Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who will leave office at the end of the year after serving eight years as the city’s top elected official, on Thursday endorsed City Councilman Lee Brand to be her replacement.
With three city council members and two county supervisors standing behind her at the second-floor entrance to Fresno’s City Hall, Swearengin said that Brand was the clear choice to follow her as the leader – and fourth strong mayor – of the state’s fifth-largest city.
“I knew when I started that one of the biggest and most important decisions I would make as mayor is who I would recommend to the people of Fresno (to) follow me,” Swearengin said. “Every day of my eight years in office we have been thinking about this moment. We’ve been thinking about and planning for transition and doing so in a manner that allows the good work of moving our city forward to continue.”
Brand, who like Swearengin was first elected in 2008, has been her most consistent and loyal city council ally, helping her push through her priorities – which Brand stressed Thursday were also his priorities: updating Fresno’s general plan, overhauling the city’s water infrastructure and building a solid fiscal foundation after moving the city through the financial turmoil of the Great Recession.
“Ashley, we’ve been a great team for eight years,” Brand said.
H. Spees, who finished third in the June mayoral primary, introduced Swearengin and reiterated his support for Brand. Behind Brand were City Councilmen Paul Caprioglio, Steve Brandau and Clint Olivier and county Supervisors Andreas Borgeas and Buddy Mendes.
Before the Brand-Swearengin news conference, Henry R. Perea – Brand’s mayoral opponent – announced via a Thursday morning news release that Debbie Poochigian, his Fresno County supervisor colleague, had endorsed him.
“Henry has earned my respect and support for his bipartisan collaboration and leadership and will serve Fresno well as its next mayor,” Poochigian said in a statement released by the Perea campaign.
Poochigian’s endorsement seemed timed to blunt the news of Swearengin’s backing of Brand.
Still, Perea echoed Poochigian in saying the endorsement shows he would be “committed to taking a bipartisan collaborative approach to leading our city forward.”
Though the county supervisors’ and the mayor’s positions are officially nonpartisan, political leanings are well-known. Swearengin is a moderate Republican and Poochigian a conservative Republican. Though Poochigian and Perea, a Democrat, appeared light years separated on politics, they at times found political common ground on the five-member board of supervisors.
Brand and Swearengin, by comparison, seemed very much in step during her two terms, which made her backing of Brand largely expected. Both are north Fresno Republicans who have pushed their credentials as collaborators.
“The reasons for my support of Lee Brand as mayor are numerous, and we could spend literally hours talking about the ways in which Lee is qualified for this job,” she said. “His professional qualifications for this job are unparalleled.”
She cited his four decades of private sector work, six years on the city’s planning commission, and eight years as a councilman. She also mentioned a “work ethic like none I’ve ever seen.”
Perea, however, thinks voters may look at Swearengin’s endorsement another way.
“They will look at the city strategy to disburse the homeless to every corner of the city,” he said. “They will evaluate how the city mismanaged the (northeast) Fresno water crisis. They will look at the city handing out thousands of dollars of bonuses to a handful of bureaucrats as the police chief was asking for more patrol officers. I think the voters will ask themselves, ‘Do we want more of the same or are we ready to move into the future?’ ”
Spees, however, contrasted that as the two set up some of the key debate points for the campaign ahead of the November general election.
Swearengin and Brand, Spees said, “fought through the recession with elegant and powerful fiscal stewardship.” He said the city today has a $20 million reserve, 801 funded police officers, firefighter staffing levels near an all-time high and a fiscally responsible ongoing revitalization of downtown.