SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Former NBA star Kevin Johnson jumped into the Sacramento mayor's race Wednesday, announcing he will challenge three-term incumbent Heather Fargo in the municipal election in June.
The 42-year-old Johnson made the announcement at a news conference at the Guild Theater in Oak Park, the low-income Sacramento neighborhood where he grew up and where he has devoted himself to urban renewal projects after retiring from the NBA.
"We need a change in the city and I believe we need a change now," Johnson said. "As I went out the last month and talked to people around the city, folks have said to me they believe city government is nonresponsive, tired, uninspired and bureaucratic. They want something different in Sacramento. [They're] clamoring for change."
Fargo said she was "looking forward to holding my record up against his record. I think the voters will find more credibility and progress in my record than his."
"We've been making a lot of progress throughout the city," Fargo said. "He has a great image and a great star quality as a basketball player, but that's a far different job than being mayor of a city."
Johnson, who did not take questions at his news conference, is the only serious opponent to Fargo, who has governed the capital city as it has slid into a deep real estate slump.
The slumping economy has threatened marquee redevelopment projects such as the revitalization of K Street, the main downtown business strip near the state Capitol. The city has begun laying off workers to make up for a revenue shortfall estimated at more than 10 percent of its budget.
Johnson's redevelopment projects also have met with mixed success.
The former Phoenix guard's nonprofit community development corporation, St. HOPE, transformed the failing Sacramento High School into a successful charter school.
St. HOPE also developed the 40 Acres Art Gallery and Cultural Center, with a book store, lofts and Starbucks, in the commercial heart of Oak Park.
But community leaders have criticized Johnson for failing to keep up other run-down properties he bought with an eye toward redeveloping them.
Johnson was forced to issue a public apology after The Sacramento Bee ran a story that said half his group's 37 Oak Park properties had been cited for code violations over a 10-year period. Vacant lots had been left fallow and had become filled with garbage.
Johnson has since moved to clean up the properties and said he would press ahead with his redevelopment plans by bringing a Fresh & Easy market to a key Oak Park intersection.