K.J.’s shadow coup
Former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson left office with a huge political victory—so why haven’t you heard about it?
Kevin Johnson wasn’t used to watching the big game pass him by from the bench. But with Darrell Steinberg standing in the wings to be sworn in as Johnson’s replacement, the suddenly lame-duck mayor ended his arena-building, shadow-government-installing, two-term run in quiet fashion on December 13.
Calling to order a special council session by playfully banging his gavel so hard the city clerk chuckled out a warning, Johnson appeared loose and cheerful last Tuesday night. He accepted two final tributes, both protected against misuse—an honorary badge wedged in cut glass and a fire helmet in the Kings’ purple and black—and endured one last free-form-jazz lecture from perennial council attendee Mac Worthy (which K.J. greeted with a “Perfect”). And then it was all but over, with Johnson offering one final message before calling it a political career in his prodigal town:
“Last council meeting. Sacramento, I want to say thank you for all the unbelievable support. All city staff, you guys rock. To my colleagues on the council, you are the best. I am just a phone call away if I can ever be helpful. God bless you, love you.”
Humble. Gracious. And making zero mention of the huge political victory Johnson scored hours earlier.
On that very same day, several states over, a federal bankruptcy court in Georgia removed the final hurdle blocking Johnson’s multiyear campaign to dismantle the historic—and historically troubled—National Conference of Black Mayors and replace it with a version more to his liking.
The attorney for the losing side confirmed to SN&R that the ruling spelled the end of an epic legal tussle for the soul of a national political alliance steeped in civil rights lore and badly mismanaged into a vulnerable financial state, ripe for the overtaking. And it began like so many K.J. stories do—with Johnson trying to expand his political reach beyond Sacramento.
“It all started because Kevin Johnson and some of the people with him wanted to take over the organization,” said Kenneth Muhammad, a Georgia attorney who presided over the last gasps of the historic NCBM. “And the plan ended up working because the people who were fighting it ended up running out of money.”
That self-described “coup” that Team K.J. had drawn up more than three years ago, using city staff and resources to advance a noncity power grab? Yeah, it worked.
So why haven’t you a heard a peep about it?
The attempt to forestall bankruptcy and save the NCBM was mounted on the grounds that Johnson got himself fraudulently elected president in 2013—a claim a judge later rejected—only to tank the struggling nonprofit so he could replace it with a version under his control and sharing his corporate education goals.
The ruling comes about two months after a separate judgment in an Atlanta circuit court against Vanessa Williams, NCBM’s former executive director and Johnson’s chief adversary in trying to keep the black mayors conference alive.
In both cases, the rulings were based less on the merits of Team K.J.’s legal arguments and more on the fact that the other side simply stopped fighting.
In his 19-page order issued last week, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Paul Baisier ruled that the effort to stop the liquidation from going forward was “moot,” as the bankruptcy trustee had already sold NCBM’s assets and naming rights for $65,000 to the African American Mayors Association, the competing organization that Johnson founded in May 2014.
The law firm representing Team K.J., the bankruptcy trustee and AAMA, all free of charge?
Ballard Spahr LLP.
Williams, who learned of the bankruptcy ruling from SN&R on Tuesday, claimed Ballard Spahr’s representation of the party that wanted the bankruptcy, the trustee responsible for overseeing it and the organization that stood to replace the NCBM constitued “a conflict of interest.”
A Ballard Spahr attorney disputed that there was a conflict, since her firm wasn’t receiving payment for its work.
Baisier also ruled that Williams and the 14 NCBM mayors trying to save the organization lacked standing Sacramento News & Review - K.J.’s shadow coup - News - Local Stories - December 22, 2016: