Fresno mayoral candidates singled out air quality, crime and jobs as top issues facing the city in coming years during a debate Monday night sponsored by Valley Public Television.
Nine of the 11 candidates seeking to replace Mayor Alan Autry in the June 3 election attended the debate at the KVPT studios in downtown Fresno. Only current Deputy Mayor Jeff Eben, who left word that he had another engagement, and businesswoman Barbara Hunt were not present.
Businessman Jim Boswell said he wanted to be the next mayor because he was frustrated with the present administration, which he said displayed a lack of concern for the people of Fresno. He said he was the only candidate with a plan to clean up the city's air and also said that he would revamp the city's transit system.
Tom Boyajian, a former two-term Fresno City Council member, said gangs, city deficits and "terrible air quality" are top priorities for him. He also wants to broaden the economy beyond what he described as agriculture and construction to areas that include solar technology.
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City Council Member Mike Dages would place a priority on public safety "to fight 24,000 gang members." Dages touted his business acumen and noted that he has worked with several large corporations including food industry giant Kraft to keep jobs in Fresno.
Council Member Jerry Duncan, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, said his goal was to bring 150 more police officers onto the force without raising taxes. Diversifying the area's economy is also important, he said, so that "we make sure we're not exporting our children," because of a lack of local jobs. He is a proponent of the Forest City Enterprises project to redevelop 85 downtown acres with housing and shops.
Human rights are a major concern for Realtor Ignacio Garibay as he criticized police for "putting people in jail for no [driver's] license."
Henry Monreal, a 32-year veteran of the Fresno Police Department, made neighborhoods and good jobs his focal point. He also said gangs should not get free publicity by being identified in the media and called for gang members to get help and intervention.
Council Member Henry T. Perea also wants a more diversified economy and mentioned medical and green industries as a good fit for Fresno. He wants to see more job training and more after-school programs for kids. He said he has advanced the idea of city and county consolidation and is "a champion for new ideas."
Ashley Swearengin, on leave from her job as director of the Regional Jobs Initiative, said she was dedicated to improving the local economy and making Fresno a "top tier city in California." She wants to focus on bringing business to Fresno, developing vocational education, revitalizing downtown and supporting the cultural arts.
Doug Vagim, a former Fresno County Supervisor, said his qualifications for mayor include "integrity, knowledge and experience." He thinks one answer to gangs is a new emphasis on recreational programs because kids with nothing to do are a source of gangs. Vagim also said he has the credentials to help consolidate city and county services because of his experience on the supervisors, and can improve air quality because he has been a member of the California Air Resources Board.