Local Election

Vagim hopes voters like his government watchdog role

Doug Vagim knows he can’t match the big money or truckloads of endorsements touted by his fellow candidates for Fresno mayor.

He doesn’t have much of either, which means he can’t put together the organization and media campaign needed to run and win an election in the state’s fifth-largest city.

As of April 23, Vagim had raised just $5,178 and had less than $5,000 cash on hand.

So he’s running a campaign on a shoestring, looking for free media and other other low-cost ways to get his message to the voters. He’s banking on his ballot position – second to Fresno City councilman and his fellow mayoral candidate Lee Brand – to capture some votes.

“I’m playing small ball,” Vagim said, referring to baseball teams who do things like bunting and base stealing rather than relying on home runs.

Vagim’s pitch to Fresno voters is his recent history of successfully battling Fresno City Hall. He’s been a rabble-rouser who has been a thorn in Fresno’s side on issues such as privatization of residential trash pickup and increasing water rates for water-related infrastructure improvements.

On the trash issue, he was a key player in the defeat of Measure G, current Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s plan to privatize residential trash pickup. The anti-G effort teamed labor unions with Vagim and the political right, who weren’t necessarily against privatization, but didn’t like that Swearengin had already hand-picked a hauler for the trash.

As for water, Vagim was an unrelenting critic of Swearengin’s plans for a $400 million-plus project designed to improve Fresno’s water supply. It’s centerpiece was a new surface water treatment plant in the southeast that Vagim said was too big and too expensive.

Even now, as the improvements start to move forward, Vagim is still playing his role as City Hall watchdog. He said growth needs to pay for itself, and people in established parts of the city shouldn’t have to foot the bill for new development on the city’s fringes, which “need to cover their own cost.”

It’s why Vagim says he’s the best choice to oversee a city bureaucracy that has not wielded its significant political power for good.

“My goal for this community is to have one open and transparent government, that all the people feel part of,” he said. “A mayor needs to get out of that seat in City Hall and become part of this community.”

Vagim says the trash and water issues are examples of a government working against the people, instead of for the people.

Without a doubt, Vagim is a City Hall outsider, but he also has a few insider ideas to shake up city government.

For one, Vagim says he would ask voters to approve a charter amendment that would change how the top members of the bureaucracy are selected. Currently, the mayor picks the city manager and the council selects the city clerk and city attorney. Vagim wants the mayor to pick all three, but requiring the council to confirm the mayor’s choices, in much the same way as the U.S. Senate confirms the president’s cabinet members.

But Vagim would also take it one step further, proposing that the council have the power to fire any of the three with a supermajority vote. The mayor could veto such a decision, which could be overriden with a unanimous 7-0 council vote.

“It’s a more efficient government,” Vagim said.

Doug Vagim

Age: 73

Occupation: Retired business owner, former Fresno County supervisor

Family: Married, 1 child

Education: Bachelor’s, Fresno State; associate’s, Fresno City College

Key endorsements: Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, San Joaquin Valley Taxpayers Association

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