Three seats on the Fresno City Council are up for election this year, but only one – representing northeast Fresno – is being contested in the June 7 primary.
Two-term incumbent Lee Brand is termed out of the District 6 seat and is running for mayor. His departure presented an opportunity for a field of four candidates: former City Council member and psychologist Garry Bredefeld; Jeremy Pearce, a professional Elvis Presley impersonator and businessman; public relations business owner Holly Carter; and Carter Pope II, a student who also manages a pizza restaurant.
Each candidate brings a distinct background to the race, but many sound similar campaign themes that tend to focus on several prominent P’s of local government: public safety; potholes and other infrastructure needs; and panhandlers and vagrants. Throw in a few ideas about economic development, city budget priorities and candidates’ distinct personalities, and you’ve got the makings of an interesting political race.
If any candidate wins an outright majority of the votes in the primary election, he or she will win the seat. But if no candidate tops 50 percent of the ballots, the top two will meet again with a runoff in the November general election.
Bredefeld, a psychologist in Fresno since 1988, served one four-year term representing District 6 at Fresno City Hall from 1997 through 2000. After an unsuccessful campaign for mayor, he returned to private life raising his children and maintaining his private practice and working as a psychologist for the Veterans Affairs hospital in Fresno.
Now, “I decided to get back involved because with the kids grown, I can focus on the community,” he said. “There was an opportunity to run, and I’m not leaving Fresno. It’s been good to me and good to my family, and I want to do good things to improve it.”
It really comes down to public safety.
In his first stint on the council, Bredfeld said, “we hired 170 police officers and focused on cleaning up the city, wiping away graffiti, and we worked on getting a northeast police substation and building neighborhood parks.”
He bemoaned the toll that the recession took on the city’s Police and Fire departments and said identifying money to build those departments back up is a top priority.
Bredefeld wants to sell some of the city’s unused real estate, including some land in northeast and northwest Fresno, and auction naming rights for facilities at the Fresno Convention Center to raise money to reboot those services.
“It really comes down to public safety,” he said. “Firefighters have to be beefed up, just as our police officers, just as our code enforcement. … There’s other things besides police needs. It’s all of it.” A bolstered police presence is crucial to dealing with panhandlers and vagrants who crop up across District 6 and throughout the entire city, Bredefeld said.
Another priority Bredefeld identified for the district is investigating elevated levels of lead in residential water supplies in northeast Fresno. “Clearly there is a problem,” he said of chemical testing of water in the area. “We need to make sure the water supply is safe, and we need to see that this is addressed successfully” once the cause has been determined.
Citywide, Bredefeld notes a range of issues – “public safety, quality of life things like parks and recreation opportunities, the quality of education, and infrastructure” – that all tie into the city’s attractiveness to would-be employers “to ensure that Fresno thrives economically.”
“And we certainly have to take care of our older neighborhoods, the streets, the sidewalks and maintaining parks,” he added.
Carter, a mother of four children and grandmother of three, said she is running because “I can’t tolerate the status quo anymore. I have no faith that things (in Fresno) will ever change.”
“We continue to be one of the poorest, one of the dumbest, one of the worst cities to start a career in, one of the most business-unfriendly cities in America,” she said.
Her two oldest children live in San Diego because of a lack of job opportunities in their field here. “My 18-year-old is getting ready to go off to college, and she’s probably not going to come back to Fresno,” added Carter, who has worked in public relations since 2009 and launched her own company in 2010.
Crime and vagrancy are the two top priorities of her campaign, along with what she called “a lack of a business-friendly environment that will give us the resources we need to fix priorities 1 and 2.”
“When I refer to vagrancy, I’m talking about people who are choosing a lifestyle that is harming the community, harming property values, harming business owners,” she said. “There is no mechanism to force them to either choose a life off the streets, not harming our community, or having the consequences where if you break the law, you go to jail.”
To sit back and perpetuate the status quo doesn’t help us.
Carter said she wants to study the city’s planning department to see how permitting processes can be streamlined to speed things for small businesses. One idea she identified is online, real-time tracking so that business applicants can see their case move through the approval process; that, she added, would help identify bottlenecks that delay processing and cost businesses time and money.
“What pays for police and fire and streetlights and potholes and sidewalks is sales tax revenue created by businesses that open their doors in Fresno,” she said. “They hire people, and people spend their money in those stores and (the sales tax) goes in the city’s bank account.”
She also proposes emulating what works for some of the nation’s most business-friendly cities. “We can find out what they’re doing right. Even if we need to bring (their leaders) in to consult with our team, I would do it,” Carter said. “To sit back and perpetuate the status quo doesn’t help us.”
Politically, Carter was an intern in the office of Rep. George Radanovich while she was completing a communications degree at Fresno State. She also worked as executive director of the Fresno County Republican Party in 2007-08.
Pearce, a professional Elvis Presley impersonator – or “tribute artist” – since 2002, was motivated to run out of frustration with crime in northeast Fresno.
