Politics & Government

Fresno council member enters mayoral race

The race to replace Mayor Alan Autry is on.

Fresno City Council Member Jerry Duncan announced Wednesday that he's running for mayor, becoming the second candidate to enter the competition. Duncan follows his council colleague Mike Dages, who declared his mayoral aspirations about nine months ago.

But Duncan's announcement signals the start of the campaign season, said Tom Holyoke, a political science professor at California State University, Fresno. Several other hopefuls are expected to join the race during the next three to four weeks.

"He's sounded the horn," Holyoke said of Duncan. "I think this is really the beginning of the campaign push."

Autry terms out of office in about 15 months. Term limits will push Duncan, 54, off the City Council at the same time. He has represented northeast Fresno since 2001.

Others who say they're considering mayoral runs include Council Members Henry T. Perea and Larry Westerlund; and Ashley Swearengin, chief operating officer for the Regional Jobs Initiative, which works to improve the local economy.

Many are keeping an eye on Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who would be considered a front-runner in the race. For months, Dyer has said he's not interested, but on Wednesday he was less definitive.

"I'm not prepared to make a comment yet," Dyer said when asked whether he intends to run for mayor. "I'll know when the timing's right to make a commitment one way or another."

Candidates can't file candidacy papers with the Fresno County Elections Office until Feb. 11. Hopefuls must file their papers by March 12 to make it on the June 2008 ballot. If no one wins more than 50% of the vote in June, the top two vote-getters will meet in a November 2008 runoff.

As a council member, Duncan has pushed low-interest loans for small farming operations affected by last winter's freeze and more funding to beef up the city's Fire Department.

On Wednesday, Duncan laid out several campaign promises.

He said he'll add 150 police officers and 50 firefighters in four years if elected. Duncan estimates it would cost $15 million for the additional officers and $10 million for the firefighters.

He said his economic-development initiatives would generate enough money to pay for the new employees.

Duncan, who owned three small printing and sign businesses before becoming a council member, wants to streamline the city's permitting process and make it easier for businesses to take root or expand in Fresno. He also wants to rezone land so it's easier for companies to move to Fresno.

Some land the city has eyed for industrial development isn't zoned for industrial use. The zoning process can cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars and take as long as six months, Duncan said.

Duncan said his proposals will attract more businesses to Fresno and encourage others to grow. The result, he said, would be an increase in city revenues from taxes and fees.

Duncan's downtown plan includes strong support of a proposal by Cleveland-based developer Forest City Enterprises to build homes and stores just south of Chukchansi Park.

Forest City hopes to finish the initial six-block stage in four years. The company said it will need a $100 million public investment for the $232 million piece of the project.

Duncan also wants to improve downtown streets and sidewalks and install new streetlights. The improvements, he said, would attract new housing and retail projects.

He doesn't support Autry's proposal for a downtown river. "Everything I've seen shows me it's not a good thing," Duncan said.