As Fresnans cast their votes in the mayoral race in November, they should evaluate a specific quality in the two men – Henry R. Perea and Lee Brand – who emerged from last week’s five-candidate primary.
Call it persistence. Or call it grit. Whatever you call it, know that to whittle away at the many challenges facing our city, the next mayor will need much determination, all of it fortified by a wide streak of optimism.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin has shown her determination throughout her two terms, keeping her eyes on the goal line regardless of setbacks.
Yes, our next mayor must be visionary leader. Smart and organized. Capable of rallying support for key projects. With a huge number of issues commanding attention, he will have to prioritize objectives and know when, in the face of total defeat, to cut losses and move on.
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But total defeat – like mandates – are rare in politics. The most successful leaders are skilled at regrouping, adjusting and keeping the big items moving ahead. And that takes grit, an increasingly rare commodity in a time of immediate want and politics based largely on emotions instead of facts.
A refusal to surrender has powered many of the Swearengin administration’s successes: City Council approval of a general plan focused on rebuilding the urban core, opening the Fulton Mall to traffic, assembling a Bus Rapid Transit system, reducing homelessness with a collaborative, multiagency effort, enhancing Fresno’s brand as a place where world-class food is grown and world-class food products are created, and restoring order to municipal finances.
Another success can be added. On Monday afternoon, the mayor and other local officials will announce the kickoff of the Midtown Trail project, which will start near Manchester Center and connect with the Clovis Old Town Trail 7 miles away. The result: a 17-mile metro trail system for walkers and cyclists.
Trail enthusiasts might have to pinch themselves because such a system through the heart of town has been a much-talked-about but seemingly impossible dream. Alongside them will be critics: “She’s spending money on trails? We need more cops!”
The critics will be half right. Fresno needs many more police officers. They are essential to improving public safety – and restoring the expectation that vandals, burglars, car thieves and hit-and-run drivers will be held accountable for their actions.
But Fresno also must add other ingredients in what we call “quality of life.” Financing for the $9.5 million trail project is provided by $4.7 million in air-quality improvement grants, $400,000 in Fresno’s share of Measure C transportation sales taxes and a $4.6 million loan advance on the city’s future Measure C trail funding.
Again, grit proved invaluable.
In February, the city asked for a $7.3 million advance on its transportation sales tax shares; the request was rejected by Measure C’s overseers. The mayor’s team then secured secured two air-quality improvement grants totaling $4.3 million. The revised proposal received unanimous approval from Fresno County Transportation Authority board members.
Thus, Fresnans will be able to enjoy 7 new miles of trails – all built without dollars from the general fund, which pays for police and fire protection, and other essential city services.
This is the life of a mayor. Our next one best bring buckets of resolve.