Two decades ago, Fresno’s government went through a major change, introducing a new system in which the mayor is the city’s chief executive and the council its legislative body.
Since then, there have been three “strong mayors” – all white, all from north Fresno, all Republican and all evangelical Protestants.
Henry R. Perea is none of those.
He’s a Catholic. He’s Latino. He’s a Democrat. He lives in the Fresno High School area.
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As mayor, I will provide regional leadership that will focus our resources on securing our water supply, enhancing our public safety, improving educational opportunities for our children and expanding our job base.
Fresno County supervisor and mayoral candidate Henry R. Perea
And he is looking to change history in Fresno, a city of rapidly changing demographics, but one whose political power base has remained remarkably static since the change two decades ago.
Perea, 63, certainly has the pedigree. He has held public office for more than two decades, from the Fresno County Board of Education to the Fresno City Council to his current post as one of five Fresno County supervisors. Over that time, he is 6-0 in elections.
This, however, will be his biggest political step – the top and probably last stop in a long political career.
“Fresno is the fifth-largest city in California,” he said. “As mayor, I will provide regional leadership that will focus our resources on securing our water supply, enhancing our public safety, improving educational opportunities for our children and expanding our job base. Improving Fresno’s quality of life with the money that we have will be job No. 1.”
He also appears to have the money to run a strong campaign. He has raised more than $213,000 and had $148,117 in his account on April 23. That amount is second only to Lee Brand, the top fundraiser.
In 1991, Perea’s political career started when he was appointed to the Fresno County Board of Education after the death of board member Larry Parrott. At that time, he made local history when he was the first Hispanic to sit on the board. Now, he is again at history’s doorstep, looking to be the city’s first Latino mayor.
Perea downplays such a role in history, just as he rejects being largely identified as a “south of Shaw” candidate, a reference to Shaw Avenue as the dividing line in former Mayor Alan Autry’s “tale of two cities.”
He has walked precincts and has aggressively sought out support in the city’s northern reaches, which over the past few decades has been the epicenter of Fresno’s political power. He also has been able to capture support from a vast majority of the developers – and all the political contributions that come with that influential group.
Still, Perea knows his political backyard, and it is the Fresno High neighborhood that he currently calls home, as well as the adjacent Tower District.
He also is a prominent Democrat, facing off against three Republicans. As such, Perea has been able to capture almost all of the union support, not just from those representing city employees, but also the building trades.
Perea takes a broad view of leadership. He likes to point out that as the San Joaquin Valley’s largest city, Fresno is its unofficial capital. As such, it needs to lead broad coalitions to regional governance on important Valley issues that are of mutual benefit.
He also vows to shake up City Hall from his first day on the job. He has voiced confidence in police Chief Jerry Dyer and fire Chief Kerri Donis. All other department heads, however, would have to re-interview for their jobs, and if they don’t buy in to Perea’s vision, he said they will be replaced.
In addition, Perea said it is vital to get the Police Department’s patrol division up to 350 officers. If Dyer hasn’t reached that goal by the end of the year, Perea will reassign officers immediately to attain that number.
On a longer-term basis, Perea said he will pore over city contracts and find places to cut as a way to increase revenue for public safety, and also says his economic development strategies should improve Fresno’s business climate and increase its tax coffers.
Henry R. Perea
Occupation: Fresno County supervisor
Family: Single, 3 children
Education: Master’s degree, public administration, USC; bachelor’s degree, Fresno State
Key endorsements: Fresno Police Officers Association; Fresno City Firefighters-Local 753; former Fresno County Sheriff Steve Magarian; Fresno County Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector Vicki Crow; Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos; Fresno Coin Gallery owner Stephen Foster; Fagundes Brothers Dairy co-owner Fred Fagundes; Precision Engineering President/CEO Ed Dunkel.