Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fresh Feature: A Former NBA All-Star Who Wants to Become Mayor, A Trade Union, And A Future Tesco Fresh & Easy Grocery Store In Sacramento, California

The Sacramento, California-based Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 447 union is hitting former NBA basketball all-star and Sacramento native Kevin Johnson hard with a new website and series of mailers to voters as the Sacramento developer who is bringing a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store to land he owns in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood is battling the city's incumbent mayor Heather Fargo in a hot runoff election for Mayor of Sacramento.

On its website "No Way KJ," and in the direct-mailed brochures, the union details a series of allegations against Johnson that have dogged him in Sacramento for many years. Among these allegations include charges of sexual misconduct with underage girls, which he has never been prosecuted for, charges of being a slumlord, violations of city of Sacramento building codes, getting citations for failures to appear in court, charges of cover-up, and being under U.S. Federal Government investigation.

The website hits Kevin Johnson hard on these allegations and charges, including posting police reports it says are from police investigations of Mr. Johnson involving sexual relations with minors. It is important to note that Kevin Johnson is not currently charged with any crimes of any nature we are aware of, nor is he pending any sort of court trail we are aware of.

The Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 477 union's "No Way KJ" website even features a re-enactment of what it claims is a conversation between the former NBA All-Star, developer and candidate for Sacramento Mayor Johnson and a 16 year year old girl from the summer of 1995. the union website says the transcripts in its re-enactment are taken directly from the Phoenix, Arizona police report sex crimes unit that investigated the incident." Johnson played for the Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team at the time. Click here to view what the website calls "the Wiretap."

Additionally, the anti-Kevin Johnson website includes a listing of news reports regarding Johnson, along with a link to a newsletter so that readers and Sacramento voters can receive regular updates from the union on Johnson and the union's campaign to make sure he doesn't win the November runoff election against incumbent Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo.

Kevin Johnson was the top vote getter in the June, 2008 election for Mayor of Sacramento, beating incumbent Mayor Fargo and all other contenders by a majority of votes. He received 46% of the vote, to Mayor Fargo's 40%.

However, Sacramento has a city law which requires the top vote getter in the mayoral race to receive 50% of the vote in the June primary election in order to be declared the winner. If this doesn't happen, the number one and number two vote-getters then go against each other in a runoff election in November.

As a result of Mr. Johnson not receiving 50% or more of the vote in June, he and incumbent Heather Fargo are facing off in the November election to see who will become Sacramento's Mayor.

Developer Johnson is favored to win over incumbent Mayor Fargo in November. In fact, he's been leading in local Sacramento polls by a wide margin since the June election. However, according to Sacramento political analysts we've talked to this week, Fargo seems to be gaining slightly on Johnson, in large part they said due to the aggressive campaign launched by the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 477 union, which is being supported by other labor unions, groups and coalitions.

Kevin Johnson remains popular in Sacramento and still is the favorite to win the contest for Sacramento mayor in November at this point in time however, according to the latest polls being conducted in the city, along with analysis from local pundits.

Johnson and the construction trades labor unions have been at odds more than once in Sacramento, where the former NBA all-star was born and raised in the very Oak Park neighborhood where he is bringing a Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store to on land he owns, since he returned to his hometown after retiring from the NBA and began a career as a developer.

Essentially, the issues have been over what the labor unions have claimed are at times anti-labor practices by Johnson at some of his developments and properties, a charge Mr. Johnson says is completely untrue.

Johnson also operates a non-profit community development organization called St. HOPE, which he founded 19 years ago in his hometown of Sacramento, and served as the CEO of until stepping down after winning the June primary, saying he needed to do so in order to focus on the November mayoral runoff election. And Johnson has focused on the election, working extremely hard in his goal of being Sacramento's next mayor.

St. HOPE, for which Johnson has received lots of praise for starting in Sacramento, is a large, multi-branched non-profit organization. It includes the St. HOPE Development Company, which focuses on lower-income inner-city Sacramento neighborhoods like Oak Park where Mr. Johnson is bringing the Fresh & Easy grocery store to land he owns in the neighborhood.

The non-profit organization also includes St. HOPE Public Schools, which currently operates a free pre-school through 12th grade charter school serving about 1,500 low-income students, and the Hood Corps, which was founded in the Oak Park neighborhood in 1999 and has as its mission to train and develop young, inner city youth to become leaders, along with working to improve their neighborhoods.

