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CAMPAIGN '08: CALIFORNIA RETURNS

Runoff likely in Sacramento

Former NBA star and political novice Kevin Johnson leads in his effort to unseat Mayor Heather Fargo.

June 04, 2008|Eric Bailey and Tony Perry | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — In his first-ever drive for elected office, former NBA star Kevin Johnson appeared headed to victory Tuesday in the heated race to become mayor of California's capital city, but was falling short of the threshold needed to avoid a November runoff.

Sacramento's mayoral race was the most bitter in decades, pitting two-term incumbent Heather Fargo against the former Phoenix Suns star. One of the Democrats had to capture more than 50% of the votes to win the seat outright.

The election debate revolved around Johnson's character and qualifications.

Johnson had earned a golden reputation by helping revitalize his old Oak Park neighborhood over the last decade, but his standing plummeted in recent weeks amid allegations that he molested a teenage girl in Phoenix 13 years ago and another last year in Sacramento. No charges were brought in either case.

In San Diego, voters were returning Mayor Jerry Sanders for a second term despite a strong challenge from business owner Steve Francis and three other candidates.

Sanders, elected in the middle of a financial mess brought on by a growing pension deficit and years of questionable financial management, has attempted to decrease the city's payroll and push city labor unions to accept cutbacks. Francis, a fellow Republican, says Sanders has been too unfocused and tentative.

In Mendocino County, voters were leaning toward repealing an 8-year-old law that has made the region an epicenter of the marijuana movement.

Measure B sought to reverse a 2000 law that decriminalized 25-plant cannabis gardens, allowing cultivation even for recreational use.

Backers of the revolt say the county is in the grips of a marijuana economy that has brought unwanted crime, environmental trouble and cultural change.

But foes of Measure B say it aims at the wrong target. Instead of focusing on busting large backwoods commercial growers, they say, police will start arresting small-scale growers, many of them medical marijuana patients.

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eric.bailey@latimes.com

tony. perry@latimes.com

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