Henry R. Perea and Lee Brand – two seasoned insiders long steeped in the local political scene – will head to a November runoff in the battle to replace termed-out Ashley Swearengin and become Fresno’s 25th mayor.
With all precincts counted, Perea, a Fresno County supervisor, had 44 percent of the vote. Brand, a Fresno city councilman, was second with 32 percent.
Even with 84 percent of precincts reporting, Perea still was talking about reaching the 50 percent plateau.
“There’s still about 20,000 votes to count, so we’re still holding out hope,” he said. “We’re cautiously optimistic and hoping we can close this campaign out by the end of this week – but if not we certainly have the wind at our back and were ready to move on to November.”
In fact, Perea said he’s ready to start debating Brand one-on-one – next week.
“We’re good to go tomorrow,” he said.
Brand said he too was ready to face Perea.
He noted three Republicans ran, and combined, their votes exceeded 50 percent.
“Do the math,” he said. “Lee Brand 32 (percent). (Community leader) H. Spees at 18 (percent). That’s 50 percent right there. Then add (Doug) Vagim.”
Brand is confident he can win two-thirds – or more – of the vote that went to Spees.
“A month from now if you did a poll on the two of us, you’d find a really close race. I’d guess two, three, four points.”
Brand said he did everything he could in this election, from hiring good consultants to being an effective fundraiser and an ever-improving debater.
“The problem I had was a divided Republican Party,” Brand said. “H disrupted it just enough to have the bodies not totally focused on my race.”
On the other side, Perea he had the entire Democratic Party focused on his race, Brand said. He also had unions, developers and a Democratic voter turnout.
“That shows me he’s beatable,” Brand said, “so we’re going to beat him.”
Trailing the two front-runners was community leader Spees, who had 18.1 percent of the vote. At 10:35 p.m., Spees conceded to Perea and Brand.
“The numbers are definitely not going in our direction.” Spees said.
Despite the humbling defeat, Spees said he has come out of the race a better person.
“I’ve learned there is a generation of young people and youngish people who are ready and passionate about making our city all it can be. I want to run with them. This is a beginning, this isn’t an end.”
Spees noted his campaign was based on grass-roots campaigning, which included a lot of door knocking and social media outreach that has only come to fruition recently, after many of the early ballots were cast weeks or even up to a month ago.
Together, the three mayoral front-runners raised more than $1 million as they vied to lead the state’s fifth-largest city, founded 131 years ago as an agricultural hub but now seemingly at a crossroads after eight years under Swearengin. A core of young entrepreneurs joined Swearengin in beginning to steer Fresno toward a more urban existence.
Her replacement – and the city’s fourth chief executive under the new strong-mayor form of government – will determine whether the city stays on that path.
Fresno’s mayor is officially nonpartisan, but party politics always plays a major role in the campaigns. As the lone Democrat among the main candidates, Perea was always expected to finish first in the June primary. Brand, Spees and, to a lesser extent, Doug Vagim – all Republicans – were left to split up the votes among the GOP, though all the candidates sought to broaden their appeal beyond their own political party.
Former county supervisor Vagim had 4 percent of the vote and businessman Richard Renteria was at 2 percent.
This race has always been about Brand and Perea. They had the most money and they had the most endorsements, and the gut feel of most pundits was the two would move on to a November showdown.
Spees was the wild card.
From the start, he pitched himself as the underdog, and based on fundraising and endorsements, he most definitely fit the part. But he was buoyed by two big-time supporters – former Mayor Alan Autry and former Fresno County schools Superintendent Larry Powell. Add to that support from some up-and-coming city leaders including Bitwise CEO Jake Soberal, and backing from a good chunk of the city’s evangelical community, and the oft-asked question was could Spees upend Brand and face off against Perea in the fall.
The campaign has been mostly civil, though Brand and Perea have gone after each other with some pointed remarks on the downtown baseball stadium and votes taken as elected officials. Brand last week also went after Perea in a television ad that said his claims to be a conservative were false and that he was actually a liberal.
