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Live blogging at the Sacramento mayoral debate

This evening Sacramento State hosted the mayoral debate between candidates Heather Fargo and Kevin Johnson in the University Union. The live, televised debate was broadcast on KCRA Channel 3 and Capital Public Radio FM 90.9. Students asked questions regarding crime, transportation, employment and the cooperation between the city and Sac State.

8:04 Debate wrap-up

The candidates managed to draw stark contrasts between each other during the debate.

Johnson stressed throughout his desire to change city policies and linked himself to the campaign of Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, several times, perhaps hoping to tap into the potency that messages of change have had nationwide. Fargo stuck to her record as an incumbent rather than attempt to co-opt Johnson's message as her own. While Johnson derided her as a symbol of the "status quo," her focus seems to be betting that while nationally that label has been toxic, it will be less relevant locally.

7:57 Role of Mayor

In your view, what is the role of the mayor?

Johnson: To be the leader of city, the face of the city in a ceremonial light, we have to articulate a vision. Secondly, we have to articulate policy for the city. He says he has to make an honest assessment of the city and make sure things happen like keeping up academic standards since two thirds of students are not making state academic standards.

Fargo: "As I have displayed," the mayor is to set the tone for the city, sell the city, and protect the city. In closing she makes mention of the work she has done with K St. and petitioning in D.C with regards to flood control.

7:49 Public school performance

Johnson answers a question about problems that plague public schools, like low funding. He said that Sacramento couldn't be a great city without having great schools. He said he would use the mayor's office to talk about progress made at Sacramento High School, where college attendance rates increased.

Fargo said she would "continue to do what I've been doing already." She said that Johnson kicked students out of Sacramento High, which she said was responsible for the statistics becoming more positive. She touted her endorsements from the Sacramento City Teacher's Association and other educational boards.

Johnson said that it was time for superintendents of schools to listen to him as mayor because change was needed. He was endorsed by California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell, which he said was more relevant than Fargo's endorsements. He talked about students he met who were leaving to attend college for the first time in their family.

"There's a reason the Sac City teachers have endorsed me," Fargo said. She said she has more than rhetoric. Johnson said that the endorsement represented the "status quo."

7:48 Fargo asks what's the plan

Fargo asks where Johnson is going to cut.

He starts to say it's about leadership... she says "oh it's about leadership"

He says we should audit the budget, find out where we are wasting resources. He says it comes down to the discussion in the community.

Fargo keeps interrupting him "what's the plan Kevin?"

"What are you cutting?"

He says it's not necessarily about cutting it's about how you increase sales and cut revenue base. He says we wasted $14 million on Oak Park. She says she still doesn't know what he is cutting. Johnson says it's about looking at the glass half full.

7:41 Candidates questioning each other

The format shifts to direct questioning between Johnson and Fargo. Johnson asks what the reasons are for the achievement gap. Fargo blames the state budget and its cuts, and says parents and community members need to become more involved. She talked about after school programs and programs that the city has.

Johnson asks a follow up saying that Fargo's answer is "not satisfactory." He says there need to be more teachers in the classroom and that expectations cannot be lowered. He also said that parent involvement and educational relevance is more important locally than budget cuts.

Fargo asked if he was planning on changing how the education system works since the mayor can't directly control the school system. Johnson said that he can do this the same way as at Sacramento High School by having superintendents raise graduation requirements and push students harder. He called for an "initiative" to make sure parents are more involved. Fargo called his answer "completely unrealistic."

7:41 Working with City Council members

Johnson feels the city is tired and unresponsive. He believes we need new ideas, he would go door to door each day for a few hours and find out what people need. Fargo says she works with the city council members if they endorse her or not. She goes into the community. She just talked to 400 Natomas residents about home invasion issues. Johnson he could do it better with better leadership, better talk. He says he's been to 40 districts and hasn't seen Heather.

7:33 Federal allegations against Johnson

A student asks about allegations of mismanagement of federal funds by Johnson's nonprofit organization and how, in light of this, he could effectively run the city. Johnson says that they are only allegations that are unsubstantiated, and said that once an investigation was completed he would be cleared of any wrongdoing. He talks about his work improving the Oak Park community as evidence of his leadership. "Leadership doesn't make excuses, leadership finds ways to get things done," he says.

Fargo stresses the seriousness of the investigation. Johnson says she is just "playing politics" and that he isn't "guilty until proven innocent."

"Compared to what you're up against, what's going on in the city is pretty mild," Fargo said in what was probably the tensest exchange so far.

7:31 Keeping the Kings here

Fargo says the arena should be partly funded by the NBA. She talks about her unsuccessful attempts for a new arena, what will she do. Johnson says that with strong leadership it will happen. He guarantees he will have a new arena in four years. Fargo says she's curious on how he will fund that.

7:24 Future of Sac State

Fargo says that Sac State brings "economic energy" to Sacramento, and yet it's hard to tell that there is a university and several community colleges in the area. Redeveloping areas to be more student-friendly would being more of that energy to the city, she said. She called for moving smaller, professional colleges into a single campus in a single area, with shared student services.

Johnson is the first to mention Destination 2010 explicitly. He calls Sac State a "gem" that is underrepresented and unappreciated. A "university village" could be created on 65th Street to the south of campus. He also said that he hoped to persuade President Gonzalez to put a satellite campus in downtown Sacramento in order to revitalize that neighborhood.

7:26 More on transportation

What are they willing on doing to increase funding to I would love to see if we could find a way to make it free. We can do better in making it safe, frequent stop and promote it.

Fargo: Sac State at the time didn't want the light rail to come, when none of them were. It clearly is a priority for the city to make sure it is available for students. This looks like we would call for sales tax. We are not like Washington D.C., where they all pay for metro.

