Local Election

Spees, long a community activist, pivots to the political arena

Fresno is preparing to elect its fourth mayor under a governing system that makes the position the city’s chief executive – a powerful post that oversees the bureaucracy of the state’s fifth-largest city.

The first three mayors under this system have been cut from the same political cloth – evangelical Protestant Republicans from north Fresno.

H. Spees would appear to be heir to that line.

Except that he isn’t.

Yes, Spees is Republican, and not only an evangelical, but an ordained pastor as well, who for four years led one of the city’s largest evangelical denominations, Northwest Church.

But Spees is far different because two decades ago he moved his family to the Lowell neighborhood, one of Fresno’s poorest. And he still lives there. In fact, Spees has spent much of his life working with the poor and underprivileged. He has never held elected office, though he briefly was a Fresno mayoral candidate in 2004 before backing out of the race when his friend Alan Autry decided to seek a second term.

Spees says that having feet in both Fresnos – not just north and south, but the wealthier and the less fortunate, too – makes him uniquely qualified to not just lead, but unite the city.

“My goal for Fresno is one Fresno, where every neighborhood is considered important,” he said. “The idea is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We’ve got to care about every neighborhood.”

It’s why he isn’t ceding any of Fresno’s southern reaches to the only prominent Democrat in the race – Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea. Spees is actively campaigning in the Fresno High School and Tower District parts of the city.

But at the same time, he is also at a decided disadvantage not just to Perea, but to his fellow Republican, Fresno City Councilman Lee Brand. Both have raised far more money than Spees, which limits his ability to campaign against them in the all-important paid media – mail pieces, radio advertisements and, especially, television commercials. Spees had to lend his campaign the maximum allowable of $100,000 – the final $58,500 lent to his campaign because without it, his campaign finance report would have shown just $576.

As of April 23, he had less than $58,000 in his campaign account.

Undaunted, one of Spees’ key strategies to combat his cash deficit is retail politics at its base level. Using a blueprint laid out by Bitwise CEO Jake Soberal, Spees is holding small house meetings dubbed “I’m With H” gatherings. He’s doing a few dozen or more, with maybe 12 to 20 people in attendance at each, across the Tower and Fresno High neighborhoods.

In the neighborhood meetings or in campaign forums, Spees says his goals are safe and healthy neighborhoods anchored by a revamped police force that focuses on community policing, good jobs in a thriving economy and school choices for parents.

His centerpiece proposal, however, centers on police in what he says is a seriously escalating crime situation.

Spees has proposed a statewide ballot initiative that would require the state to return 5 percent of income tax revenue to local governments. That money could only be spent on public safety. In Fresno, Spees said, that could mean $42 million annually, which could translate into as many as 200 additional police officers.

H. Spees

Age: 63

Occupation: Senior vice president of Network Growth and Development for Leadership Foundations

Family: Married, 6 children, 10 grandchildren

Education: Doctorate, transformational global urban leadership, Bakke Graduate University; master’s, public administration, University of San Francisco; bachelor’s, English, Belhaven University

Key endorsements: Former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry; former Fresno County Schools Superintendent Larry Powell; former Secretary of State Bill Jones; former Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa; former Central Unified School District Superintendent Mike Berg; Bitwise CEO Jake Soberal, William Dyck of Summa Development Group