For Brand, Perea and Spees, public safety was front and center. Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said violent crime was up 16 percent last year, and is up 24 percent this year. Add to that an uptick in the number of panhandlers and the apperance of vagrants in north Fresno, and the issue quickly bubbled to the forefront, with each candidate pitching plans on how they would increase the number of sworn officers.
The force took a hit during the Great Recession, but the number of sworn officers will reach 801 in the coming budget. Candidates are pushing for the force to eventually reach 1,000.
But public safety and the baseball stadium weren’t the only issues. The candidates talked of homelessness, substandard housing, deteriorating streets and other infrastructure and the lack of parks in the southern part of the city. They also touched on issues beyond Fresno’s borders, such as how – or if – the mayor could help bring more water to the city and the region.
On the campaign trail, Brand focused on free market principles and how he would help unleash the power of the private sector to raise the standard of living for everyone in Fresno. Perea pitched his long public sector record and ability to make Fresno a regional powerhouse and unofficial San Joaquin Valley capital. Spees pitched a compassionate vision for Fresno and of working to unite the wealthier northern parts of the city with the poorer southern region
There were plot twists, too. Slate mailers featuring Perea falsely claimed Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims’ endorsement. Autry went on a rant against Swearengin and, by extension, Brand, saying she purposely blew through a budget surplus he left her so she wouldn’t have to give police raises and to help sell Measure G.
The Fresno firefighters union, who endorsed Perea, complained when Brand supporter Richard Caglia drove an old fire truck around town with a big Brand sign – only to have one of their own chastise them, saying they were giving Brand free publicity by publicly complaining.
In the end, the campaign largely showed that it pays to have lots of campaign cash.
Brand raised more than $263,000, loaned his campaign the legal maximum $100,000, and carried over more than $143,000 from his council account. In total, he has more than $500,000. Perea has in total raised $307,299. Spees raised $125,000 and loaned his campaign $100,000 for a total of $225,065.
Perea and Brand had enough cash to mount a significant air war – lots of television commercials and, in Brand’s case, radio spots. Brand also sent out several mail campaign pieces to voters, something that Perea largely bypassed because he questioned their effectiveness. What Spees lacked in money he tried to make up in heavy retail politicking, including small home gatherings of no more than a few dozen people dubbed “I’m with H.”
Fresno City Council
The only contested Fresno City Council race was for northeast Fresno’s District 6, and it’s an election that has featured more than its share of drama.
In the race for the District 6 City Council seat, clinical psychologist Garry Bredefeld was on his way to winning the seat outright.
With 90 percent of the precincts counted, Bredefeld had captured 50.4 percent of the votes. A candidate needs 50 percent plus one to be the outright winner.
In second was Jeremy Pearce, at 27 percent, while Holly Carter finished third with 20 percent. Fourth was Carter Pope II at 4.4 percent.
Bredfeld sought to regain the seat he held from 1997 to 2001.
Bredefeld was far and away the top fund-raiser during the campaign, raising nearly $120,000 in contributions as of late last week. That was more than Pearce and Carter combined. Pearce reported donations of more than $58,000, while Carter reported less than $42,000 in contributions.
The campaign got contentious at various points this spring. Earlier this year, Pearce accused Carter of violating campaign finance reporting laws – charges hotly denied by Carter and her campaign chairman, former City Councilman Jerry Duncan.
Last month, sparks flew between Carter and Bredefeld at a candidate forum in which Carter erroneously accused Bredefeld of waving a “Nazi sign” while protesting a Fresno development project during his first term on the council.
Bredefeld – who was raised in a Jewish home and attended a Jewish university – accused Carter of lying. Carter apologized that night to Bredefeld, and backtracked the following day, saying she had been given incorrect information.
And last week, Carter accused political opponents of being behind an attack website that posted revealing personal photos from her recovery from cancer and links to news coverage campaign controversies in which she was involved. Bredefeld, Pearce and Pope all denied any involvement in the website.
Two other Fresno City Council incumbents were unopposed in their re-election bids: District 2 Councilman Steve Brandau in northwest Fresno, and District 4 Councilman Paul Caprioglio in east-central Fresno.