A bass drum, air horn, chanting and people in T-shirts depicting Paula Yang’s face filled up the Mosqueda Community Center in southeast Fresno on Tuesday night for a city council candidate forum, but incumbent Luis Chavez chalked up the spectacle to “politics” and said he was not intimidated by the noisy support for his challenger.
“To me, this is a professional job interview,” Chavez said. “She showed up with bullhorns and drums. I thought that was very unprofessional of her. You’re supposed to take this job interview very seriously. It’s not a sporting event. It’s not a UFC match. That wasn’t the place or setting for those kinds of shenanigans.”
The District 5 event was the first in a series of nonpartisan forums for city council races hosted by Fresno Building Healthy Communities, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Communities for a New California Education Fund, Faith in Fresno and Hmong Innovating Politics.
The forum moderators asked Chavez and his challenger, community activist and Hmong Channel 16.5 news anchor Paula Yang questions on topics ranging from balancing environment and employment growth to clean and safe housing and supporting immigrant communities.
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The event marked the first time in the campaign that Chavez and Yang have been in the same room answering the same questions. Yang did not attend a forum hosted by Mi Familia Vota last month and requested to be interviewed by The Bee’s editorial board separately. Chavez did not attend a forum last month hosted by the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, Fresno NAACP, Black Women Organized for Political Action, and others.
The forum started with a procession of Yang’s supporters carrying a banner and chanting “Let’s go Paula!” to the beat of a marching band bass drum.
In Chavez’s opening remarks, he told the crowd – mostly Yang’s supporters – that he could provide examples of the work he’s done to better the community while Yang’s platform lacked strategy.
“On one side, you’re going to get vagueness, broad, very general answers,” he said. “On my side, you’re going to get very specific projects, programs and services that I’ve worked to bring to southeast Fresno.”
During the forum, Yang’s supporters passed out copies of a page from Chavez’s donation filings. Handwritten notes said no “little people” donated to Chavez’s campaign, only political action committees, developers and millionaires. Yet the page included two $100 donations from retirees.
At the end of the forum, Chavez attempted to address the handout, but he was booed, cursed and shouted down by the crowd.
Yang said the audience had a right to express their opinion, and people with her campaign were not disruptive.
In an interview with The Bee, Chavez said he plans to report the handouts to the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Yang said she knew nothing about the handouts and they were not authorized by her campaign. The only materials her campaign brought to the forum were an approved poster and mailers set out on a designated table, she said.
At the end of the forum, one of Chavez’s supporters asked the candidates how long they’ve lived in the district.
Chavez touted his upbringing in southeast Fresno and his work there, saying he’s proud to now live on historic Huntington Boulevard. Yang said for a long time she lived in an apartment complex on Balch Avenue that was popular in the Hmong community, which she called “Asian Village.” She left the area because there was no growth there and the area became dangerous, she said.
“The requirement does not mean you have to live here for 25 years in order to qualify,” she said. “We just bought a new house because you know what? We’re tired of those houses… You don’t have to claim 25 years. Paula’s been here working and advocating all over the city.”
Chavez said he’s confident voters will back him.
“Voters are smart,” he said. “They can see through all the noise.”