SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was sworn in Wednesday as the new leader of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a platform that raises the national political profile of the NBA All-Star.
Johnson rises to fill a vacancy left by Scott Smith of Mesa, Ariz., who resigned to run for governor of that state. In a Sacramento luncheon honoring his appointment, Johnson praised city leaders as the ones who find solutions and blasted politics in the nation's capital.
"We don't want to wait on Washington to solve our problems," he said. "We don't have time to deal with bickering that goes back and forth between Democrats and Republicans."
Johnson, first elected in 2008, said he would promote a "pro-growth agenda" as the nation's biggest advocate for local government. The Democrat echoed familiar ideas for an approach linking higher education, a skilled workforce and investments in high-speed Internet and infrastructure to foster economic development.
He pointed to Houston's resource centers for immigrants and Indianapolis' all-electric-and-hybrid vehicle fleet as examples of cities taking action where federal lawmakers have stalled.
But cities are also pushing the federal government to shore up flood management and replenish the Highway Trust Fund for road projects, said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities.
"As a mayor of a city that's facing all of those needs, and as a mayor that networks effectively with city leaders all over the country, (Johnson) can very effectively and articulately make the case why we need a strong federal-local partnership," McKenzie said.
Johnson is credited with keeping the Kings NBA franchise in Sacramento in exchange for a new downtown arena subsidized partly by the city. He used to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns from 1988 to 1999. Johnson has also promoted the state capital as a food destination in the center of the nation's agricultural belt.
U.S. Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran said Johnson rose through the ranks of the group for his leadership on education reform and is well-suited for a future in which cities must rely more on themselves and business partners than federal funding.
Johnson told the Sacramento Bee earlier that he is strongly considering running for a third term in 2016.
But before then, Sacramento voters will decide in November whether to give him more power. Johnson has pushed for Sacramento to join other large cities in authorizing the mayor to run the city's day-to-day operations.
Asked by reporters whether his new role would be a stepping stone for his political career, Johnson said it's more of a stepping stone for Sacramento's ability to attract grants and new businesses.