Each candidate brings strategies old and new ahead of March 5 vote
By Jacob Peterson
When Mayor Darrel Steinberg announced he would not seek re-election in 2024, it didn’t take long for potential replacements to make their bids known.
Since that initial announcement, the board has cleared and left a total of six candidates on the ballot. These candidates are Dr. Richard Pan, Dr. Flojuane Cofer, Steve Hansen, Kevin McCarty, Jose Antonia Avina II and Julius Engel. Each brings a variety of personal and professional experience to their campaigns, a mix of first-time and career politicians, medical doctors and veterans. Regardless of their backgrounds, each will need to earn the support of the Sacramento community if they want to have any hope of winning the election in March.
Just as their experiences’ differ, so too does their approach to reaching out to people. McCarty, who currently serves as the representative for District 6 in the State Assembly, said that his campaign started knocking on doors early, but went into overdrive after the holidays.
“With Thanksgiving and Christmas and so forth, voters aren’t always in the mood to talk about elections,” McCarty observed. “Many don’t even know there is an election in March.”
McCarty explained that his operation is picking up their door-to-door campaigning in January and February.
In contrast, Avina, a local gym owner and captain in the Marine Corps Reserve, said that, as an “underdog,” he didn’t have the luxury of waiting till January to start getting the word out.
“I wouldn’t say January is when you need to make your big push,” Avina reflected. “I think that every moment, every second counts.”
Avina understood the logic of waiting till after New Year’s to start reaching out, as many people would be leaving Sacramento to visit family before that, but thought there were still be plenty of hands to shake in that window.
“If you’re only looking at Downtown as a sector you’re really trying to target, then you have the understanding that the vast majority of individuals in that downtown area are transplants,” Avina said. “I think it just depends on where they’re trying to target, where their audience is at.”
Avina wasn’t the only candidate making use of that time to knock on doors. Cofer, an epidemiologist, said that her campaign has been doing regular canvassing and phone banks since at least July.
“I think we’ve been in a lot of places, and having a lot of conversations, and meeting people and having that opportunity to greet them and talk about our message,” Cofer explained. “We really have a pretty robust and well-rounded campaign that’s happening.”
Cofer added that she and her team were running a different campaign than many of the other candidates, having not held an elected position before and therefore not having the same name recognition as some competitors.
“We’re doing something unique to us because we’re a people-powered campaign,” Cofer stressed. “We’re relying on the contributions of everyday people, and that comes from sweat equity and actual dollars contributed to the campaign.”
Outside of canvassing and phone calls, candidates have also made use of community events to make themselves known. Hansen, a former member of the Sacramento City Council, said that he already attended a lot of events before the campaign, but has since stepped up this approach ahead of the election.
“I’m out and about a lot,” Hansen noted. “Somebody told me I’m everywhere, but I can’t be everywhere all the time.”
Hansen has been to multiple National Night Outs, as well as the Midtown Farmers Market and the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs National Unity Awards Gala, along with many other get-togethers.
“I love going to community events,” Hansen acknowledged. “It’s a good way to see people who otherwise may not show up to campaign event, and then be able to talk to them.”
Hansen is far from the only candidate to make the best of such outreach opportunities. Pan, a pediatrician and former State Senator, was also in attendance at the APAPA Gala, as well as appearing at an event by the American Association for Men in Nursing at Sacramento State.
For his part, McCarty participated in the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services’ Run to Feed the Hungry on Thanksgiving. Not long after, Cofer took part in the Annual Homeless Memorial Service. Meanwhile Avina attended the Alliance Holiday Mixer hosted by the Sacramento Hispanic, Asian Pacific and Black Chambers of Commerce.
There has also been a variety of mayoral forums held throughout the city to give the candidates the chance to speak to the issues affecting constituents. These include one held at the Robertson Community Center on Nov. 4, one hosted by the Sacramento NAACP on Nov. 11 and future forum to be hosted by Sac Kids First on Jan. 27.
Hansen said many of these forums were scheduled on top of each other; and while that caused some complications, he was still eager to attend them.
“I’ll go anywhere, I’ll talk to anyone, it’s exciting,” Hansen remarked. “I think each one of those has the opportunity to help the voters better understand my vision for the city, how I’m going to operate and what I care about. And they deserve to know those things.”
Candidates have also been hosting their own fundraising events which, in addition to helping bring in necessary funds for campaigning, also provide voters an opportunity to speak with them.
McCarty and Cofer both hosted such events at the SacYard Community Taphouse last month. Avina’s gym hosted a Fit for Cause boot camp on Dec. 16, encouraging participants to use the time to speak with him about matters regarding the city. Hansen’s campaign set up a reception for their candidate in collaboration with supporters of the Sacramento Arts community in November.
Cofer also made headlines on Dec. 11 when she held a press conference in front of the office of Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho, criticizing legal actions that he’s taken against the City for allegedly failing to enforce its own public safety and anti-camping laws around homelessness.
“He is trying to sue his way into housing, but that logic model doesn’t add up,” Cofer said. “You actually have to create housing and pass policy, and frankly neither of those are his job.”
