District 2 candidates fight for brand identity and votes

The Fresno BeeSeptember 29, 2012 

The Fresno City Council District 2 race may pivot on whether voters prefer Di Cicco's pizza or James Madison.

Pat Di Cicco and Steve Brandau, survivors of June's five-candidate primary, are battling to replace one-term Council Member Andreas Borgeas in the northwest Fresno district.

Borgeas won the county's District 2 supervisorial seat in June.

When it comes to political outlook, Di Cicco and Brandau are almost identical twins. They're pro-business and anti-excessive regulation, pro-public safety and anti-new taxes, pro-civic pride and anti-government waste.

They joke about their bald domes. They made moves into the district before the primary (Di Cicco from a county island within the district, Brandau from northeast Fresno's District 6) and weathered carpetbagging charges. They have interchangeable campaign themes.

"I'm a very proud Fresnan and I want to keep being proud," Di Cicco said. "I would like Fresno to be resilient and return to its glory days. We're still a beautiful city, but I want to make it better."

Said Brandau: "I believe everything about our country is in jeopardy. There's only so much I can do about it in Washington, D.C. or Sacramento. But here in my hometown, hopefully I can effect a change and make strong decisions."

Both candidates worried about this blurring after the primary. Would voters on Nov. 6 simply flip a coin?

No need to worry. Both candidates think they've found a clarifying brand.

Di Cicco is quick to note that he was the primary's top vote-getter with 25.3%. He loves it when someone gets confused about the primary's significance.

"A lot of people think I've already won," Di Cicco said. "I have to tell them, 'No, I was the leader in the primary and now I'm climbing the other half of the mountain to get to the top.'"

But most of all, Di Cicco emphasizes his last name. He is part of the Di Cicco family that has been a fixture in the Fresno restaurant scene for more than a half-century. He touts family pride for two reasons.

"It helps break down the walls -- they'll listen to me because there's a connection," Di Cicco said. "Some people say their first job was at Di Cicco's. Or they say, 'I had my first date at your restaurant.' That's what they love about Di Cicco's."

Then he gets serious, Di Cicco said. He tells voters about the restaurants he has owned. He talks about cutting paychecks. He explains what it's like for a small-business owner to fight red tape.

He becomes the battle-hardened business owner -- not real big but not real small, either -- who wants to get into City Hall and transform one of the nation's poorest cities by creating jobs.

"I'm looking to make Fresno business-friendly again," Di Cicco said. "We can all say we're business people. But I know what it's like to have 75 (paychecks) coming out of my pocket."

Brandau is playing catch-up. He got nearly 22.2% of the primary vote. He runs a carpet-cleaning business. His last name doesn't have much local renown.

But Brandau in the primary was known as the Tea Party guy.

He is using this identity in the general election as an ice-breaker.

"I get it a lot -- people will say, 'Oh, you're that guy,' " Brandau said. "I believe that in District 2 it's appreciated. They see me as a fighter for taxpayers, for fiscal responsibility, for limited government."

The challenge is making sure voters understand that identity, Brandau said.

He said his Tea Party principles are those of the nation's founders, of men like Madison and Thomas Jefferson: Personal enterprise, free markets, ordered liberty, separated powers, good government but not invasive government.

"I then say my job is to apply that to a city with a real budget and people with different viewpoints and six other council members," Brandau said.

Brandau said he follows with the deal-clincher: He knows more than Di Cicco about City Hall.

His proof: He's spoken at council meetings as a member of the public on issues such the outsourcing of the commercial trash service and the renovation of the Hotel Fresno.

"We've both talked the talk, but I've walked the walk," Brandau said. "Pat says a lot of the right things, but I've been out there doing them."


Fresno City Council District 2

STEVE BRANDAU

Age: 48

Occupation: Self-employed

Education: Bachelor's degree, English -- Fresno State

Family: Single

Website: steveforfresno.com

PAT Di CICCO

Age: 53

Occupation: Food manufacture/sales

Education: Bachelor's degree, business marketing -- Fresno State

Family: Single

Website: dicicco4council.com

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com.

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