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TRAILMIX: Welcome to the Grip and Grin stage

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Here are five Campaign 2016 tidbits from the trail. All are from the Fresno City Hall front.

Retail politics in Northeast

photo (3)It’s called “meet and greet” – candidate and supporters gathered to enjoy vittles while goosing everyone’s enthusiasm for the long slog ahead.

I’d never been to one. But that was before City Council District 6 candidate Holly Carter invited me to her “meet and greet” Friday evening at Murphy Bank in North Fresno’s Fig Garden Village.

About 80 people filled the small conference room. Jacky Parks, president of the Fresno Police Officer’s Association, made a brief stop.

Jerry Duncan, District 6 council member from 2001 to 2009, is part of the Carter team.

“Coach, helper, strategist – you name it,” Duncan answered when I asked about his duties.

Carter grabbed a cordless microphone about an hour into the festivities. Everyone circled a table full of campaign literature.

The Carter theme? “Change for Fresno,” she said. “If we want change in our leadership, then we have to grow our leaders.”

Carter faces a quite a fight. Former District 6 Council Member Garry Bredefeld and businessman/entertainer Jeremy Pearce also want to succeed the termed out Lee Brand.

Carter talked about public safety. She praised the small business-owner. She extolled the virtues of agriculture.

Bredefeld and Pearce are eloquent on those things, too.

Maybe that’s why the “meet and greet” for every candidate is so important. When the distinction among ballot choices reveals little difference, allies willing to donate money or walk precincts are the key.

“That’s what I want to do for the city of Fresno – manufacture hope,” Carter said. “But I can’t do it alone.”

I’m told Bredefeld is hosting a “meet and greet” on March 1. Mayor Ashley Swearengin is supposed to be there.

I’d heard Pearce had a “meet and greet” lined up for last Saturday. I’d heard wrong. He actually had two performances that day.

Pearce is one of the nation’s top Elvis impersonators.

The Ashjian Primary, redux

Carter, Bredefeld and Pearce spent the late afternoon of Feb. 11 talking on the radio with businessman/Fresno Unified board member Brooke Ashjian on Power Talk 96.7.

The candidates spoke sequentially. First up was Carter. Here are a few highlights from her interview, followed by the same from Bredefeld and Pearce.

“Who is Holly Carter? I’m 47 years old. I’m a single mother of four, although only two are still at home,” she said. “I have three-and-a-half grandchildren – another is on the way. I’ve lived in Fresno since 1995 and in District 6 for over 11 years. I’m a proud business owner. I own Carter & Co., Inc., which is a strategic communications firm.”

The homelessness/vagrancy issue is on just about everyone’s mind in Northeast Fresno.

“We have services and social safety nets out there for the homeless and those who need help,” Carter said. “As many of us have discussed before, there is no reason today for anybody to be homeless in the city of Fresno. If they’re homeless, it’s because they have chosen to reject the services that are available to them.

“But, really, what it comes down to as far as I’m concerned is we lack the political will to deal with it. There is a lot of fear from the political establishment to take it on and deal with it. But we’ve got to declare war, essentially, on the habitual vagrants and stop allowing them to undermine and threaten the quality of life that we have, particularly in Northeast Fresno.”

Many who live on the streets have serious mental health challenges.

“We have to use tough love and we also have to step it up in terms the resources that we make available for mental illness,” Carter said. “And that’s going to come down to funding.”

Carter said the Police Department needs at least 850 sworn officers, a big jump from the 760 authorized by this year’s budget.

But, Carter added, “public safety is police and fire. It’s not police or fire….It’s my belief that in the short term we have no choice but to allocate a disproportionate amount of the general fund increase and any other budget savings to rebuilding our public safety services.”

And why did Carter some two years ago decided to run for political office?

“Small businesses and the absolute suffering that they go through in trying to open and grow,” she said. “According to the business owners in the city of Fresno, we are not business friendly.”

Bredefeld is no stranger to many Northeast Fresno voters – he was District 6’s council member from 1997 to 2001.

“I’ve dedicated my whole life to serving other people,” Bredefeld said. “I went into the military, served in the Navy, got my doctorate in clinical psychology. I’ve been working with people my whole adult life, helping them solve problems.

“I also work at the Fresno Veterans Hospital. I work with veterans, which is a tremendous honor for me to do that as well. And I did run in the late ‘90s because we had a crime wave at that time. There were drive-by shootings almost every day. I wanted to get involved. I ran for the City Council, served for four years. We hired 170 police officers at that time. We made it a priority to beef up the Police Department. And we solved a lot of the crime problems we were having at that time.

“Crime goes up and it goes down. But we committed the resources. We have a lot of crime problems now, and we’re going to have to do very similar things to make sure our Police Department has the resources to fight crime.”

The City Council in 2000 decided to build the downtown stadium, now called Chukchansi Park. Bredefeld play a key role in the decision. He’s ready for stadium questions in Campaign 2016.

“History has shown that’s it’s a great idea,” Bredefeld said. “You have half a million people that come through that stadium every year. That’s kids, families. And it’s not just about baseball. It’s having an entertainment venue for people to go to.

“So, that’s seven and a half million people that have come through that stadium in 15 years. Chukchansi (tribe) named the park. We have the best naming rights (deal) in all of Triple A baseball. (The tribe) believed in the stadium. They gave $16 million over 15 years.

