Deal Killer

McCarty’s voting record: No on arena, no on Kings

By R.E. Graswich
February 2024

Kevin Johnson was elected mayor twice without talking about basketball. An NBA All-Star for the Phoenix Suns, Johnson downplayed his sports legacy on the campaign trail.

He wanted to be known as a business and education leader from Oak Park. He saw himself as a local success story and visionary, not an old jock.

This year’s mayoral election brings another Kevin with basketball history. The candidate is Kevin McCarty, state assemblymember and former city councilmember.

McCarty wasn’t a basketball player. But during his City Hall tenure, basketball was a big part of his life.

McCarty did his best to kill Golden 1 Center and hustle the Kings off to Seattle.

For 40 years, most Sacramento City Council members tripped over themselves showing love for the Kings. They brag about attending games. They wear purple.

Councilmember Katie Valenzuela produced a campaign video from a Downtown rooftop last year when the Kings made their brief playoff appearance. She stopped just short of taking credit for the season.

Never mind that she has nothing to do with Golden 1 or the Kings.

McCarty is another story. He was lead agitator in efforts to stop the City Council from partnering with Kings ownership 10 years ago. He didn’t want city dollars spent on Golden 1 Center. He voted against the Kings every chance he got.

McCarty wanted the arena subsidy placed on the ballot. Let voters decide, he said. Based on previous arena ballot measures, McCarty knew there was an excellent chance voters would say no.

I’m not sure an arena ballot measure would pass today. Most people who attend Kings games live outside the city. Residents of Carmichael, Folsom, Roseville or Elk Grove don’t worry about their local tax dollars backstopping bond payments for a Downtown arena. They can’t vote in city elections.

McCarty played political games. He knew the City Council had authority to sell bonds for arena construction. He knew the City Council’s job was to make tough decisions.

He knew a public vote was unnecessary. It’s an escape hatch for politicians who lack courage to do their jobs.

Today McCarty doesn’t apologize for his attempts to kill the arena. He tells Inside, “Unfortunately, my fears are materializing because the general fund is now paying that debt service.”

He’s right. Debt service on the city’s $273 million arena bonds is anchored by parking revenues. Dollars collected from garages and meters shrank, but not because of anything McCarty anticipated.

The pandemic and permanent remote status of public employees broke the model. Today the general fund covers the shortfall, almost $3 million a year. The money comes from an emergency account the city created in 2015.

I worked for Johnson in the mayor’s office when McCarty started causing trouble with the Kings. We considered him an annoyance. We knew he lacked City Council support to kill the arena.

I was sympathetic to McCarty, but knew he missed the point. As a columnist for the Bee, I argued against several arena iterations. They were money grabs by wealthy team owners.

The Golden 1 Center deal was different. Downtown was devastated by the recession. Businesses closed. State workers were furloughed. Westfield prepared to shutter its shopping mall at Seventh and K streets and walk away.

The Kings abandoned their fans and packed their bags, first for Anaheim, then Seattle. At City Hall we envisioned Johnson being ridiculed as the All-Star mayor who lost his city’s team.

Vivek Ranadive and his financial supporters brought unprecedented opportunities. The new Kings owners agreed to pay for about half the arena and build a hotel and entertainment center on Westfield’s footprint.

Making the deal was easy for all but two members of the City Council, Darrell Fong and McCarty.

Now McCarty wants to be mayor. He recognizes the importance of the Kings and arena. But he can’t change history.

If he had been mayor a decade ago, the Kings would have left town. Golden 1 Center and Downtown Commons wouldn’t exist.

He never apologized. Which tells me he’d do the same thing all over again.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

Stay up-to-date with our always 100% local newsletter!

* indicates required
Type of Newsletter
Share via
Copy link