Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld is used to ruffling feathers from the council dais since he was sworn in a year ago. But on Thursday, it was Bredefeld whose feathers were ruffled by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce on Twitter, which has become a fascinating sandbox of local politics.
The result was a political exchange in which Bredefeld initially tweeted a response that was sharply critical of the business organization, but later asserted that his umbrage was in jest.
The chamber took to Twitter on Thursday evening to announce its annual report card scoring local legislators on how business-friendly their voting records are. Among City Council members, Paul Caprioglio and Luis Chavez received the highest grades at 91 out of 100. But the tweet also indicated that Bredefeld and Steve Brandau, considered the two most conservative members of the council, had the lowest scores of 73 out of 100, along with Oliver Baines.
A few hours later, Bredefeld responded in a tweet that sharply criticized the chamber. “I give them 2 F’s for supporting new big govt rental inspection (program) and PC (politically correct), ‘feel good,’ ineffective police advisory committee.” Both the rental housing inspection program and the public safety advisory committee are major initiatives of Mayor Lee Brand’s first year in office. Brand was Bredefeld’s predecessor on the council, representing northeast Fresno for eight years before was elected mayor in November 2016.
Bredefeld also expressed disbelief that the lowest scores – which would equate to a C or C-minus grade on a school-style A-to-F scale – went to the council’s most conservative Republican members.
Bredefeld’s tweet apparently managed to push a few buttons – and a few of the buttons decided to push back.
Within minutes, mayoral aide John Ellis joined the Twitter exchange with a reply, pointing out that Bredefeld has attended none of the advisory board’s meetings. “But you’re a council member and you should stop in for awhile to meet the members and get a feel for the meetings,” Ellis suggested.
Chavez replied to Bredefeld with a meme portraying a woman licking a popsicle and bearing the phrase, “All these flavors, and you choose to be salty.” And Drew Hyatt, a local Realtor and radio station DJ, offered a joking consolation tweet to Bredefeld: “Don’t worry Gare Bear. C’s get degrees.”
Chamber president Nathan Ahle also chimed in. “We don’t always agree, but looking at the scores as a whole the Fresno City Council voted solidly pro-business,” Ahle tweeted to Bredefeld. “More than you can say for a lot of CA cities. Looking forward to big things in ’18.”
That’s when Bredefeld adjusted his Twitter tenor. “I completely agree, Nathan, and congratulate my colleagues,” he replied to Ahle. “I was tweeting with tongue in cheek but hard to see the tongue or cheek with twitter.”
On Friday, the chamber posted a new tweet with its report card, this time reflecting a correction that boosted Baines’ score to 82. The scores reflected the percentage of times that each council member voted in alignment with the chamber’s Government Affairs Council on issues ranging from Brand’s rental-housing inspection and public safety advisory initiatives to reducing water fees for infill development, implementing a ban on homeless camping, taking steps to remove can and bottle recycling centers from residential and commercial areas of the city, and waiving some development impact fees in disadvantaged neighborhoods and for reconstruction of existing commercial buildings.
The chamber also graded the region’s legislative representatives in Sacramento, giving all of the local Assembly and state Senate members scores amounting to A’s and B’s except for the lone Democrat, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, who got a score of 50, or a solid F.
Bredefeld’s alternating tweets on Thursday – first critical of the Chamber, then conciliatory – are reminiscent of what happened in September, when Bredefeld used the council dais as a bully pulpit for a racially-tinged condemnation of NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem. A couple of weeks later, at the council’s next meeting in October, Bredefeld was chastised by his council colleague Baines and by members of Fresno’s black community, before saying he was sorry, declaring that he was unaware that his words would be offensive.
“I didn’t think it was going to have that kind of effect, but clearly it did. … To realize that I’ve caused this much pain is painful for me,” he said at that time. “And for the pain I have caused, I sincerely apologize.”