Lee Brand will be out of town when Joe Arpaio comes to town.
But Fresno’s Republican mayor made his feelings about the controversial former Arizona sheriff clear: Missing the Sept. 29 visit has nothing to do with poor timing.
“I wouldn’t go if I was here,” he said Wednesday, citing Arpaio’s divisive presence. “While he’s popular with some, Arpaio is a villain to others.”
Even firebrand Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld is staying away, citing “some of the things he did as a sheriff that I disagree with. … That’s the only reason I’ve decided not to participate.”
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Indeed, Arpaio is a lightning rod for controversy.
The 85-year-old Arpaio gained notoriety in Arizona for his tough-on-immigration tactics. Arpaio was convicted by a federal judge of criminal contempt for violating a court order over his Maricopa County department’s questioning of Hispanic drivers and pedestrians during traffic stops. In addition to his July conviction, another federal judge ruled in 2008 and 2010 that his county jails fell short of constitutional standards for inmates’ medical care, food or living quarters.
President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio on Aug. 25 for his contempt conviction before he could be sentenced.
Maybe people want to honor him especially now.
Fresno County Republican Party chairman Fred Vanderhoof, on steady ticket sales for a fund-raising dinner with former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio
Fresno County Republican party chairman Fred Vanderhoof doesn’t care about the uproar.
With three weeks to go until the county GOP’s third annual “2nd Amendement Barbecue,” Vanderhoof says ““we’ve sold more tickets to this point in time than each of the previous two years’ dinners.”
Then there are the protestors from the left side of the political spectrum. Expect lots of them when Arpaio stops at TorNino’s Banquets on North Blackstone Avenue.
Another conservative city councilman, Steve Brandau, said he’s undecided if he will attend, but his uncertainty is based on his schedule, rather than philosophical differences with Arpaio. “Arpaio has done some good stuff, and he’s done some goofy stuff,” Brandau said. “When they changed the date, though, it threw me off a little bit, so I haven’t determined yet if I’m going.”
Scheduling is also why Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said she’s not attending. Mims was originally slated to introduce Arpaio, and her photo was on an early version of a promotional ad for the event and posted to the party’s Facebook page on Aug. 22. “I was going to go to the 2nd Amendment Dinner as I always do,” Mims said. “The date changed and I was unable to go, before the pardon.”
Tony Botti, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said the dinner “is an event that she attends every single year, and she’s not in charge of who they book as a guest.” Arpaio, Botti added, “is a law enforcement person who (Mims) respects and supports like others across the country. She has no desire to make anything political out of it.”
After the date was changed, Mims asked Kings County Sheriff David Robinson a couple of weeks ago if he would serve in her stead to introduce Arpaio. Robinson, registered as a political independent, agreed. But on Wednedsay, he decided to withdraw because of the furor over Arpaio.
“I received calls and emails from a lot of good people” in the past couple of days about his participation in the event, Robinson said, adding that he wasn’t fully aware of how controversial Arpaio is until headlines about the presidential pardon. “I had to look up what he was even being pardoned for,” Robinson said.
I just don’t want my constituents to get a twisted impression and think I’m wanting to rub shoulders with Joe Arpaio.
Kings County Sheriff David Robinson
“I went to the event last year when the theme was law enforcement appreciation; this year’s theme is the Second Amendment, so that was my take on it, not Sheriff Arpaio,” Robinson told The Bee. “But in light of a lot of the recent events that have created some controversy, I don’t want to be tied to something that can get spun as something else.”
“What the sheriff did or didn’t do in his home state has nothing to do with Kings County,” Robinson added. “I just don’t want my constituents to get a twisted impression and think I’m wanting to rub shoulders with Joe Arpaio.”
Regardless of the controversy, party chairman Vanderhoof said he’s pleased with the pace of ticket sales for the dinner, but can’t say for sure if the pardon has helped or hindered sales. Tickets are priced at $70 each or $600 for a 10-person table. VIP tables including a reception and photos with Arpaio are priced at $1,000 for five people or $1,500 for 10.
Arpaio “was very well known even before the pardon,” Vanderhoof said. “Maybe people want to honor him especially now. … I think people see him as the victim of a left-wing attack.”
While the GOP is forging ahead with its dinner plans, activists at the other end of the political spectrum are planning a protest against Arpaio outside the banquet hall. Fresno Resistance, a self-proclaimed “intersectional, silo-breaking, leftist collective” to “challenge systems of oppression,” is organizing a “Smash White Supremacy” protest outside the banquet hall during the Arpaio event. According to the event’s Facebook page, more than 200 people have indicated they will attend, and almost 600 more have expressed interest in the protest.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said his department will have officers outside the banquet hall to ensure protests don’t get out of hand. “The number of officers will depend on the intelligence we gather” about the size of the crowd, he said.
The costs of adding officers, however, won’t be shouldered by either the dinner organizers or protesters, Dyer said. “Unfortunately, the cost for policing the protest will fall on the department just as it did with the anti-hate rally held in the Tower District,” he said.