be very familiar to him. He’s talking about himself, about why he wants to become the next mayor of Sacramento, about why people should vote for him.
“It’s my reach,” he says. “I can connect the dots across a very wide spectrum, statewide, to benefit the city.”
Five blocks away on the fifth floor at City Hall on I Street, Angelique Ashby is preparing for another city council meeting. She studies the agenda and perhaps wonders how she can top her performance from a previous week, when she publicly tore apart a superficially righteous proposal by fellow council member Jay Schenirer—a proposal to let voters fund children’s services by taxing medical marijuana cultivators and manufacturers. With skepticism giving way to sarcasm, Ashby described why the cannabis tax would be a bad deal for children, bad for parents, homeless people, police, taxpayers and the city. One point she didn’t mention is that she, like Steinberg, wants to become Sacramento’s next mayor.
“I fear this will be misconstrued at the ballot box,” she says of the cultivation tax. “It’s pretty easy to say, ‘Do you want to tax marijuana and help kids?’ The answer is easy. It’s simple. ‘Yes.’ But there are a lot of layers to this dialogue that are not being considered, including what else can we use that money for? And who is going to use that money?” She calls the tax “disingenuous.”
Steinberg and Ashby are two professional politicians with histories of public service in Sacramento. But it would be difficult to imagine two more different people in pursuit of the city’s highest office. Sacramento has become accustomed to starkly unique choices for mayor. Eight years ago, Kevin Johnson ran as an outsider. He was a former basketball star who enjoyed celebrity status. And he had a business-friendly background as a real estate investor and charter school organizer. In a runoff election, he trounced Heather Fargo, a two-term incumbent who worked her way up through local Democratic Party ranks as a neighborhood activist.
This year, there is no incumbent. But there are immense distinctions between the two leading candidates. Start with their ages. Steinberg is 56, Ashby 41. Consider their experience. Steinberg held Ashby’s current job as a city council member 24 years ago. He won his first city council election in 1992, when Ashby was a student at Sacramento High School. And consider their personalities, the ethos that will deliver new leadership or squander the opportunities that await Sacramento’s 56th mayor.
Steinberg, endorsed by seven city council members, promises to work in unison with his fellow elected officials. He is patient and methodical and relies on relationships built across three decades of public life. His best moves