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Campaigning done, Brand prepares to turn Fresno into a different city

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Here’s a short detail to remember about City Hall: The second hundred days will tell the most.

Let me back up a bit.

Lee Brand is the next mayor of Fresno. But he was still candidate Brand in the early evening of Nov. 8 when he found a moment during his Election Night party to reflect on the past year’s journey.

“I remembered when we began to earnestly get prepared back in January and February,” Brand told late last week. “There was all that jockeying going on – who’s going to run, who’s not going to run.

“November was way, way down the road. On Tuesday night I thought, ‘How fast it all went. I did all that work. I visited thousands of homes. Did it pay off?’

“And it did pay off.”

Brand on Thursday will take his customary seat on the Council Chamber dais. He has represented District 6 (Northeast Fresno) for nearly eight years.

This time, though, he’s fresh off a convincing victory over Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea in a memorable mayor’s race. It wasn’t a landslide – 53.3% to 46.5% so far with provisional and late absentee ballots still to count. Still, a margin of nearly seven percentage points puts the victory into the “convincing” range.

(Full disclosure – I’ve known both candidates for a long time. I thought either would be make a great mayor. I live in a county island.)

“We executed what I think will go down as one of the best-executed campaigns in Fresno history,” Brand said. “Henry had all the advantages. His name ID was double any of the other candidates in the primary, including myself. Yet we found a way to beat him decisively.”

The strategy wasn’t unique. Brand raised lots of money. He snagged key endorsements (Ashley Swearengin, Sal Quintero, H. Spees and Susan Anderson, to name only a few). He had get-out-the-vote teams working both north and south of Shaw Avenue.

“All cylinders were firing,” Brand said. “It took that collective action of a well-executed, well-financed campaign to produce victory on Nov. 8.”

But the road to success was built with more than technique.

“We had a better message,” Brand said.

How many mayoral debates did we have in the past six or seven months? A dozen? At the very least. It seemed that no news organization, educational institution, business association, social justice collaborative or ethnic/racial alliance throughout Fresno felt itself respectable and respected unless it was able to convince the top three primary candidates (Spees as well as Brand and Perea) or the Big Two finalists to come to their home turf and fight it out over big-city issues.

What were those issues? Cops, firefighters, jobs, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, water, parks, housing, Downtown revitalization.

Fresno is a city of 520,000 people. What else could the top issues be other than the bread-and-butter of municipal government?

Brand said he expects to have a busy first hundred days.

He will present a plan to add another 200 police officers (time frame still to come).

He will redefine the Office of Independent Review. The next police auditor will be full-time and live in Fresno, not some distant port such as Salt Lake City (as does current police auditor Rick Rasmussen, a talented and dedicated public servant whose influence on local civilian-law enforcement affairs has been inevitably weakened by geographic separation).

And a citizens-police advisory board is coming.

“I want to build a bridge of communications between the police department and the citizens,” Brand said. “I do believe there is a lot of tension to be talked about. I want to be pre-emptive.”

Brand is Fresno’s fourth strong mayor. His predecessors – Jim Patterson, Alan Autry, Swearengin – relished the authority and responsibility that go with being chief executive. Brand no doubt will, too.

He is confident in his governing abilities.

“I know the ropes,” Brand said. “I know the people. I know how the council works. I believe I have some inherent advantages that somebody from the outside wouldn’t have. And I’ve got a strong agenda.”

But moving from the council to the strong mayor’s office is crossing the Big Divide. Interests and relationships are reset on both sides. Yes, Brand is a veteran of government. Still, he’s about to get a lesson in the wondrous quirks of the separation of powers.

Fresnans are blessed with a front-row seat.

“I don’t set the bar low; my expectations are high,” Brand said. “I’m confident I can make a difference. I think people will say when I leave office, ‘This is a different city.’”

Mayor Brand’s first hundred days will take him into mid-April. His second hundred days will take him into his first budget.

That’s mayoral Prime Time.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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