Lastly, St. Hope includes a Community Arts division, which built and operates the popular 40 Acres Art Gallery and facility in the Oak Park neighborhood, and restored and operates the historic Guild Theatre, which is an urban center in Sacramento for the performing arts and cinema.

The supporters of the St. HOPE organization and its various enterprises reads like a who's who list of national U.S. public organizations, figures and leading Sacramento business and professional leaders.

For example, the St. HOPE Public Schools are supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as the Walton Family Foundation, which is funded and run by the heirs of the Wal-Mart retailing empire, in addition to dozens more major corporations, foundations, groups and individuals. [You can view a listing here.]

The St. HOPE Academy, of which the public charter school is a part, counts among its supporters and contributors West Sacramento-based Raley's, the region's leading supermarket chain and its retired long time CEO Charles Collings, along with the Maloff brothers, who own the Sacramento Kings basketball team and Las Vegas casinos, Wells Fargo bank, Bank of America, and numerous others. [You can view other supporters and contributors here.]

Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood, where Kevin Johnson was raised, has and is the focus of much of the St. HOPE organization's work. It's also been a major focus of Mr. Johnson's for-profit development business.

Oak Park has historically been one of Sacramento's poorest neighborhoods. Over the last few years, thanks in part to St. HOPE and an influx of younger, middle income residents who've joined with existing residents to form neighborhood organizations, the neighborhood has been undergoing a makeover, which has included adding new apartments and lofts, seeing houses get renovated, bringing in new retail stores and creating an arts community.

Oak Park has an extremely active group of residents who are working to improve and upgrade the neighborhood, including lobbying the city of Sacramento to improve the streets, sidewalks and public spaces, as well as working with St. HOPE, as well as with private developers and businesses, to bring in more new housing and retail businesses to the long neglected neighborhood.

This is where both Kevin Johnson and Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market come in. A coalition of Oak Park residents and supporters have been working for some time to bring a supermarket that offers basic groceries and fresh foods at affordable prices to the neighborhood, which is underserved by such food stores.

Last year, Tesco announced that one of the 19 initial Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market small-format, combination basic grocery and fresh foods grocery markets it would open in the Sacramento Metropolitan region beginning early next year would be in the low-income, "food desert" Oak Park neighborhood.

Further, the Oak Park Fresh & Easy store will be built on land owned in the neighborhood by Sacramento mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson, who was a driving force in bringing the Tesco Fresh & Easy grocery store to the neighborhood.

The vast majority of Oak Park residents were thrilled with the announcement, and it helped Mr. Johnson, who was raised in the neighborhood, to galvanize support from neighborhood residents in the June mayoral election, which he won with 46% of the vote.

It's too early to tell is the campaign launched by the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 477 union will derail Kevin Johnson's plans to be Mayor of Sacramento. Right now local Sacramento pollsters and pundits tell Fresh & Easy Buzz he still has a strong lead over incumbent Mayor Heather Fargo, in part they say because Mr. Johnson is riding the "change" wave being felt nationally in U.S. politics.

However, they also tell us Kevin Johnson is a popular resident of Sacramento, as well as popular candidate for mayor. His story--Sacramento boy from the low-income Oak Park neighborhood who becomes an NBA all-star, only to return to his hometown, start a successful development company and non-profit organization, then run for the city's highest office--is the stuff of the American (and Sacramento) dream.

Having Kevin Johnson as the land owner of the future Fresh & Easy grocery store in the Oak Sacramento neighborhood has been rather good politically and from a public relations standpoint for Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA thus far. It's created a higher than would have been profile for the retailer in the region prior to its opening its forst Sacramento-area store.

Whether the Plumbers and Pipefitters' campaign will tarnish Kevin Johnson's image among Sacramento voters enough to lead to his defeat by the not extremely popular incumbent Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo is unknown. However, between now and November, Sacramento political experts say the campaign--including the negative campaigning--is only going to heat up.

Meanwhile, depending on which way the Sacramento mayoral campaign goes in the remaining months, and ultimately which candidate wins the November runoff election, it could either possibly result in putting Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in a sweet spot--building the Oak Park store on land owned by the city's new Mayor--or put it on the defensive--locating the Oak Park Fresh & Easy on land owned in the neighborhood--by a tarnished candidate for mayor, who ended up losing the November election because of an aggressive campaign led by a labor union, which is allied with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which itself is conducting a campaign of its own against non-union Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA.

It going to be an interesting four months or so leading up to the November election in Sacramento, and at Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market headquarters in Southern California as well, as the retailer prepares to open its first grocery stores in the Sacramento region possibly as earlier as the end of this year, but more likely in early 2009.

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