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Q&A with Police Chief Jerry Dyer: His run for mayor, his past and his vision for Fresno

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer on Wednesday announced he will run for mayor in the 2020 election, and it created quite the buzz in Fresno.

The Bee sat down with Dyer after his announcement in a one-on-one interview to discuss some of the issues he may face during the campaign.

Below are the questions and answers of the interview, edited for length and clarity.

Bee: You mentioned it when you started your announcement, you said you were really emotional. You’re up there in front of the camera a lot and you were a little more emotional than usual. Can you talk about why?

Dyer: I was emotional because No. 1 because it’s a big decision for me and has a big impact on Fresno.

Secondly, because of the overwhelming support that I’ve had, demonstrated by the people that were there today from all walks of life — northern part of the city, southern party of the city.

And the fact that my family was there supporting me, including my mom who’s very elderly and not doing so well in her health. So I was very emotional because of all of that combined.

Bee: You laid out a bit of what your platform will look like. One thing that you mentioned when you were talking about strengthening the city’s infrastructure, you also mentioned parks and trails. Last year, Measure P was a big campaign issue and you were against Measure P. What are your thoughts on parks, Measure P and moving forward in your campaign?

Dyer: I was against Measure P, not against parks.

Part of the reason that I didn’t feel Measure P was right for all of Fresno was because it levied a 30-year tax that would eventually minimize our ability to have any type of a public safety initiative that would generate revenue for public safety. So I thought that that tax was overly narrow and was not balanced to support the true needs of all of Fresno.

My hope is that we can continue to work together with those who are very supportive of Measure P so that we can come up with some type of a balanced approach in terms of increasing revenue to the city.

Bee: At the press conference you mentioned that eventually you’ll have to take a leave of absence and now you have two council members who are dueling over that. Miguel Arias called for you to resign and Garry Bredefeld disagrees. Do you want to comment on that?

Dyer: I understand the concern that has been raised by Miguel, and I appreciate the support that Garry has provided in his statement.

This decision for me to run for mayor came very quickly once the mayor decided not to seek re-election, so there hasn’t been a lot of internal discussion about any type of a transition plan yet, which takes a little bit of time.

It would not be, in my opinion, healthy for the people of Fresno or for the police department for me to have a sudden departure. So there has to be some form of transition, which we will work on.

At the same time, it’s important that I not send any type of perception that I’m campaigning on city time. Like today, I took vacation for whatever time I’m going to be involved in the campaign. … I am not going to utilize any city time or a police uniform or city equipment to run my campaign.

Bee: One of the people you’re running against, Andrew Janz, said he’s not going to accept any money from developers. What’s your stance on that?

Dyer: I think it’s unfortunate when we put any type of business in a box.

Those types of statements demonize the very people who provide housing for all of Fresno — in the northern part of the city and in the southern part of the city — the same people that provided all of our downtown housing. They’re the same people that provide affordable housing.

So I don’t think we should demonize those individuals who have contributed to our city.

The same holds true for businesses. If it weren’t for businesses, people wouldn’t have jobs. The developers provide jobs, which stimulate our economy because they’re building. So I don’t think it’s fair to demonize the very people that drive our economy.

Bee: There’s a perception and criticism that sometimes people at City Hall have a cozy relationship with developers and provide political favors. So how do you balance not demonizing these businesses and also avoiding the perception of political favors?

Dyer: As the police chief, I’ve learned to draw boundaries and let people know up front that I appreciate their financial support and their endorsement, but I won’t be bought. Should someone decide to support me financially, or endorse me, it’s because they believe in my vision, not because they’re going to buy my vote.

Bee: I know you and Andrew Janz met last week, and (Fresno County District Attorney) Lisa Smittcamp was there at your announcement today. You both come from a criminal justice background. How do you distinguish yourself from him?

Dyer: Andrew is part of the criminal justice system as a prosecuting attorney. The job of a district attorney is much different than that of a police officer. Both of them are very important to the criminal justice system.

I believe what distinguishes the two of us is my experience in supervising, managing and leading an organization that is very complex. I oversee a budget of over $180 million and over 1,100 personnel.

I’ve dealt with complex issues surrounding litigation, labor contracts, personnel issues, and have a very good feel for how city government works from the inside out. I say that because sometimes from the outside in, there isn’t a level of appreciation for how complex city government is. It looks easy, but it’s not easy. I have that upper hand — the inside knowledge.

That doesn’t mean I’m part of any type of bureaucracy or system that is stagnated because I’m constantly looking for ways to improve the way that we do business to stretch the dollar and to enhance services with the limited dollars we have. I believe that’s what separates me the most, as well as my leadership. I have dealt with a lot of crisis over my years. I’ve done over 1,000 news conferences. I believe I’m in a position that when a crisis occurs, I’m going to be that voice of calm for Fresno.

Bee: Today after the news conference Nelson Esparza released a statement disagreeing with the way that you characterized the protestors. He called you the most divisive figure in Fresno politics, and your campaign message is that you want to unify Fresno. What’s your response to that?

Dyer: I think the people who stood behind me today — who represented all races and all backgrounds, in terms of where they live in Fresno, both Democrats and Republicans alike that stood with me, people from various faiths stood behind me — that’s what I represent. That’s who I want to unify. I have that ability to do that.

There are certain people that I’m never going to be able to unify, and that’s people on the far extremes. Some of those people showed up today at the news conference. They were very vocal, very loud, very disrespectful, and that’s unfortunate. Those people, I doubt I will ever be able to unify or win over, nor would I spend very much energy doing so.

