By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - The former top Democrat in the California Senate said on Wednesday he will run for mayor of Sacramento in what is expected to be an expensive contest to succeed former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who has helped revitalize his hometown.
The announcement by Darrell Steinberg, a former president pro tem of the state Senate, puts an end to months of speculation that the popular lawmaker would run.
"Today for the future of the city I love I announce proudly that I am a candidate for the office of mayor of Sacramento," Steinberg said at a rally at the site of a new housing development near downtown, vowing to take the city's renaissance "to the next level."
Johnson, a Democrat, used his star power to begin to revitalize the state capital of Sacramento, a Central Valley city that was hard-hit by the economic crisis.
He made headlines in 2013 when he led a successful campaign to keep the Kings NBA basketball team in town, complete with a new arena that has already spawned other revitalization efforts.
Under his stewardship, fading neighborhoods became hip and entrepreneurs who could not afford to open businesses in booming San Francisco tried their hands in this city 90 miles inland.
Johnson, a former point guard for the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers, said last week he would not seek a third term, days after a decades-old allegation resurfaced that he had dated and fondled a 16-year-old girl while a basketball player in Phoenix. No charges were ever filed.
The battle to replace Johnson is sure to be competitive, as contenders in this mostly Democratic city face off with campaigns likely funded at least in part by competing labor unions.
Voters will go to the polls in June 2016, but if none of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the votes in the non-partisan, open primary, the two highest vote-getters will compete in November.
If elected mayor, Steinberg said, he would continue the city's economic comeback while also focusing on its difficult challenges with poverty and homelessness.
Hours after Johnson said he would not run again, Democratic City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby announced her candidacy at the headquarters of the city's firefighters union.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Beech)