Police Chief Jerry Dyer's decision not to run for Fresno mayor will persuade other potential candidates to enter the contest, observers say.
So far, only current and former City Council members have announced their intention to succeed Mayor Alan Autry. But a number of other political and business leaders have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Dyer, 48, ended months of speculation about his intentions Thursday by announcing he will not compete in next year's election. He cited a desire to remain in law enforcement as the main reason.
Since becoming police chief in 2001, Dyer has become one of the Valley's most visible public officials, often holding news conferences to explain the Police Department's crackdown on gangs and other activities.
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"He would have been the dominant player in the race, because of his name recognition and support of the community," said David Schecter, an associate professor of political science at California State University, Fresno. Without Dyer, "the race is truly wide open," he said.
Dyer is the second prominent Fresnan to announce he's not running for mayor. Autry's predecessor, former Mayor Jim Patterson, last month cited the desire to focus on his family as the reason for not running.
Council Members Jerry Duncan and Mike Dages, and former Council Member Tom Boyajian have announced their campaigns to succeed Autry.
Others mentioned as possible mayoral candidates include Council Members Henry T. Perea and Larry Westerlund, and Ashley Swearengin, head of the Regional Jobs Initiative.
Autry, who will finish his second four-year term next year, is ineligible for re-election because of term limits.
Some mayoral candidates downplayed the significance of Dyer's decision. Despite the chief's name recognition, voters will pick candidates because of the effectiveness of their campaigns, Boyajian said.
But Patterson, who discussed Dyer's options with the chief in recent months, said the candidates "are all breathing a sigh of relief" that he's not in the race.
Dyer said he would have had to step down as police chief if he ran for mayor, a choice he could not make. Otherwise, he said, opponents would have questioned his actions as police chief as being politically motivated.
City ordinance would not have stopped Dyer from running for mayor and remaining chief of police, City Attorney James Sanchez said earlier this month.
But Dyer couldn't have campaigned on city time, or while in uniform, he said. He also could have been fired for taking positions on issues contrary to the administration's, Sanchez said.
"If a police chief comes forward with proposals, the question becomes: Is he speaking as a candidate or as a police chief? It's difficult to serve two masters."
Dyer said he wants to remain as police chief under the next mayor.
The city manager makes the decision to hire and fire department heads, but the city manager reports to the mayor.
Dyer said he's spoken to all of the announced candidates, except Boyajian, and others considering a run for mayor.
They told him they would keep him as police chief, Dyer said.
Boyajian said he hasn't thought about whether he would keep Dyer if he's elected mayor.
Fresno needs an effective police chief as the city faces an increase in crime threats and a decrease in revenue to fund law enforcement, Dyer said.
He said he will also provide leadership on such issues by becoming president of the California Police Chiefs Association next year.
The position will require him to meet with chiefs statewide and take trips to Sacramento to lobby lawmakers.
Juggling the association job, running the Police Department and campaigning for mayor would have been impossible, Dyer said. And he wasn't willing to give up law enforcement for a run at City Hall.
"I have a desire to influence policing strategies not just in California but across the country," he said.