Political notebook: Fresno city unions have to play offense, defense if they want to win council majority

Posted by John Ellis on January 15, 2014 

Marina Magdaleno


In politics, as in life, it is often a challenge to do two things at once.

Some of Fresno's most powerful city unions want to show that they're up to the task. And, if they want to have any chance to taking control of the Fresno City Council, they don't really have a choice.

They want to play offense and take out District 7 Council Member Clint Olivier. But they have to play defense in District 1, where Council Member Blong Xiong -- a fairly reliable ally -- is being forced from office by term limits.

"They have got to turn people out (to vote)," Fresno State political science professor Tom Holyoke said. "This has been a problem for the unions and, more broadly, for the Democrats."

But Marina Magdaleno, business representative for the city's blue-collar union, thinks they're up to the job -- if they collaborate. And that means all of the unions, not just the ones representing city workers.

"All the AFL-CIO sister-brother organizations," she said. "If we work in unity we can make this happen, both with money and in manpower."

And if done right, Magdaleno feels the benefit can go beyond the City Council, to the two county supervisor races that are up for grabs. Supervisors Phil Larson and Judy Case McNairy are retiring, and unions are expected to make a strong push for both seats.

Xiong is running for Larson's Fresno County supervisor seat, which covers large portions of western Fresno County, as well as the western urban areas of Fresno itself.

Magdaleno and other union leaders point to the successful Measure G campaign -- which turned back a city proposal to privatize residential waste hauling -- as evidence that they and their allies can pull together for a cause and motivate supporters to head to the polls. Holyoke agrees that potential is there, but still is skeptical.

He notes that the Measure G coalition included some disgruntled Republicans who didn't like how the privatization deal was set up, as well as those who didn't like Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

And last year, Democrats were unable to help Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, who lost a state Senate special election to Hanford Republican Andy Vidak in a Democratic Party-dominated district.

"The numbers favor Democrats, but they can't get their voters to turn out. Therefore, they lose things they ought to win," Holyoke said.

But if it breaks right, he said, the forces of the left could "change the balance of power" which, "on paper, seem to favor Democrats and, to some extent, unions."

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