An antique firetruck has unexpectedly become a campaign issue in the Fresno mayor’s race – and driven a wedge between candidate Lee Brand and the city’s firefighter union
Who would have guessed?
To date, the Fresno mayor’s race has mostly been devoid of pure politics, and the only real disagreements have been among the five candidates – Brand, Henry R. Perea, Richard Renteria, H. Spees and Doug Vagim – over policy stances such as how to fund more police officers, past votes or decisions on important local issues, or how they would run the city if elected. The election is June 7.
The current dust-up started when Richard Caglia, a Fresno businessman and State Center Community College District trustee, put a 1962 International firetruck he owns into service, driving around Fresno with a “Lee Brand for Mayor” sign atop of the vehicle.
Some leaders of Fresno City Fire Fighters Local 753, the union that represents around 300 Fresno firefighters, took exception because the union has endorsed Perea for mayor.
“Why use a firetruck?” asked union Vice President James Scoggins. “There’s a reason you’re using a firetruck. It says firefighters.”
The firetruck, Scoggins said, is a “deceptive tactic” that could mislead voters into thinking firefighters endorsed Brand.
But on Tuesday, Brand fired back, saying firefighters are the ones being deceptive – not him.
Brand pointed to a mail piece sent out jointly by the firefighters union and the Fresno Police Officers Association, which also has endorsed Perea.
“Every candidate seeks the support of public safety, but only Henry R. Perea has earned unanimous support of police, fire and deputy sheriffs,” the mailer says. The Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association has endorsed Perea as well.
That’s not true, Brand said. It is the Fresno Firefighters Legislative Action Committee and the FPOA’s political action committee that endorsed Perea, and not the entire memberships of both unions. The same goes for the sheriff’s deputies, he said.
“I am publicly asking Mr. Scoggins and the Fresno Firefighters to stop deceiving voters into thinking every police officer, firefighter and deputy sheriff have endorsed their candidate for mayor,” Brand said in a written statement. “That isn’t true and they know it. I have many supporters who are police officers, firefighters and deputy sheriffs.”
Scoggins said a union subcommittee voted on the endorsement, which is outlined in its bylaws. But, he said, the overall union membership voted on leadership, and that leadership is tasked with acting on behalf of the entire union. Because of that, he said, the endorsement stands for the union membership, even though individuals within the union may support other candidates.
“It’s just spin to try and turn it toward us,” Scoggins said of Brand’s complaint.
Brand also said he was unaware that Caglia had been driving the firetruck around until Scoggins called him about it on Friday. It is misleading for Scoggins to call out Brand on the issue when he had nothing to do with it, Brand said.
Caglia said he took the initiative without telling Brand.
“After 16 years of using a firetruck, somebody has a huge issue with it,” Caglia said. “The firetruck has been used for various campaigns over the years since I ran for City Council.”
That, incidentally, was a 56-vote loss in 2002 to Henry T. Perea – Henry R. Perea’s son.
Caglia has marveled at how his stunt has morphed from one truck driving around town into a major political issue with tons of media attention – including several hours Monday on KMJ radio.
At least one Fresno firefighter isn’t happy about that.
Fresno City Fire Fighters Local 753 President Carlton Jones said his fellow union leaders who have made an issue over the firetruck should have just let it be. Instead, they’ve made a huge issue out of it – and generated a truck full of free publicity for Brand.
“You know why (Donald) Trump is smashing people?” Jones asked. “It’s because people keep saying ‘Trump.’ ”
Jones should know about this stuff. He is a member of the Tulare City Council and has run for state Assembly.
Besides his complaint about giving Brand free publicity when his members should instead be out touting Perea, Jones made two other points: His fellow union members should keep it positive and he doesn’t blame Brand or his supporters for looking for any electoral edge they can get.
“If I had a friend who owned a space shuttle, I would expect to see a ‘vote for Carlton’ sign on the moon,” Jones said. “If Brand has a friend with a firetruck, good for him. If someone drives around in a green jeep, does it mean they have the backing of the military? No, it doesn’t.”
Jones added that while his union is backing Perea, Brand could ultimately win the election, and there is no need to make an enemy during a campaign with someone who could be the next mayor.
Scoggins said he isn’t looking to get on Brand’s bad side.
“Lee and I have always had a respectful, cordial relationship,” Scoggins said. “We’ve always answered each others’ calls. I don’t have an issue with Lee Brand. I have an issue with those who work with Lee or for Lee.”
Jones said it all could have been handled differently.
During his campaigns, he said, he won not by making enemies on the other side, but by changing minds.
He wishes his union cohorts would let the issue die and move on to more substantive issues – like telling Fresno residents why they should vote for Perea instead of complaining about an old firetruck driving around Fresno.