Cofer added that she believes Ho is using the opportunity to raise his political profile ahead of a run for the position of Attorney General, calling his tactics “unproductive”.
Supporters of the candidates have also been hosting fundraisers at their homes, sometimes referring to them “house parties.” In addition to providing much needed campaign funds, these soirees also offer a more intimate setting for candidates and voters to discuss concerns.
Social media has also proven to be an important aspect to the campaigns, allowing hopefuls to promote their appearances and communicate their platform to supporters and potential voters. Hansen views social media as having been key to his initial election to the city council back in 2012.
“The media credited my social media presence with being the difference,” Hansen recalled. “I think it’s a really important medium because it allows people to be in their lives and understand what you care about and what you’re doing.”
Hansen said that while many people were “disenfranchised” with social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter), it was still an important tool for allowing people to get to know who their potential new mayor is.
“When you show up at their door and they’re doing their laundry or taking care of business they don’t always have the time to engage in the same way,” Hansen said.
Another candidate making use of social media to get his message across is Avina, who said he made use of live streams to Instagram, Facebook and Youtube to engage with supporters.
“I try to let them know ‘these are some of the things I’m talking about this week,’ or ‘here’s some interesting things that the city’s pushed out,’” Avins explained. “I’m able to still reach the audience even though they’re not here locally, they’re still online.”
Avina said that while the audience he received for these “sit downs” wasn’t large, the people who did show up were generally engaged and asking questions.
Candidates have also found ample outreach opportunities in the various labor strikes that have been occurring not only in Sacramento, but across the nation.
Pan, McCarty and Cofer all made appearances at the California Faculty Association strike at Sacramento State on Dec. 7.
“I’ve been overseeing the budget for CSU for nine years, so it’s very relevant for me to be there and participating in that issue and trying to make sure our frontline faculty at the CSU get a fair contract,” McCarty said. “Whether I’m running for mayor or not I would be there anyway.”
Other demonstrations that candidates have made appearances at include those held by the California Association of Professional Scientists, the United Healthcare Worker strike and the Teamsters.
Cofer thinks it’s important to show support for the various labor unions because, in part, their plight ties into the issue of homelessness that she’s marked as a primary concern from Sacramento residents.
“When SCIU is making $16-an-hour as home healthcare workers, and it costs $26.77 to afford the median listing price of an apartment in our region,” Cofer offered, “that means they are $10-per-hour short of being able to live in our community.”
Cofer said that homelessness was the number one issue her campaign had heard about when reaching out to voters. Cofer is not alone in this, with Hansen also citing homelessness as the primary concern for voters.
“The overwhelming response from people at the doors and events, everywhere, is the frustration with the homelessness crisis,” Hansen acknowledged.
Hansen said people wanted someone in office who would take the issue seriously and has a track record of dealing with it, noting his own time on the city council.
“When I first ran for city council, I warned about homelessness,” Hansen remembered. “I helped create the common sense program, which was the first program on homelessness.”
McCarty said that, as a sitting assemblymember, he was already hearing about several issues facing not just Sacramento but the state as a whole.
“All those issues I’m literally working on in my day job, plus the issues that come front and center to the people of Sacramento,” McCarty noted. “I would say that the majority of issues people are talking about link to homelessness and housing issues in Sacramento and solutions to that.”
As part of the Legislature, McCarty has also worked on issues of mental health and public safety. He said voters elect people to solve problems, and he’s prided himself on doing just that.
Alongside campaigning, many of the candidates also carry personal and professional responsibilities they need to juggle going into the election. Some of Avina’s outside obligations to non-profits, which needed to stay apolitical, made campaigning more difficult at times.
“They do take federal funding for some things, so they have to remain apolitical,” Avina admitted. “I have my commitments already to go to the organizations to train, so it’s not like I can utilize that as a spotlight.”
Avina’s work with his campaign, volunteering and business means that he doesn’t get a lot of personal time, though he manages it through sectioning-out his day. He understands that the position of mayor is a full-time job and that some things will need to change, but he wants to make sure he’s still fulfilling his current responsibilities.
McCarty said that his candidacy was unique among his rivals as he’s the only candidate to currently hold elected office.
“Right now, it’s a lot of juggling, doing a lot of campaign work during the weekends and during the evening,” McCarty detailed. “I’m always busy, I’m pretty good at juggling my life.”
McCarty added that he’s used to having to campaign: As an assembly member, he’s had to run for reelection every two years. He said that it requires some more coordination, but overall he doesn’t see holding state office as a drawback.
Hansen was also confident in his abilities to manage the workload of his campaign alongside other obligations.
“You get to be kind of a professional juggler at a certain point,” Hansen said. “Between the kids and work and campaign you just try to ensure you do what you say you’re going to do and stay engaged – you make it work.”
The official date for the Sacramento mayoral primary election is set for March 5, 2024. If a candidate can secure more than 50% of the vote, they will be announced the winner. If no candidate does this, then the top two candidates will move on to a general election on Nov. 5, 2024.
Neither Pan or Engel’s campaigns could be reached for comment before publication.