Mayoral Mayhem

Out of his lane, Steinberg brings disruption to City Hall

By Jeff Harris
May 2024

You’d think he’d learn.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg recently brought a resolution to City Council calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Hamas-Israeli war. The outcome? Mayhem at City Hall.

Public comment on the resolution included 79 speakers and showcased disparate points of view. The meeting halted when shouting and belligerence boiled over. Police cleared the chambers and arrested 12 protestors. Cops broke up a crowd blocking the garage at City Hall.

Steinberg spent a lot of time negotiating with local Palestinian and Jewish groups to craft his resolution, a wholly symbolic document. Perhaps he thought his mediation skills would stand as a testament to his leadership.

All he did was expose the deep divide in local opinions about a complex, traumatic international conflict. The outcome was easy to predict.

The larger question is, are City Council meetings the appropriate venue to debate foreign wars?

As Councilmember Lisa Kaplan points out, there’s no provision in the city charter or council rules that addresses council actions on global affairs.

“I fundamentally do not believe that it is within the purview of the City Council to weigh in on international issues,” she says.

Kaplan voted no on Steinberg’s resolution after asking colleagues to abstain. In essence, she wanted to boycott the mayor’s stunt. The resolution passed 7-1 (Mai Vang was absent).

How did Steinberg get the resolution before council? He circumvented rules that say resolutions must first pass through the Law and Legislation committee.

If Gaza deserves a City Council resolution, how about one to end Russia’s war in Ukraine? Or condemning the subjugation and starvation of people in North Korea and Myanmar?

City Council could waste weeks debating conflicts around the world while ignoring pressing matters across town. Global diplomacy isn’t in the job description.

Was there a win here? Not for city residents and taxpayers. The meeting verified something everyone already knows—there are passionate opinions about the war in Gaza.

Was it a win for Steinberg? Clearly not. His actions prompted a meeting to descend into chaos. He sought community healing but instigated a near riot at City Hall.

Was this political theater? Yes, with a bad outcome.

Beyond the mayhem, Steinberg’s resolution had no practical impact. Five days later, the United States abstained from voting on a United Nations Security Council demand for immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield justified the abstention, saying the proposal didn’t condemn Hamas. She noted this war will end with diplomacy and negotiations.

If the mayor or City Council members are experts on international affairs, I would encourage them to seek employment at the State Department.

Meanwhile, the City Council faces a local financial crisis of its own creation. There are many municipal issues that demand attention and resources. The council should focus on concerns within its authority.

It’s my hope City Council rules and procedures are changed to exclude symbolic resolutions on matters that don’t directly affect our city and region. I will encourage my new councilmember, Phil Pluckebaum, and the eventual new member from North Sacramento, to support the idea.

There was a cost associated with this debacle. Police resources were squandered. An entire meeting of staff time was wasted. And the doors were opened for protestors to return and disrupt future meetings. They promised as much.
Steinberg leaves office in December. After eight years, you’d think he would have learned something.

Jeff Harris represented District 3 on the City Council from 2014 to 2022. He can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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