“We would travel around the state … and we’d come back to find our neighbors’ houses had been broken into, one of our cars broken into. People are roaming our neighborhood at night, and it’s getting more and more uncomfortable. We’re wondering why our neighborhood is starting to slide.”
Pearce said he met with police Chief Jerry Dyer and learned that “we just don’t have enough officers in Fresno to patrol the entire city; when there’s a drive-by shooting elsewhere in the city, it’s hard to give attention to lower-priority calls in northeast Fresno.”
Pearce and his wife both have political science degrees, and both worked on Radanovich’s congressional staff. “Instead of looking to others for somebody to do something about these problems, we decided I would run and I would try to do something about them,” he said.
The “Elvis thing,” he added, was a hobby through high school and college, but “just became my job” as he worked for Radanovich in the early 2000s. “During that time, five shows a month turned into 10, and 10 turned into 20, and I was making real money. For a young guy who wanted to buy a house, it was congressional staffer pay (versus) entertainer pay, and those two are not close.”
People are sick and tired of having their homes broken into multiple times.
Pearce said his top priority is adding more police officers to combat crime, followed closely by vagrancy. “People are sick and tired of having their homes broken into multiple times, and it’s all over the district,” he said. “You can’t get far enough north where it’s not a problem.”
“You’ve got people camped out in Woodward Park, people camped out on the street corners, people harassing shoppers when they go into Target,” he said. “When people go to the store, they don’t understand why there are three guys lying in front of the door and why more isn’t being done about that.”
Pearce also wants to see the city adopt a back-to-basics focus on services to residents. “Politicians are squandering money elsewhere and not spending on things that people truly expect city government to be doing for them,” he said. From streetlights to potholes to broken sidewalks, “we’re not keeping up with the essentials.”
Pearce said he plans to go through the city’s budget “with a fine-tooth comb” looking for waste and opportunities for savings. “I don’t want to see the general fund used as a backstop for private development,” he said, pointing to projects like Chukchansi Park, the Fresno Metropolitan Museum or Granite Park in east-central Fresno.
Carter Pope II
Pope, a student at Clovis Community College and a pizzeria manager who has lived in Fresno for about a year, comes to the District 6 race with no political experience. His father, Carter Pope, ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in 2010 against Republican Jean Fuller for a seat in the state Senate out of Kern County.
“My fellow candidates talk all the time about ‘not being a politician,’ but once you enter the race you are considered a politician by definition,” he said.
Pope is running “to inspire young people to get involved in politics,” he said. “I want to get them going and get them out there because it’s important to have every single voice heard because everyone matters.”
Pope is neither raising nor spending any money on the election, at least not for the June primary. “I feel like it’s rude to ask for a bunch of money and then if you don’t make it past the primary, (contributors say) ‘I just threw away a bunch of money on this person who didn’t even make it past the primary,’ ” he said.
If you just walk around, there are a lot of sidewalks and streets that are in terrible condition.
Carter Pope II
Unlike the other candidates, Pope lists infrastructure maintenance as the city’s most pressing need, followed by fiscal responsibility and economic opportunity. “If you just walk around, there are a lot of sidewalks and streets that are in terrible condition,” he said. To ensure sufficient money to meet those and other needs, “we need to make sure all of our programs are spending their money to the best of their ability.”
Pope also is pitching the idea of reducing the city’s share of local sales tax revenue by 1 percentage point on a temporary basis, gradually restoring it to its existing rate over a two-year period. “The way it works is to give people a cushion … so they don’t crash into a wall” financially, he said. “Sales tax increases prices and makes it hard for people to buy more pricey things like furniture.”
While sales tax represents one of the largest single sources of revenue for the city, Pope said he hopes the slight discount for consumers would stimulate more revenue than it would cost.
He also backs providing tax credits for businesses that hire new employees as a means of encouraging employers to grow and add jobs to the local economy.
Meet the candidates
Four candidates are running in the June 7 primary to represent District 6 (northeast Fresno) on the Fresno City Council. They are (presented alphabetically):
Occupation: Clinical psychologist
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Rutgers University; master’s degree, Yeshiva University; doctorate in psychology, California School of Professional Psychology
Family: Wife Susan; three grown children, ages 25 to 38.
How long as a Fresno resident: 34 years (except for Navy service from 1985-88)
Political experience: One term on the Fresno City Council, District 6, 1997-2001
Occupation: Owner of a public relations company in Fresno
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communications, Fresno State
Family: Unmarried; four children, ages 10 to 26; three grandchildren
How long as a Fresno resident: 21 years
Political experience: One-year Maddy Institute internship with Rep. George Radanovich; former executive director, Fresno County Republican Party, 2007-08
Occupation: Businessman, professional Elvis Presley tribute entertainer
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, Fresno State
Family: Wife Diane, son Zachary
How long as a Fresno resident: 15 years
Political experience: Former staff member for Rep. George Radanovich
Carter Pope II
Occupation: College student, pizzeria manager
Education: Studying political science and theater arts at Clovis Community College
Family: Unmarried, no children. Parents Leatriana and Carter Pope
How long as a Fresno resident: 1 year
Political experience: None