Former City Councilman Garry Bredefeld had a commanding lead in his bid to once again represent Council District 6 in northeast Fresno as returns rolled in from Tuesday’s election, while Luis Chavez – an assistant to Councilman Sal Quintero – was looking good in his effort to replace his boss in southeast Fresno’s District 5.
With 33 out of 39 precincts reporting at 10:50 p.m., returns reported by the Fresno County Clerk’s Office showed Bredefeld leading Jeremy Pearce 64.6 percent to 35.1 percent. More than 19,500 votes had been counted from District 6.
In the three-way race for the District 5 seat, Chavez had 57.9 percent, compared to 24.1 percent for Jose Leon Barraza and 17.8 percent for Antonio Gastelum, with 33 of 35 precincts reporting and about 8,600 votes counted.
Still to be counted, however, are an unknown number of absentee and provisional ballots either turned in at polling places or received by the county elections office on Tuesday. The reported results do include absentee and early votes cast before Tuesday.
Tuesday’s balloting was the second time around for Bredefeld and Pearce, the two top vote-getters in a June primary of four candidates seeking to replace termed-out District 6 incumbent Lee Brand, who is running for mayor. Bredefeld, a clinical psychologist, fell just shy of 50 percent of the primary votes and winning the election outright. Pearce, an Elvis Presley tribute entertainer, pulled in just over 25 percent of the primary votes.
Bredefeld served one term on the City Council from 1997 through 2000, when he made an unsuccessful run for mayor instead of running for re-election. Pearce worked as a staff member for Congressman George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, in the early 2000s; this is his first run for elected office.
The early numbers left Bredefeld feeling optimistic about the evening. “I’m very encouraged by these results, and they’re the same results we were hearing as we knocked on doors in the district,” Bredefeld said. “I walked the entire district, mile after mile, neighborhood after neighborhood, and I got to talk to people and let them get to know me once again.”
Pearce, in the meantime, acknowledged that it looked like an uphill fight.
“We knew we were the underdog in this race with our opponent getting 49 percent in the primary,” he said. “It made fundraising tough, and we didn’t get on radio until the final week.”
“We ran a hard campaign, we knocked on every door, made every call, and did everything we could,” Pearce added. “I figure the polling place voters will tighten that margin up some.”
Bredefeld came into Tuesday with a tremendous advantage over Pearce in both fundraising and campaign spending. Since the beginning of the year, Bredefeld had garnered nearly $300,000 in campaign contributions, in addition to loaning himself about $30,000. As of Oct. 22, the latest spending report available, he had spent almost $255,000, including about $107,000 between Sept. 27 and Oct. 22.
Pearce, by contrast, gathered about $88,000 in contributions and loaned his campaign $8,000. While he spent a little over $81,000, only about $7,200 came in the final weeks of the campaign.
The District 5 contest in southeast Fresno is to fill the final two years of incumbent Councilman Sal Quintero’s term. Quintero was elected in June to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, creating the need for what is officially a special election. In addition to Chavez, the race attracted Barraza, a former county economic development director, and financial adviser Gastelum.
Chavez was elected to the Fresno Unified School District board of trustees in 2012 and is running to replace Quintero instead of seeking re-election to the school board. He and Barraza both lost to Quintero in the 2010 City Council election. Gastelum lost to Quintero in the June election for county supervisor and subsequently moved into District 5 to run for Quintero’s council seat.
If no candidate has achieved a majority of District 5 votes, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters will be held March 7.
“We’re at 59 percent,” Chavez said after the first returns came in. “I’m very optimistic by the way the numbers are trending. … We have to get to 50 percent plus one, and considering I have two opponents, I’m hoping the numbers stay that way.”
Barraza said he is not putting much emphasis on the early-voting returns and is waiting for Tuesday’s votes to be counted. “I see an opportunity for those numbers to force a runoff,” he said. “My approach was running a grass-roots campaign, working with soccer moms and soccer dads and members of the community.”
In the time-compressed District 5 campaign, Barraza and Gastelum found themselves at a severe financial disadvantage to Chavez. Chavez rolled up almost $114,000 in contributions and as of Oct. 22 had spent more than $63,000. Barraza managed to raise just over $3,000 and loaned his campaign another $18,000. His spending added up to almost $17,000. Gastelum, in the meantime, loaned his campaign $6,200 and raised only $845 in donations from contributors, all prior to Sept. 27. All of his $6,400 in campaign spending also came before Sept. 27.