The sound system blasted Bon Jovi's "We weren't Born to Follow" as the mayor took the stage at a Sacramento Convention Center ballroom. Johnson picked up on that theme when he brought up the city's efforts to compete in the green economy.
Johnson: "We can go one of two ways. We can either be a leader or we can be a laggard. If we're complacent, we'll watch what other cities do, and regions, and watch them take the lead, and then a decade from now, we'll look at their progress longingly, and start to ask ourselves, what can we do to replicate their success? Or we can be at the front of the pack."
With that, Johnson laid out the recommendations from his year-long Green Initiative - projects he says Sacramentans can do themselves and pay for themselves. Buy more local food, for example. And double the region's current 14,000 green jobs in the next decade.
The mayor also discussed revitalizing Sacramento's downtown.
Johnson: "Yes, yes, yes, I know, you've heard this before, we've been there too many times. But this time is different, because we are finally making legitimate progress."
Look at long-struggling K Street, he said, where three night-time hot-spots just opened up … and where developers are working on projects to fill two different blocks. The mayor wants to reduce the red tape for developers. And he's touting his task force that's examining proposals for a new Kings arena.
And for his third priority this year, Johnson is focusing on city schools.
Johnson: "I am begging you folks to get involved!"
The mayor announced a new volunteer initiative to bring the reading skills of every third grader in the city up to par. Currently, less than 40 percent read at grade level.
Johnson: "I'm asking retirees to come out of retirement and head into schools and start tutoring. I'm asking businesses - you folks - adopt a school, or allow your employees to spend time during their lunch - at least one day a week - reading to kids."
After the speech, as the crowd of more than 900 business and community leaders filed out of the room, one of the city council's three new members stopped to react. Darrell Fong, who represents the Pocket neighborhood to the south, says he's on board with the mayor's downtown focus.
Fong: "I mean, sure, I represent the district. But the city of Sacramento is the most important thing. Downtown development is great for the city. It may not benefit my district, but sure - it'll drive this economy, it'll drive the city of Sacramento."
As for Councilmember Kevin McCarty, who sometimes spars with Johnson, he says he supports the mayor's three priorities, but he also wants the mayor to make sure he keeps an eye on the budget.
McCarty: "We've cut our parks department by 50 percent for two years in a row, cut our neighborhood departments. And we really want to keep public safety and all that stuff whole, but we're gonna have to make some really tough decisions this year."
Which goes back to a line in the mayor's speech that probably won't get much notice:
Johnson: "While it's important to have big ideas, it's important to have big dreams, we need to understand and do the day-to-day things as well - the smaller things that make a difference in everyday people's lives."
By his own admission, Johnson has struggled in the past to balance those competing goals. It's something he wants to improve in the last half of his term.