Political Notebook

Chavez has early edge to take over Quintero’s Fresno council seat

Luis Chavez
Luis Chavez

To call Luis Chavez the early favorite in the Fresno City Council District 5 special election this November would be stating the obvious.

Chavez is already an elected Fresno Unified trustee, and his district on that board covers about half of the District 5 city council district. He’s also been chief of staff for the current council member, Sal Quintero, for the past six years.

If nothing else, being a District 5 chief of staff has proven to be a great career move for politicians. Quintero’s one-time chief of staff Mike Dages won the seat when Quintero was termed out in 2002. Quintero then served as Dages’ chief of staff for eight years before winning the seat again in 2010, when Dages reached his term limit.

Since then, Chavez has been Quintero’s top lieutenant.

Now, Quintero is leaving the seat two years before the end of his term after winning a seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

Chavez immediately said he would run, and quickly got his campaign up and running, gaining several endorsements.

“We’ve been at it for a couple of months,” Chavez says.

All this doesn’t automatically mean he’ll win. It just means he’s out of the gate first. And he’ll definitely have competition for the seat.

Jose Leon-Barraza, the CEO of the Southeast Fresno Regional Park and Soccer Complex Authority, a joint powers authority between the City of Sanger and the Malaga County Water District, and Fresno businessman Antonio “Tony” Gastelum are also running.

The filing deadline is Friday for Quintero’s seat, so more people could jump in.

“I’m very interested in serving at the local level, whatever opportunities come up,” Gastelum said. “I’m going to be right there, giving the people a choice.”

Gastelum just came in third in the District 3 Fresno County supervisor race that Quintero won. He’s already set up a Facebook page.

Leon-Barraza immediately set himself up as a Chavez antagonist, and talked of waging a grassroots campaign against Chavez, who he called the establishment candidate.

Right now, Leon-Barraza may be best known as the leader of a push to establish a regional park on a 49-acre site on the east side of Peach Avenue south of Butler Avenue that was conditionally donated by the National Park Service to the city about 10 years ago.

“I think that it is very important for Southeast Fresno to have the same amenities as we have in north Fresno,” he said. “Parks and soccer fields are very important.”

A lack of leadership from Quintero and Chavez, Leon-Barraza said, is part of the reason the land still sits idle.

Leon-Barraza, also Fresno County’s former economic development director, came in fourth in the June 2010 primary election in a run for the same seat.

If a candidate wins 50 percent of the vote in November, that person is the winner. If not, there’s a runoff between the top two finishers.

The only paperwork thus far for Leon-Barraza and Gastelum deal with the intention to run and setting up a fundraising committee. Chavez has something more: documents showing an $8,000 contribution from the Fresno City Firefighters Local 753, which has endorsed him.

It may be another reason Gastelum and Leon-Barraza will have to play catch up. It’s going to be a quick campaign season because the special election only became necessary after Quintero won the supervisor race in June.