Fresno’s mayor’s race is more than a one-on-one battle between Lee Brand and Henry R. Perea to determine the next leader of the state’s fifth-largest city.
It’s a contest of ideas and a clash of differing visions.
In such high-profile conflicts, power brokers that deal with City Hall inevitably take sides – with their wallets.
Because of that, it’s often pointless to look for rhyme or reason in the supporters of each candidate.
“Local races don’t seem to be as traditionally polarizing as, say, a presidential election,” said Tom Holyoke, a Fresno State political science professor.
In many ways, the support base for the two finalists isn’t surprising.
Brand is a Republican who made his fortune in real estate and property management, especially overseeing apartment complexes. As such, the current city councilman’s support base starts with those backers. Around 20.6 percent of his contributions came from the real estate, property management and multifamily home sectors.
Perea, currently a Fresno County supervisor, is a Democrat who has long found allies in various labor unions. Not surprisingly, more than 25 percent of his campaign contributions come from unions.
By contrast, just 3.6 percent of Brand’s contributions – $10,400 – comes from unions, and most of that is from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1027, better known as the Fresno Area Express bus drivers union.
But it would be a mistake to paint the candidates into such rigid boxes – Brand the north Fresno Republican vs. Perea the south Fresno Democrat. The lines blur in the race, which is officially nonpartisan.
Key sectors in the city – business, finance, builders and developers, agriculture – are not all on the same team, according to campaign finance reports through June 30, the most recent available reports, and which detail contributions and spending for the primary election.
For instance, local stalwarts such as Donaghy Sales and Valley Wide Beverage have contributed to Perea, while longtime radio station owner John Ostlund and Club One Casino have given to Brand.
Perea, the urban Democrat, has thus far picked up more agriculture money than Brand. Further muddying the waters: one of Perea’s agriculture supporters, Gerawan Farming, has had an extended and well-publicized battle with the United Farm Workers over union representation of its workers.
The most interesting area is likely the local building, construction and development community, which has split between the two candidates.
Multifamily developers, for example, largely back Brand, who made his money in managing properties such as apartment complexes. Perea, on the other hand, has backing from most – but not all – of the city’s single-family home builders.
Brand has picked up more than $53,000 from those sectors. Perea is around $76,000.
Some big developers supporting Brand are Richard Spencer, Gary McDonald and Ginder Development. Perea has the backing of the biggest home builders in town – Granville Homes and the Assemi family, Bonadelle Homes, Robert McCaffrey and Wilson Homes, as well as River Park developer Ed Kashian, a commercial and mixed-use developer who has been a longtime backer.
“A diversified donor base is a reflection of broad-based support and an acknowledgment that I can effectively work across party lines and with the community,” Perea said.
Or, it might just be practical.
“There is a perception out there that Perea is the stronger candidate,” Holyoke said. “Therefore, Perea is able to expand his donor base and attract money that traditionally has gone to Republicans. He’s expanded his donor base; now we’ll see if he can expand his voter base.”
But, looking at his own donor base, Brand said it was broad and reflected a true cross-section of Fresno.
“It’s a very diversified base of small business contributors,” he said.
At the same time, he said of Perea’s: “His base is old-school Fresno, business-as-usual Fresno. He has the same two power bases (developers and unions) that want to keep business as usual in Fresno, and we can’t keep business as usual in Fresno.”
Perea shot back at Brand’s comments.
“I’m surprised Lee Brand would disrespect the business community that plays a key role in our community,” he said. “I am honored to have their support and look forward to working with them to expand our economy.”
And some of those Perea donors – Kashian, Farid Assemi, Lisa Bonadelle and even the Fresno City Firefighters union – have in the past contributed to Brand’s council campaigns.
The contributions don’t offer a complete picture because, for instance, they don’t show where financial supporters of the third-place finisher in the June primary, community leader H. Spees, might gravitate. Spees, however, has endorsed Brand.
Perea finished first in the June primary. But because he didn’t win more than 50 percent of the vote, he is going to the November election to face Brand, who came in second in the primary.
Still, what has happened so far has led to intense speculation about the city’s divided donor base.
One interesting fact is the biggest donor to each candidate.
For Perea, it is the Assemis, either via Granville Homes, individually from various family members or from Granville Homes Vice President Jeff Roberts. The total is around $19,150. Granville Homes President Darius Assemi said he is backing Perea for his ability to handle challenges.
“Sometime in the next four years our city will face a crisis. Henry is best suited to effectively navigate and lift us out of that crisis,” Assemi said. “He is not afraid to ruffle feathers and challenge the bureaucracy at City Hall in getting us there.”
In Brand’s case, the largest donor is the Caglia family, from individual family members, companies the family owns, or Electric Motor Shop Chief Financial Officer Derek Larsen. That amount is $18,800.
Richard Caglia said he is backing Brand because of his high standards. “My family supports candidates with the highest ethical standards, business acumen and demonstrated leadership over political pandering. Lee Brand is that candidate in our mayor’s race.”
Caglia pointed out that Brand voted against privatizing the city’s trash service, which would have benefited Caglia had the contract gone to his business.
All these amounts are subject to change because donors are free to give up to another $4,200, in addition to a maximum $4,200 for the primary.
Some donors are either playing it safe or like both Brand and Perea, because they’ve given money to both.
Among those are businessman Derrel Ridenour, owner of Derrel’s Mini Storage, businessman George Beal, and Lyons Magnus, the food processing company owned by Bob Smittcamp.
Holyoke wasn’t surprised.
“The race is going to be close, and a lot of interests in a close race want to be associated with a winner, so they start hedging their bets,” he said.
Politics is also never far away.
Perea got around $17,500 – 4.8 percent of his contributions – from other politicians, including his son Henry T. Perea, who resigned from the Assembly last December to take a job in the pharmaceutical industry.
Brand got $15,500 from politicians, or 5.4 percent of the money he raised this year. That doesn’t include the $4,200 maximum contribution from businessman Michael Der Manouel Jr., a stalwart local Republican.
The money always comes with caveats because of when it was raised.
Brand raised $294,912 this year to Perea’s approximately $277,000. It means that, head to head this year, they raised about the same amount.
But Perea transferred in around $87,000 from his supervisor account, most of it raised last year, and Brand moved $143,276, most of it from his 2012 council re-election campaign in which he was unopposed.
Brand also loaned his campaign $100,000 – the maximum allowable. All told, Brand raised close to $540,000.
In fact, of all Brand’s donors, he himself gave the most – the $100,000 loan plus an additional $4,600 or so in in-kind contributions.
For all that, both candidates blew through most of the money they already have raised.
As of June 30, Brand had around $49,000 in his campaign account. After Perea’s unpaid bills are taken into account, he had a bit more than $41,000.
However, they are starting, ever so slowly, to rebuild their campaign war chests for the November election. Brand said his goal for the coming election is $600,000. Perea would only say that by Labor Day, he is “confident that our plan will be fully funded” for November.
The key donors
Henry R. Perea
Unions: $93,996 (25.6 percent)
Developers/construction: $76,073 (20.7 percent)
Agriculture: $16,634 (4.5 percent)
(* Percentages based on $367,049 in contributions)
Multifamily/real estate/property management: $58,690 (20.6 percent)
Developers/construction: $53,247 (18.7 percent)
Unions: $10,400 (3.6 percent)
(* Percentages based on $285,589, which doesn’t include a $100,000 self-loan or $143,276 transferred from City Council account.)
Source: Campaign finance reports