Bee: Some of the protestors today called you a murderer and child molester and brought up Keith Foster and things in the past. Do you want to address any of that specifically?

Dyer: I’ll address some of that very briefly.

It’s no secret that I have a past when I was in my 20s. Decisions I made, things I did, mistakes I made — I’m not proud of. It’s those things that have allowed me, in my life, to be the person I am today. The person I was in my 20s is not the person I am today at the age of 60. I hope that the people of Fresno focus on who I am today and what I’ve done for this city, specifically in the last 18 years as police chief. That’s what they’re going to make their decision on March 3.

What’s important to me is I know who I am, my family knows who I am, my friends know who I am and this community knows who I am. Most importantly, God knows my heart and the fact that I’m running for mayor for the right reasons — because I care about Fresno and I love the people of Fresno. I’m willing to sacrifice being called all those names and having people attack me on social media so that I could represent the people of Fresno.

Bee: Faith is a big part of your life. You started and ended your news conference today with prayers. That’s different from other candidates. Do you think that could turn off some people?

Dyer: It very well could. I always believe that there’s power in prayer. It’s that prayer that will allow for us to focus on those things we have in common versus our disagreements in life. That’s what I want.

I want people of all faith — not just people in the Christian faith, but also people in the Muslim faith, the Sikh faith — I want everyone to feel welcome and important in our city.

Bee: I caught the beginning of your interview with Ray Appleton today. You mentioned you’re Republican and you want the city to be a “conservative city” with “good values.” As police chief, maybe the public has gotten an inkling of your politics, but can you tell us a little about your politics?

Dyer: I grew up as a Democrat. My mom and dad were registered Democrats, and I was a registered Democrat.

Probably in my 30s I became a Republican, simply because I found that my beliefs were much more consistent with Republicans. But I will tell you, over the years what I’ve found is, there’s different types of Democrats and there’s different types of Republicans. We’ve grown apart in America because of extremism.

I would love for people to come to that place, in the city of Fresno, to where we don’t focus on whether we’re Republican or Democrat but we focus on what’s good for Fresno.

I shared at the news conference today that when someone calls our dispatch center, they say: “911, state your emergency.” They never stated “911, state your party,” and the reason is simple. No matter who calls the police department, we’re going to respond. We don’t care about your party affiliation, whether it’s on the north end or the south end, your sexual orientation — we don’t care. That’s what city government is supposed to be. We serve all the people, regardless of party affiliation. That’s really what I want us to focus on in the city of Fresno.

And when I say “conservative values,” what I really mean is family values. I believe we’ve lost a lot of our values on the family, and as a result our children suffer. So that’s what I mean by those traditional values — where we have family. Family is important. Volunteering is important. Serving one another is important. Those are all values that I believe are important to Fresno.

Bee: The north-south divide and the “Tale of Two Cities” is something we hear about a lot and talk about a lot in Fresno. Your campaign is about unifying the city for “One Fresno.” How do you do that and still address some of those root causes of the divide, such as race and income inequality?

Dyer: I think much of that is already started, in recognizing that there are certain parts of the city that have been left behind.

We have a lot of work to do in those neighborhoods. We have ugly neighborhoods with beautiful people in them. They deserve their neighborhood to be something that they’re proud of. We need to work toward doing that as a city.

That doesn’t mean we have to deprive people living in the north end of having potholes filled or sidewalks fixed.

… I think it’s important that I take prominent people in this city into some of those neighborhoods, perhaps that they’ve never been to, and expose them and let them see some of that blight so that they have a better understanding. I don’t know that we’ve ever done that.

Bee: Last time we checked in, your house was in escrow and you planned to move into the city. Can you give us an update on that?

Dyer: Escrow is set to close (in June). I hope everything goes as planned. So far, so good.

Once that happens, we’re either going to rent in the city of Fresno until we can purchase a home or build a home. But we will be relocating into the city as soon as we possibly can.

Bee: There’s rumors that you’d like to hire Lee Brand as your city manager. Is that something you’d consider?

Dyer: I don’t know that Lee Brand would want to leave being the mayor and get in the frying pan of being the city manager, which is a very, very difficult position.

Having said that, Lee Brand has a brilliant mind and knows the financial situation of our city very well. I would not be opposed to tapping into that knowledge in some form or fashion.

Bee: If you were elected, would the plan be to keep the current city manager, Wilma Quan, on?

Dyer: I believe that all the people who currently serve the mayor’s office play a valuable role. My job would be to assess each of the ones in their current role and find how we could use them best under my leadership. Knowing them as a police chief is a lot different than knowing them as the mayor. I have to figure out that transition.

I’ll say this: If someone is not talented and not committed and not willing to fulfill the vision I have for the city, then they may not be suited for my (office.)

Bee: Anything else you think is important to say?

Dyer: I’m going to have detractors in this election. I’m going to have some people who say some very mean things about me, and they already have. I’m going to have people that oppose me, and perhaps even endorse my opponent(s).

I want people to know that regardless of what happens in this election, should I become elected mayor, I’m going to work quickly to restore those relationships. I’m a very forgiving person. That’s probably my greatest gift, and my ability to move forward after I’ve been hurt.

That’s what my hope is … for Fresno: moving forward and healing after the election. I know there will be a lot of pain left behind.

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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.
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