Darrell Steinberg thanks his Sacramento supporters the day after the election where he won the office of Sacramento Mayor while having lunch at Shari's Restaurant on June 8, 2016. Autumn Payne The Sacramento Bee
Darrell Steinberg thanks his Sacramento supporters the day after the election where he won the office of Sacramento Mayor while having lunch at Shari's Restaurant on June 8, 2016. Autumn Payne The Sacramento Bee

Local Elections

Steinberg wins Sacramento mayor’s race by wide margin

By Ryan Lillis

rlillis@sacbee.com

June 07, 2016 08:15 PM

Former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg will lead the city where he got his political start after securing a resounding victory in the Sacramento mayor’s race Tuesday.

Steinberg topped Councilwoman Angelique Ashby 59 percent to 26 percent after all precincts reported early Wednesday. His winning margin remained large as ballots were counted through most of the night, and he easily maintained the majority needed to avoid a November runoff.

Ashby conceded the contest in a Tweet posted Wednesday morning. “I send my congrats and commitment to partner to our next Mayor @Steinberg4Sac,” Ashby wrote.

While stopping short of declaring victory at an election party, Steinberg thanked the region’s business, labor and elected leaders and said he was looking forward to working with those individuals.

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“I’m very confident about the future of our city,” Steinberg said in an interview before taking the stage at downtown’s Beatnik Studios.

Steinberg, who late in the campaign told Ashby he had “outworked” her, was up again early Wednesday, doing a television interview outside his Sacramento home at 6:30 a.m. “I’m thrilled,” he said. “We worked very, very hard.”

On Tuesday night, Ashby was surrounded by supporters at a party at the Track 7 brewery in North Natomas that ended shortly after 11 p.m. As her party wrapped up, she did not concede and said she wanted to wait a few days for “the county clerk to do her job.”

“I think we need to wait for more votes to be in,” she said.

Sacramento Councilwoman Angelique Ashby appeared at Track 7 brewery in North Natomas at the end of her campaign for mayor. She came in a distant second behind Darrell Steinberg, who had more than 60 percent of votes by the time Ashby's party ended Jessica HiceThe Sacramento Bee

Steinberg’s win caps the most expensive campaign in city history. It was also a race that grew increasingly contentious in the final weeks.

Campaign mailers funded by special interest groups attacked Steinberg’s track record in the state Senate by tying him to three lawmakers charged with crimes. And when a judge ruled against Ashby’s attempt to block Steinberg from spending some of his campaign cash, Steinberg’s campaign spokesman called Ashby “desperate.”

Steinberg and Ashby are seeking to replace Mayor Kevin Johnson, who announced in October he would not seek an unprecedented third term.

Ashby was the first to announce her candidacy, telling The Sacramento Bee on Oct. 20 that she would seek City Hall’s top political post. A popular and outspoken member of the City Council, Ashby has represented North Natomas since securing an upset victory in 2010. She is midway through her second term and would not have to relinquish the seat if she loses the mayoral election.

Johnson’s decision not to run opened the door for Steinberg’s campaign. The political veteran of more than 20 years had said for months that he wouldn’t run against Johnson, with whom he has had a mostly cordial relationship. A week after Ashby’s announcement, Steinberg made his candidacy official at a rally where he was surrounded by much of the city’s political elite.

The race also attracted former boxing champion Tony “The Tiger” Lopez, who totaled 8.8 percent of the vote.

Steinberg, Ashby and special interest groups combined to spend more than $1.8 million over the past eight months. The money funded television ads for both major candidates and a flood of campaign mail, most of it in support of Steinberg or Ashby. Steinberg was by far the biggest spender, backed by more than $2 million in campaign cash, including $1.4 million he transferred from an account established for a possible statewide lieutenant governor campaign.

Both candidates repeated their intentions to maintain positive messages. But the campaign also took a contentious turn in the final days, when three ads attacking Steinberg were produced by a San Diego-area political committee. The Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce political action committee was one of the major funders of the ads, including one that mischaracterized a bill Steinberg wrote in the state Senate dealing with farmworker union contracts. The ads were independent expenditures produced without Ashby’s involvement.

The same day the farmworker mailer arrived, The Bee reported that Steinberg had been working since July for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, an agency that pumps water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to serve some of its 19 million customers.

MWD is also a leading proponent of Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial plan to construct two tunnels designed to improve the flow of water from the Delta to Southern California – a plan opposed by most water agencies in the Sacramento region. Steinberg’s work with the south state water agency – which is paying his law firm $10,000 a month through the end of June – has not directly dealt with the tunnel projects.

Ashby called Steinberg a “hired gun” for MWD.

“I could have handled this better,” Steinberg told The Bee’s editorial board last week. “I acknowledge it. I do understand the optics.”

Mayoral candidate Darrell Steinberg reflects on his 20 years in public office after voting at Caroline Wenzel Elementary School in Sacramento on Tuesday, June 7, 2016. Randy PenchThe Sacramento Bee

Steinberg said he will not work full time at his law firm after he is mayor. It’s unclear whether he will maintain a limited role with the firm. Steinberg said last week that if he does, he will identify his clients. He declined before the election to name his current clients, drawing criticism from Ashby.

Ashby faced her own pressure during the race.

In March, a Bee analysis revealed that Ashby had overstated crime reduction numbers in her City Council district. Ashby had said at campaign events that crime dropped 48 percent during her first term, but police data later showed crime had actually gone down 13 percent. While North Natomas is one of the safest areas in the city, Ashby’s crime reduction numbers were lower than the citywide average.

The city manager and police chief took the blame for Ashby’s inaccurate claims, saying the councilwoman was given faulty numbers.

The campaign also entered the courtroom last week, when a Sacramento Superior Court judge denied Ashby’s request that Steinberg surrender roughly $220,000 in campaign cash. Ashby contended that the money was illegally transferred into Steinberg’s mayoral campaign from the lieutenant governor account. Steinberg filed papers saying he would not spend the cash.

Surrounded by her family, Sacramento mayoral candidate Angelique Ashby voted at a North Natomas polling place on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, then addressed news media, sounding upbeat and characterizing Election Day as "a really fun day, a day to celeb Lezlie SterlingThe Sacramento Bee

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis. Bee staff writers Ed Fletcher and Jessica Hice contributed to this report.