It could be days before former Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld knows if he has regained the District 6 council seat representing northeast Fresno.
At the end of a long election night Tuesday, Bredefeld had just over 50 percent of the votes cast in the only contested Fresno City Council race in the June primary. But Bredefeld can’t start measuring for drapes at City Hall just yet. He was a mere 45 votes over the mathematical threshold of 50 percent plus one to win the seat outright and avoid a November runoff with the second-place finisher, Elvis tribute artist Jeremy Pearce.
And there are plenty of votes yet to be counted that could still tip the race into a runoff.
Countywide, there are about 55,000 absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted by the Fresno County Clerk’s Office. If the proportion of those late ballots from District 6 is similar to the Election Day turnout and early absentees, more than 6,000 ballots from northeast Fresno voters may remain outstanding. County Clerk Brandi Orth said her office won’t provide a new update of results until Friday afternoon, and even then there will be thousands of ballots to process.
Bredefeld, a clinical psychologist who held the District 6 seat from 1997 to 2001, had 50.35 percent of votes. In the race for second, Pearce was at 24.77 percent, followed by public affairs business owner Holly Carter at 20.14 percent. Carter Pope II, a college student, trailed with 4.54 percent.
Whoever wins will replace Lee Brand, who is wrapping up his second four-year term on the council and is running for Fresno mayor.
We’re possibly about to win this race outright, but we don’t know. There are a lot more votes to count.
Garry Bredefeld, candidate for Fresno City Council District 6
Bredefeld said Wednesday he was “cautiously optimistic” that his slim margin will hold up as the late ballots are processed.
“I’m very gratified to the people of District 6 for their incredible support, and that was demonstrated on election night,” he said. “We’re possibly about to win this race outright, but we don’t know. There are a lot more votes to count.”
“But should we have to go to a runoff, the game plan is the same: Walking precincts, talking to people, meeting people, and comparing and contrasting my experience with that of my opponent,” he said.
Pearce hopes those late ballots put enough of a dent in Bredefeld’s lead to force the runoff.
“I’m feeling really good. I’m definitely optimistic,” he said Wednesday. Pearce said his campaign advertising didn’t begin hitting Fresno radio stations until last week, giving him reason to hope that it made an impact on late-deciding absentee voters in District 6 who didn’t get their ballots in to the elections office until Tuesday or later.
Carter issued a written statement Wednesday morning in which she conceded defeat.
“The voters have spoken and we came up a bit short in the quest to make the runoff for the general election,” she said. “My hope is that the business community and the people of District 6 have been awakened to both the challenges and opportunities we face. … It is now time for us to unite and turn our attentions to the efforts to support our small-business owners.”
Carter had campaigned on a pledge to make Fresno more business friendly by revamping the city’s planning and permitting processes.
The primary campaign was at times a contentious affair between Bredefeld, Pearce and Carter. Earlier this year, Pearce accused Carter of violating campaign finance reporting rules – accusations Carter hotly denied.
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 evening 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 of campaign controversies in which she was involved. She repeatedly jabbed at Pearce for not denouncing the website. Bredefeld, Pearce and Pope all denied any involvement in the website, from which the offending photos had been removed by Monday morning.
Bredefeld was far and away the top fundraiser during the campaign, with 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. Bredefeld and Carter were neck and neck in campaign spending, however, each reporting about $71,000 in expenditures as of May 21. Pearce, by contrast, had reported expenditures of about $43,000.
If the election goes to a runoff, the campaign will become a head-to-head affair rather than candidates fighting for attention from a field of four.
“It’s a little easier to deal with,” Bredefeld said. “My plan has always been to talk about me and what I was able to do representing the district before. … I was being attacked by Holly and Jeremy, and Jeremy will continue to do so. We will deal with those attacks appropriately and with integrity, but we will respond.”
Pearce said he believes he and Carter “split the anti-Bredefeld vote” and expects Carter’s voters to be attracted to his side if the election goes to a runoff. He said he hoped a runoff would also neutralize the fundraising advantage that Bredefeld enjoyed in the primary.
If we get into a runoff, it’s going to add new legitimacy to my candidacy
Jeremy Pearce, candidate for Fresno City Council District 6
“I think some conservative voters were waiting to see, ‘Should we donate to this Elvis guy, or are we throwing money at something that’s not viable?’ ” Pearce said. “If we get into a runoff, it’s going to add new legitimacy to my candidacy … that might have been lacking at the outset.”
For all of the controversy and sniping, Bredefeld, Pearce and Carter all proclaimed their concern for three P’s of city budget priorities: public safety, potholes and other infrastructure, and the need to do something about panhandlers/vagrants in the northeast part of the city. All three said they favored increased funding for Fresno’s police and fire departments to restore service to pre-recession levels and above, but it was Bredefeld who earned the endorsement – and the financial support – of the city’s police and firefighter unions.
Pearce, in the meantime, won endorsements from a quartet of Fresno City Council members: Brand, Steve Brandau, Paul Caprioglio and Clint Olivier.
Pope had other priorities in mind for his campaign, however, including setting an example for young people to get involved in politics and advocating for increased city investment in infrastructure like streets and sidewalks. He also proposed a temporary reduction of the city’s share of sales taxes by 1 percent as an idea for spurring people to spend more money before gradually restoring it over a two-year period.
Two other Fresno City Council incumbents were unopposed in their re-election bids: District 2 member Brandau in northwest Fresno, and District 4 member Caprioglio in east-central Fresno.