Lee Brand says deciding not to run for re-election like taking ‘two tons off my back’

Mayor Lee Brand said his decision and Monday announcement that he won’t seek a second term in 2020 left him feeling “energized” and as if he’s taken “two tons off my back.”

Brand made the announcement during an appearance on the Ray Appleton Show on KMJ. At the same time, he released an official statement, saying “the people of Fresno are more important than my political plans.”

Brand is Fresno’s first strong mayor to not seek a second term. Jim Patterson, Alan Autry and Ashley Swearengin all served two terms.

He was elected mayor in 2016, beating out Henry R. Perea. Brand previously served two terms as a City Council member representing northeast Fresno. He also served as a planning commissioner.

‘Toxic’ political environment

During a media gaggle after his radio appearance, Brand said he’s looking to “get outside of City Hall.”

While on-air, Brand talked about the “social media mob,” name calling and a “toxic” political environment in Fresno.

He also issued a warning to others who may consider throwing their hat into the mayor’s race: “You better have a thick hide.”

Brand stopped short of saying the media has been unfair to him, noting there has been “good stories and bad stories.”

Time with family

Brand, who recently turned 70, said he consulted with his family before making his decision not to seek re-election. He said he looks forward to traveling and spending time with his grandchildren and may go into business with his son.

He said he started mulling the idea about six months ago, and said he didn’t come to the decision because anyone asked him not to run. In fact, it was the opposite, he said. People told him they hoped he would run for reelection.

Work left to do

Brand said he and City Manager Wilma Quan will continue to move forward in the search for the next police chief, even as Police Chief Jerry Dyer – who retires in October – said he’s strongly considering a bid for mayor.

Earlier this year, Brand promised “community engagement on a scale and magnitude never before seen in the Central Valley” in picking the next chief.

In April, the city held multiple community meetings seeking resident input on what qualities they’d like to see in the next police chief. Residents also can weigh in by completing an online survey.

Brand has called the decision on picking the next chief the most important one of his time as mayor.

Brand said his final 19 months as mayor will be conducted “pedal to the metal.” He still has two budgets to get through and said he hopes to get the environmental review done for the south industrial area specific plan, and to qualify a 2020 sales tax ballot measure to benefit both parks and public safety.

Neutral on candidates

Brand said he will stay neutral about the race to replace him. Also, he said he won’t share an endorsement in the current special election for the District 2 council seat left vacant when Steve Brandau won a seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

Mike Karbassi, who is running for the District 2 seat, called in to Appleton’s show to express his support for Brand.

While Brand spoke on the radio, Dyer announced that he’s strongly considering a run for mayor. And Council Member Luis Chávez, who represents southeast Fresno, said he plans to run for mayor.

Last month, Fresno County prosecutor Andrew Janz announced he would challenge Brand. Janz in 2018 challenged Congressman Devin Nunes.

Brand speculated there could be other council members who decide to run.

The mayor currently has about $500,000 in the bank for his re-election campaign and said it could come in handy to use as leverage with the city council.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.