In the tweet that started it all, Fresno city spokesman Mark Standriff said he had “held my tongue long enough.”
He then went on an epic Twitter rant Tuesday afternoon against Henry R. Perea, one of two candidates who are seeking to be Fresno’s next mayor. For more than an hour – coming about one every five minutes – Standriff sent out a string of 14 tweets attacking Perea for “reckless” comments about tainted water in northeast Fresno. For more than two months, Perea has been hitting the issue because northeast Fresno is the council district of Lee Brand, his mayoral opponent.
It’s probably safe to say that, should Perea win in November and replace termed-out Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Standriff won’t be sticking around.
“With all due respect to the supervisor, I get that, politically, he’s got to find ways to go after (Brand) in whatever way he thinks is effective,” Standriff said in an interview. But over the past few months, Standriff said Perea’s comments have become “more reckless,” at the same time the city was trying to address a serious issue.
It culminated Monday when Perea posted a campaign ad on his Facebook page in which he said the northeast water was “polluted.”
“He crossed the line,” Standriff said.
Standriff then put together his string of tweets, starting off by addressing Perea’s campaign video. “Wrong,” he tweeted. “And insulting.”
Perea didn’t sit back and take it. Instead, he responded.
In a subsequent interview, Perea said Standriff was, in essence, campaigning for Brand.
“I think he made a tactical error in trying to help his candidate,” Perea said of Standriff’s tweets. “It hurt (Brand). Instead of solving the northeast water problem, they’re more concerned with propping up their candidate using city resources. This is the city spokesman, on city time, using taxpayer resources, trying to join the City Hall effort in propping up their candiate.”
Standriff said he lives in northeast Fresno, and composed and posted the tweets on his own time and on his personal Twitter account. Swearengin – who hasn’t endorsed a candidate in the race – did not return a call seeking comment.
Perea, Standriff said, is being irresponsible in his comments. The city has hired nationally recognized experts, who also dealt with the well-publicized drinking water problems in Flint, Michigan, and has data and test results.
“Not only is there no pollution, there’s no contamination,” Standriff said.
Instead, he said the problem is with galvanized pipe and the addition of surface water from the city’s northeast treatment plant. Yes, he said, more than 500 homes were tested and some had discolored water. A few had elevated lead levels, but those numbers have continually dropped over the past few months as the city has adjusted the chemicals to address the water’s effect on the galvanized pipes inside homes.
“I’m happy to debate anybody on the facts,” Standriff said.
On Tuesday, however, it was clear that his anger toward Perea had been building. In his fifth tweet, Standriff went beyond northeast Fresno and hit Perea on water issues in his county supervisor district, which is centered on southern parts of Fresno as well as some rural and suburban areas that are not part of the city.
And Standriff didn’t stop there. He also embedded a video in a subsequent tweet of a city meeting with northeast residents where Perea, who was in attendance, was chastised by a resident for “coming in at the 11th hour” and “showboating” on the water issue to try and boost his poll numbers.
But Perea said he is looking for solutions, starting with forming a task force to determine the scope of the problem.
Standriff said Perea could help himself if he would come to City Hall for a briefing on the issue. Brand and District 6 City Council candidates Garry Bredefeld and Jeremy Pearce have all sat down with city officials to get up to speed on the matter, Standriff said.
Perea said he’s met in person with Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda, who he called “the expert at City Hall, who is trying to fix the problem and not spinning.
“I didn’t go in for spin,” Perea said. “I went in for facts.”