Fresno City Council candidates face off at forum Saturday

The Fresno BeeJanuary 25, 2014 

Correction: This story originally gave the wrong career information for Fresno City Council candidate Mike Wells. He works as a consultant on use and transportation policies for the Coalition for Clean Air. He previously held a similar role with the Fresno Metro Ministry.

Six Fresno City Council hopefuls got their public debut Saturday at a forum hosted by the Fresno Partnership before a crowd of about 250 people at Fresno City College.

Candidates for districts 1 and 7 faced a series of questions at the event, which was designed to give residents a feel for who's on the ballot this June. A panel of eight posed 11 questions that were prepared by representatives from 32 Fresno organizations.

"The politics of division have ruled this town forever -- it's time that the only division in Fresno be between people who want to make it a better place and people who don't," said Steve Wilensky, a facilitator with the Fresno Partnership, commenting on why the organization hosted its first-ever candidate forum. "It's time we rolled up our sleeves and got to work."

The forum was meant to shine a light on who may emerge as the people's champion for rolling up those sleeves in City Hall. But no clear-cut winners emerged, as mostly generic answers came in response to the questions.

Between the two District 7 candidates who were present Saturday, Mike Wells talked more specifically about how he would solve the city's problems, while candidate Mauro Saldate spoke more vaguely about the city's issues.

District 7 incumbent Clint Olivier, who is seeking re-election in the June primary, did not attend.

Candidates for District 1 -- Mark Castro, Rama Dawar, Rebeca Rangel and Esmeralda Soria -- focused on Fresno's problems and what people deserve without much explanation about how to make the region better.

District 1 Councilmember Blong Xiong is termed out in January and plans to run for a seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

Saturday's questions spotlighted many common campaign topics -- public safety, job creation, community revitalization, public health, political transparency and community engagement -- but also addressed more region-specific subjects, such as the California high-speed rail project, Fresno's general plan update, and issues facing the city's immigrant population.

Castro marketed himself as a third-generation Fresno County resident, lawyer and small business owner who grew up working in the fields with his farmworker father. A primary goal, he said, is creating better jobs .

Dawar, a Realtor, businessman, father and longtime Fresno resident and immigrant, focused on public safety and job creation.

Rangel called herself a "mother, grandmother, educator, advocate, community worker" who's No. 1 priority is public safety.

Saldate, an emergency medical technician, talked about city problems that need fixing, like violence and homelessness, and said he wants to give back a little of what Fresno has given him: "Hope, dedication and pride."

Soria, born and raised in the Central Valley, said she returned home after law school and now works as a Fresno attorney. "It was important to me to get back home," Soria said, "to really ensure our future generations have greater opportunities."

Wells, who serves the environmental health program for Fresno Metro Ministry, highlighted his "day-to-day work" on community revitalization and Fresno's general plan update, and "representing the disenfranchised communities -- that's what I do."

Another two council members are up for re-election this year: Oliver Baines in District 3, and Sal Quintero in District 5. The Fresno Partnership is planning another candidate forum for these districts but has not yet decided on a date, Wilensky said.

The partnership is also planning a candidate forum Feb. 22 for two open seats on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.


KEY DATES

Dec. 27: Candidates began gathering signatures for in-lieu petitions to avoid paying filing fees. Judicial candidates have until Feb. 5; everyone else has until Feb. 20.

Feb. 10: Candidate filing begins; runs through March 7 (extended to March 12 for races where the incumbent isn't running for re-election)

May 5: First day to vote by mail (also the day most sample ballots are mailed)

May 19: Last day to register to vote

May 27: Last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot by mail

June 3: Primary Election Day

Nov. 4: General Election Day

ELECTION OFFICES

Fresno County: 2221 Kern St., Fresno; details: fblinks.com/fcvote or (559) 600-VOTE (8683)

Tulare County: 5951 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia; details: fblinks.com/tcvote or (559) 624-7300

Kings County: 1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Hanford; details: fblinks.com/kcvote or (559) 582-3211, ext. 4401

Madera County: 200 W. Fourth St., Madera; details: fblinks.com/madvote or (559) 675-7720

Merced County: 2222 M St., Merced; details: fblinks.com/mervote or (209) 385-7541

Mariposa County: 4982 10th St., Mariposa; details: fblinks.com/marvote or (209) 966-2007


HOW TO WATCH

The Fresno Partnership's City Council Candidate Forum was broadcast live Saturday afternoon and will be rebroadcast Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on CMAC (Comcast Channel 93 and AT&T U-verse Channel 99).

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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