7:15 Transportation

The candidates are asked how they will improve transportation systems to accommodate a growing population. Fargo says that there needs to be more housing close to the Sac State campus so that fewer students commute to campus. She mentions the 65th Street area, echoing President Gonzalez's Destination 2010 plan to make Sac State less of a commuter campus. She mentions future development of the rail yards area but says that the recent state budget cut funds from the transportation budget, which will be problematic.

Johnson suggests an emphasis on infill projects instead of suburban sprawl. He says the mayor has to be a "regional leader," not just a leader of Sacramento, which will require working with nearby jurisdictions. He said that public transportation should go all the way to the airport. He also mentioned the planned Sac State tram, which would connect the 65th Street light rail station to the Sac State campus. He touts transit projects in Portland, Ore. as a model for Sacramento's future. He said that the six-county Sacramento region could coordinate its requests for federal funding in order to receive more funds. He again connected the question to public safety, saying that people don't ride light rail because they fear it is not safe.

Fargo said that the mayor's only role in public transportation is appointing people and seeking funding. Johnson countered that ridership was "extremely low" on light rail, which Fargo immediately contradicted, saying it was "way up right now."

7:16 Proposition 8

To Johnson: Why don't you support Gay marriage?

He opposes it since it is divisive. He says he follows the views of Obama and Biden. His personal opinion is against it but no one should ever be discriminated upon. He will protect the gay community.

Fargo: "My opposition is much stronger than that."

She states she is against proposition 8 and for gay marriage.

The moderator asks if there would be a conflict of interest between his religious beliefs and the duties called upon him as a mayor. He says no, it wouldn't...

Fargo states that she wouldn't just tolerate gay marriage but "celebrate it."

7:10 Debate Break - Wrap up

Fargo seems to have the upper hand running on the "everything is fine" platform, Johnson appears flustered and is taking the accusatory "everything is falling apart" position.

7:04 Youth activities

Johnson is asked about after-school activities that can get Sacramento youth off of streets. Johnson says education programs can accomplish this. He mentions extracurricular activities, but says he also supports extending the school day to 7-4 and then extra activities until 6 p.m., the approach he has taken while running charter schools.

He said teachers can make learning more relevant by using activities students can relate to, like calculating the trajectory of a jump shot.

Fargo seems confused by the question and asks the student to re-phrase it. She goes over programs that she has pushed for and that are already in place. "After school is when the city of Sacramento really kicks in," she says. She rattles off a list of programs like mentoring programs, internships, homework help and recreational activities that are ongoing but doesn't list any new priorities.

7:05 Bike trails:

What are your plans to keep it safe and usable?

"It's not a city facility (domain)" Fargo says she's been working with the county to make sure it gets the proper funding.

Moderator asks Johnson if he uses the trail. He says yes. He says people don't use it because of safety. Last week he went down and saw homeless camps. We can't have safety hazards, fire trucks can't even reach down there.

6:56 Budgeting

A student asks Johnson how he can increase public safety efforts without addressing the budget deficit. Shouldn't the budget be addressed first?

Johnson says the city has to balance its checkbook. "We've got to make sure that we align our priorities with the resources we have," he says, and says Fargo's administration is not doing that right now and does not have enough police officers per capita because the city does not allocate enough resources. He talks again about violent crime statistics, which he blames Fargo for.

Fargo says that both are priorities. She blames the $58 million budget deficit on declining tax revenues and said she can't be blamed for the economy's hard times. She says that police can only be added by getting additional revenue or cutting other services.

Johnson says he "can't blame everything on the economy" and says the city is "not fiscally sound" because of Fargo's mismanagement. Fargo says budget deficits have come from city employees abusing overtime pay and that comes mainly from police and fire, which Johnson wants to increase.

Johnson: We need to propose more extracurricular activities, he would create a gang task force.

Fargo: It's not just about enforcement, it's about prevention.

6:45 Crime

Johnson: The city is "Not doing (patrolling) it effectively. Sac State has done a great job for safety on campus... but I would make it a top priority for the city.

Fargo: Given our economy situation we are looking for more areas of funding to have more officers. Says it is a top priority.

18-year-old asks what they are looking to do with regard to crime in Sacramento.

6:39 Exciting Destination

Johnson is asked how he can make Sacramento a more vibrant city and less of a stop between other places. Johnson said that it "drives me crazy" when Sacramento is described as being in between Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, and said that in a meeting with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked Johnson where Sacramento was. He said that being the capitol of the seventh-largest economy in the world should make the city more of a "destination city." "We'll never be LA or San Francisco, but we sure can be one of the most important cities in the state of California." He said the city could take advantage of its rivers to promote development.

Fargo responds that Bloomberg doesn't matter since he doesn't vote in Sacramento and it already is an important city with farmer's markets and film festivals, and "all kinds of wonderful things." She said that she hears from people that they are excited about living in Sacramento. She mentions conventions that have been held in Sacramento recently. She called Johnson's perspective "outdated." Johnson takes the opportunity to being up criticism that the mayor has traveled too much; he said he isn't the one who doesn't spend enough time in Sacramento.

Johnson looks pensive; Fargo is confident.

The debate looks like it will be Fargo saying what we have done, Johnson saying what's wrong.

6:34 p.m.

What do plan on doing on local job prospects in the economy?

Johnson says we need to make sure we are using our resources. We want provide internship opportunities. It is our responsibility

Fargo: We have a lot of new jobs coming in with the new green technology. "I think the arts has offered a lot of opportunity." We are offering job fairs. She talks about the memorandum they signed at the beginning of the year

6:22 p.m.

President Gonzalez speaks on why the debate was brought to Sac State. The audience gets settled. The Sacramento mayoral debate between candidates Heather Fargo and Kevin Johnson will begin at 6:30 p.m in the University Union.