Fresno Mayor Lee Brand announced Monday that he would not seek re-election for a second term. That is a good decision, both for him and for the city.
Brand said he turned 70 in April, which caused him to reflect on his life and ask his family for advice. The consensus was to pass the baton to someone new. Brand plans on working “pedal to the metal” for his final 19 months in office before he steps down to spend time with his wife and their grandchildren.
A review of Brand’s tenure as mayor, which began 2017, shows mixed results:
▪ He joined the mayors of California’s 10 largest cities to successfully lobby the state for funds to help deal with homelessness. In February the Fresno City Council approved Brand’s plan to use $3 million in state funding to create a shelter to house homeless individuals and families.
▪ Amazon and Ulta opened fulfillment centers in south Fresno that, combined, provide about 5,000 jobs. Luring them started under Brand’s predecessor, Ashley Swearengin, and he helped finalize the deals. Brand’s goal is to land more employers so that when he leaves office, 10,000 new jobs will have been created.
▪ Brand benefited from taking office when the economy was on the rebound from the dark days of the recession. Still, under his watch the city’s reserve has grown to a hefty $34 million and Fresno has a fully funded pension system for retired employees — a distinction few cities in California can boast.
▪ However, Brand tried to clear the way for an industrial park in the same area where Amazon and Ulta are located. The city was sued by residents living nearby on grounds that proper environmental review had not been done, and the state Attorney General’s Office intervened as well. Chastened, Brand promised to better involve the citizens going forward.
▪ Perhaps most importantly, Brand earned ill will with many Fresno voters over last fall’s Measure P, the parks funding measure. He opposed it, saying the sales tax it would have set up would have been in place for too long. Brand also wanted hiring more police officers to be the priority over parks, despite the dismal shape many park facilities are in. The measure garnered more than 50 percent of voters’ approval, but not by the necessary two-thirds majority.
At a meeting with The Bee’s Editorial Board last fall to discuss Measure P, Brand looked worn down. To be sure, that campaign was emotional and hard fought. But on Monday he spoke about the “two-ton” weight he felt he has been carrying since becoming mayor and what a relief it is to not have to campaign again.
His advice to his successor: “Be careful what you wish for. It’s a big job,” he told KMJ’s Ray Appleton.
One of those who may run for mayor is current police Chief Jerry Dyer. He retires in October. Dyer expects to make an announcement in coming weeks about his intentions.
Another contender is Councilman Luis Chavez, who announced shortly after Brand’s news that he would seek the office. A third candidate who has filed an intention to run statement is Andrew Janz, the Fresno County deputy district attorney who mounted a strong campaign for Congress against longtime incumbent Devin Nunes.
Jobs, police, parks and the city budget will remain top items for the next mayor. Until that election, Brand will have the opportunity to leave a lasting mark with selection of the next police chief, something he will do in concert with City Manager Wilma Quan. Brand promises to make the best choice for all Fresnans — the principle that he says he tried to live by in his now-single term as mayor.