Political Notebook

Who gets Henry R. Perea’s vote for president? At mayoral debate, the Democrat refused to say

Henry Perea and Lee Brand face each other in the Nov. 8 runoff election for Fresno mayor.
Henry Perea and Lee Brand face each other in the Nov. 8 runoff election for Fresno mayor.

Fresno mayoral candidate Henry R. Perea answered most of the questions posed Tuesday during a two-hour debate with opponent Lee Brand, but he refused to identify the presidential candidate he would vote for in November.

Perea said he would not vote for someone who discriminates against disabled people, presumably meaning Republican nominee Donald Trump. But he would not say who he would vote for. Fresno Bee political reporter John Ellis, who asked the question, pressed him. Perea refused again, saying he would be happy to tell Ellis over coffee the day after the election.

Brand also showed some hesitancy, saying he could not believe the best two candidates each party could muster were Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He said he would not vote for Clinton and would prefer to pick a different Republican, but if he had to choose now he would probably pick Trump. That drew boos from the audience.

The question would seem to be a slam dunk for Perea, a Democrat. He had to know Brand, as one of many Republicans undergoing an ideological crisis this election cycle, would have to tap dance around the mere mention of Trump. Maybe Perea is going through a similar crisis over his party’s choice. Or perhaps he did not want to open a can of worms by mentioning Clinton over the airwaves of conservative talk radio station Power Talk 96.7, which co-sponsored the event with The Fresno Bee.

The choice to answer the question by badmouthing Trump without speaking the name of his preferred candidate was even more curious given that Perea channeled Trump earlier in the debate.

Ellis asked Perea how he planned to force the Fresno Grizzlies back into paying $1.5 million annually to lease Chukchansi Stadium from the city. The Grizzlies originally had paid that price, but it was cut in a half in a new lease signed last year after the team expressed bankruptcy worries.

Ellis pressed, asking how Perea planned to do that. Would he break the lease?

Perea said he would get together with the Grizzlies to form a lucrative partnership with the city. This would generate so much money, he went on, that the team would choose to pay twice the rent required of them in their current lease.

The rhetoric sounded a lot like Trump’s concerning a wall between the United States and Mexico: “We’re going to get together. We’re going to build that wall. It’s good for both of us. Mexico’s going to pay for it.”

It’s worth noting the Grizzlies question came in the middle of a heated debate, and the mayoral hopefuls were given only two minutes to respond to each question. Perhaps Perea needed more time to get into specifics.

But Perea’s response drew what was as close to an angry outburst as we’re likely to get from the usually jovial Brand, who had at least one of his grandchildren in the audience.

“Talk about fantasy – Jesus Christ,” Brand said.