Two newcomers and an incumbent are headed to the Fresno City Council dais after results of Tuesday’s election.
In the race to replace Clint Olivier, Democrat Nelson Esparza beat Republican Brian Whelan.
Esparza led Whelan 2,966 votes to 2,071, 58 percent to 41 percent with all precincts reporting. There are still vote-by-mail and provisional ballots to be counted.
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Olivier, a Libertarian councilman barred by term limits from running again, endorsed Whelan, along with the Fresno police officers’ union, Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Sheriff Margaret Mims. Whelan is an attorney and serves on the board of Storyland/Playland.
Esparza has served on the governing board of Fresno County Office of Education since 2016 and teaches economics at Fresno City College. He earned the support of Council President Esmeralda Soria and the Fresno County Democratic Party, among others.
Esparza said the campaign was never about him and was a community effort. “I think people in the district are finally waking up and saying, ‘Hey, we want a representative who will deliver resources, speak up, be our voice and really represent our values.’”
Esparza already was thinking about assembling a City Council staff and transitioning into the office, relying on his experience as a county education trustee. “We want to have a very similar experience transitioning into city hall.”
Whelan could not be reached for comment late Tuesday and again Wednesday morning.
District 7 runs from Roosevelt High School on the south end to past the Manchester Center on the north. Its western border runs along Blackstone Avenue and then the railroad tracks to East Garland Avenue. The eastern edge of the district circles around the Mayfair District, a county island.
In the competitive race for Councilman Oliver Baines’ seat in District 3, Miguel Arias led Tate Hill 58 percent over 42 percent (3,082 votes to 2,241) with all precincts reporting.
Arias currently serves as a trustee on the board for State Center Community College District and is a spokesman for Fresno Unified School District. Hill works as a senior manager at Access Plus Capital, a nonprofit that has lent millions to small businesses throughout the Central Valley, giving him insight into the economy and job creation. He is also former president/CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce and had served on city committees dealing with planning in southwest Fresno.
District 3 includes parts of the Tower District, downtown, west and southwest Fresno.
While at an election party with Esparza and other area Democrats in downtown Fresno’s Broadway Events Center, Arias said he felt confident about the early numbers.
“We worked really hard over the last 30, 40 days, walking six or seven hours a day, trying to meet every single resident in the district at all corners of our area,” he said. “I think it’s showing in the early results. These campaigns are not about the week before the election. It’s about months and months of walking and talking.”
From his election party at Take 3 burger restaurant, Hill said absentee ballots could sway the outcome of the race. “All of the work we’ve done in talking with the community in the last several weeks and months will pay out, and we’ll see much better numbers in the next couple days,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to prevail in the end.”
Incumbent Luis Chavez in early results handily fended off challenger Paula Yang for District 5 in southeast Fresno. With all precincts reporting, Chavez had 62 percent of the vote (4,348) to Yang’s 38 percent (2,658).
Chavez took his seat on the City Council in 2016 during a special election after serving on the Fresno Unified governing board. Yang is an anchor for the local Hmong television channel and advocate for Hmong veterans, victims of trafficking and more.
Both Chavez and Yang watched results come in from their homes.
Chavez said he was humbled by his constituents’ response, and he looks forward to another four years in office.
Yang could not be reached for comment late Tuesday and again Wednesday morning.