Lee Brand’s first 100 days as Fresno mayor came and went without fanfare.
True, his communications director, Mark Standriff, marked the 100th day – April 12 – with a visit to KMPH’s “Great Day” morning show to chat up Brand’s agenda and accomplishments with Kopi Sotiropulos, our city’s No. 1 ambassador of goodwill, and co-host Kim Stephens.
But Brand’s hitting of the early yardstick by which leaders are often judged was eclipsed by the big news of the moment: A New York Times shout-out praising Fresno.
That was fine with Brand, a man whose modest ego is dwarfed by his supersized ambitions for Fresno. Just letting you know, Brand’s low-key ways might require an adjustment by residents accustomed to mayors with big personalities.
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Mayor Lee Brand is blander than oatmeal out of the box, straighter than a 2-by-4 without a knot and head down in the weeds of budgeting and job creation.
All three of our previous strong mayors believed that commanding center stage was important to pushing through their agendas. Jim Patterson came from radio and understood the power of the media in shaping public perception of himself and City Hall. Alan Autry rode into the mayoral chambers on the broad shoulders of his entertainment career. And though Ashley Swearengin was a wonk, she had the look and personality of a network news anchor.
All knew where to look for the cameras, how to present themselves depending on the circumstances, and how to deliver sound bites that would get to the heart of the matter and attract attention.
Well, he’s learning how to say “bold” without putting everyone in the room to sleep.
He’s blander than oatmeal out of the box, straighter than a 2-by-4 without a knot and head down in the weeds of budgeting and job creation. I doubt he’ll become a nightly news staple or a talk-radio regular. His goal is to stay out of the limelight – unless it’s for a ribbon cutting.
Thus far, Brand has done a pretty good job of being virtually invisible while working on his campaign promises.
The City Council passed his interior inspection program for rentals. It’s full-speed ahead on his public safety citizens advisory board. Companies are moving to Fresno (thank you, Ulta Beauty) and the city is in the hunt for an Amazon distribution center.
Brand made history Thursday by naming Wilma Quan-Schecter to succeed Bruce Rudd as city manager. Quan-Schecter is the first woman to hold the post in Fresno. She’s also an expert in planning and a Swearengin protegé – attributes that will trigger heartburn faster than truck-stop chili in critics of Fresno’s fill-in, build-up 2035 General Plan.
Not all smooth going
But Brand’s early days haven’t all been as easy as windsurfing Millerton Lake behind a steady breeze as he used to do in the 1980s and 1990s while he was building his real-estate empire.
First, there was the immigration controversy ignited by the election of Donald Trump as president, Trump’s promise to build a wall on the southwest border with Mexico, and his ramp-up of deportations.
Brand threaded the needle between the demands of the left and the right by preserving the status quo. He refused to declare Fresno a “sanctuary city,” but he also made clear that the police department would continue to follow its policy of enforcing the law without regard to immigration status.
Brand also has to contend with a city council that includes two members – Steve Brandau and Clint Olivier – who want to move up to the Assembly, and a third member, Garry Bredefeld, who is determined to make headlines as often as possible. Thus far, the mayor has managed to overcome the tricky politics of councilmember aspirations as well as Bredefeld’s lone wolf operation.
Recent days brought tragedy: The deaths of four white men by a .357 revolver toting black man spewing rage at white citizens.
Brand passed the test at a new conference Tuesday evening. “Fresno stands united against violence and in compassion for the victims,” Brand said. “And for this one senseless act of violence, every day there are thousands of acts of compassion and goodwill in this community.”
Those were the right words at the right time – by a man focused on bringing at least 5,000 new jobs here and increasing the tax base so that Fresnans enjoy a higher quality of life – more parks and trails, more police officers and firefighters, and more of the other things citizens expect and deserve.
Lee, we dub thee …
Fresno has a tradition of giving nicknames to its mayors.
Long ago, Gordon Dunn had two. “Slinger” honored the silver medal he won in the discus at the 1936 Olympics. “No Fun Dunn” mocked his crackdown on dope dens, gambling joints and whorehouses.
We also had, courtesy of the late Eli Setencich, a Bee columnist, “Digger” Dan Whitehurst (his family operated funeral chapels throughout California) and “Sunny Jim” Patterson. Patterson couldn’t decide whether he liked or detested the nickname at first, but eventually embraced it to the point of using it as an email address.
Autry arrived on the scene with “Bubba” earned from his character in the television series “In the Heat of the Night.” Swearengin never got tagged, at least not with a nickname that stuck with the public or the media. Some critics called her “Queen Ashley.” But only behind her back.
After more than 100 days of going about his job effectively but without much notice, Brand needs a nickname. A little more personality could be a good thing, and it certainly couldn’t hurt.
Mr. Mayor, I dub thee “Grinder Lee.”