Five candidates will seek to replace Ashley Swearengin as Fresno’s mayor after former Fresno County supervisor Doug Vagim this week made a late entry into the race.
That’s a much smaller field than 2008, the last time the mayor’s office didn’t have an incumbent seeking re-election, when 11 people sought the post.
The candidates are Fresno City Councilman Lee Brand, Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, businessman Richard Renteria, community leader H. Spees and Vagim. Three others pulled the paperwork to start the process, but did not return those papers to qualify for the ballot by the 5 p.m. Friday deadline.
Vagim, 73, who is best known recently for battling the city over privatizing residential trash pickup and raising water rates, said in front of Fresno’s historic water tower downtown on Thursday that he is running because Fresno officials aren’t seriously addressing important issues.
Perhaps taking a page from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s playbook and looking to tap into the anti-establishment feel of the 2016 election year, Vagim insisted he was viable because of his work battling City Hall.
“I’m fed up with the ivory tower class,” he said. “I’m fed up with the Mandarin class.”
But it’s unknown if Vagim can gain the traction to catch Brand, Perea and Spees, who are widely considered the three front-runners. Each has been either running or preparing their campaigns for months, collecting endorsements and laying the groundwork.
And Vagim is a Republican like Brand and Spees, which could lead to a further dilution of the vote among them.
Brand has a huge fundraising edge over his opponents, as well as the name identification of having held office for the past seven-plus years. Perea is the lone Democrat, has been in elected office almost continually for more than two decades and in that time has shown an ability to both campaign and raise money. Spees has been largely out of the public eye for years, but has the backing of former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry and former county schools superintendent Larry Powell.
While Vagim was announcing his run, the three top candidates continued to pile up supporters in a continuing endorsement battle that could very well split friends and business associates in Fresno, and which each candidate hopes will help win them votes. The three long ago started collecting the political backing of influential Fresno and Fresno-area residents.
Spees on Tuesday formally announced the backing of former Secretary of State Bill Jones and former Rep. George Radanovich, a Mariposa Republican.
Brand has state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, former Fresno mayor and Assembly Member Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas, former Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case, westside grower Mark Borba and businessman DeWayne Zinkin.
Perea has 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 and Precision Engineering President/CEO Ed Dunkel.
If Vagim wants to run an anti-establishment campaign, will he have the money to let people know he is the anti-establishment candidate or to separate himself from fellow Republicans Brand and Spees? Or will the movers-and-shakers in town take his candidacy seriously?
Already, Vagim complained that organizers of a planned radio debate with Brand, Perea and Spees wouldn’t let him join in. On the other hand, the Fresno Chamber of Commerce did let him participate in its endorsement interviews earlier this week.
Then there is history.
Vagim ran for mayor in 2008 and finished seventh out of 11 candidates, winning 2.16 percent of the vote. The top two finishers in that race were Swearengin and former Assemblyman Henry T. Perea – Henry R. Perea’s son. Swearengin ultimately won the race in November 2008.
But Vagim says he has been out front in battling City Hall since then, helping lead the successful defeat of Measure G, Swearengin’s plan to privatize residential trash pickup in the city, and on the city’s plan to increase water rates. That, he said, is the kind of endorsement he needs to run a successful campaign.
Fresno City Council races are set
The mayoral election is the city’s premier race, since all Fresno residents cast votes, but there also are three city council districts with elections.
In two of those three, however, the incumbents are unchallenged.
No challengers stepped up to take on Steve Brandau in District 2 or Paul Caprioglio in District 4, who both are seeking second council terms.
The only council battle will be in District 6, where four candidates are vying to replace Brand, who reaches his term limit this year.
Three candidates long ago announced they were running: Garry Bredefeld, a psychologist who held the District 6 seat from 1997 through the end of 2000; Holly Carter, a business owner and former Fresno County GOP executive director; and Jeremy Pearce, a small business owner and Elvis tribute artist.
The newest entry is Carter Pope II, a 19-year-old Clovis Community College student. Pope officially qualified for the race on Wednesday.
In a statement, Pope traced his candidacy to a recent experience when he and his family made sandwiches to feed the Fresno homeless as a way to memorialize a family member. The experience led him to “gain a better understanding of Fresno politics.”
Pope said he “brings fresh perspective on spending policies that waste our tax dollars” and also wrote about improving infrastructure spending for streets and street lighting.