“There have been all kinds of multiplier effects. Mehmet Noyan, a very prominent developer in our town, is looking to invest $30 million downtown. He told me: ‘If that stadium wasn’t there, I would not be investing.’ We had the stadium sold out with Taco Tuesdays, (and) about four or five soccer games where there were 16,000 people in that stadium….It has been a tremendous addition to our city.”

Bredefeld pitches himself as a “can do” guy.

“I was elected to get things done,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in sticking my finger in the air, seeing which way the wind blows. Unfortunately, a lot of politicians do that. I believe in getting things done, whether it was revitalizing downtown, beefing up the Police Department, building a northeast police substation at Cedar and Teague (avenues), building neighborhood parks, planting thousands of trees. That’s what we did in four years. I think that’s a strong record of accomplishment. That’s the kind of leadership I provided. That’s what I intend to provide again.”

Pearce was the third and last District 6 candidate to tangle with Ashjian.

“Most folks in this area know me as an entertainer – Jeremy ‘Elvis’ Pearce, my stage name,” Pearce said. “I’ve been entertaining here in the Valley and around the country and out of the country for over 30 years. I started when I was 8 years old in my third grade talent show in Reedley. I love the small Valley towns. I grew up working in the packing sheds to save up for my first sound equipment and built it up into the most booked Elvis act in the state.”

Pearce said people ask whether his operation is a real business.

“Yes, it’s a real business,” Pearce said. “My end product is an Elvis show. But we deal with payroll, business taxes, vendors, business insurance. Everything. We put on 200 events a year. We’re going to scale back. We have to. But I’ve had some voters say, ‘If you quit altogether, we’re not voting for you. We’ve enjoyed your shows for so long.’”

At this point, Pearce added a perfect “thank you very much” from what sure sounded like The King himself.

But Pearce didn’t linger there. City business is serious stuff. He said the Police Department needs 1,000 sworn officers.

“Obviously the budget reality is you’re not going to get to a thousand police overnight,” Pearce said. “But that has to be the goal, that has to be the target, that has to be the priority. The way I am, I need that goal in my mind. A thousand police officers is what we need. That’s what Chief Dyer says we need. Other candidates say, ‘That’s crazy. You can’t do that.’ Now more people are starting to talk about that thousand number. I’ve never wavered from that.”

Pearce said resources are available for the truly homeless. As to the vagrants and panhandlers: “For those folks we’ve got a different kind of service. That’s the police. What Mayor Giuliani in New York did was (say): ‘We’re going to follow you and follow you until you either get the help you need or you move on.’ Maybe Fresno isn’t the place for you.”

Finally, Pearce issued a warning.

“The listeners need to pay attention to this next thing I’m going to say,” he said. “The next council and the next mayor are to be dealing with something called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (a new regulation from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development). That is going to cause an explosion and you’d better be prepared for it. You’d better have a council member that’s prepared for it. I’m prepared for it.”

Debate Restraint?

I’m not keen on prior restraint.

Prior restraint is a form of censorship. Somebody – the government usually, but sometimes a powerful special interest – learns you’re going to say or publish or do something in the realm of the First Amendment’s free speech/free press guarantees.

This somebody then uses its power to quash your effort before it even happens – prior restraint.

Of course, there are occasions where such imposed restraint is justified. But even then, we Americans have been known to argue mightily about what’s going on.

A few at City Hall are pretty worked up about the March 10 CVObserver/Power Talk mayoral debate. Brand, Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea and community activist H. Spees will duke it out for two hours on the radio.

Somebody in a debate has to ask the questions. In this one, they’ll come from Granville Homes President Darius Assemi, FPOA’s Parks and me.

City Hall tells me: We’re fine with you, Hostetter. But Assemi and Parks – they’re constantly doing business with elected leaders. Their presence on the debate panel is a conflict of interest.

City Hall would love to see the Power Talk debate die before it’s born.

I don’t get it.

For starters, who am I? I’m just another guy (drill sergeants in the old Army had an earthier way of expressing the same humbling sentiment). There’s nothing about me that makes me especially fit to ask questions of the next mayor of Fresno.

Second, what could Assemi and Parks possibly ask over the airwaves that would compromise the integrity of our municipal government? In fact, the March 10 debate is precisely the opposite of all those horror stories (fairy tales?) about how City Hall did business long ago. You know – rich developers and ruthless labor leaders would supposedly go behind closed doors and tempt Fresno’s spaghetti-spined politicians to do something against the public interest. On March 10, every word from everyone becomes a permanent part of the public record. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Third, America’s long push-back against prior restraint doesn’t mean what’s said or published is good. It means Americans prefer to let the free-speech chips fall where they may. If, for example, my story about Fresno State football is a disaster, well, the Red Wave finds it better for a free society to whomp on me after the fact. That way, free men and women see the contrasting viewpoints and decide for themselves who’s right and who’s wrong. The marketplace generally is the best judge of free speech. So, too, on March 10. Listen to the debate, Fresno. Then you judge.

Finally, all this makes me think of a candidate debate I covered for The Bee some years ago. It was hosted by one of those nonprofit, do-gooder voter education groups. The hour-long show was heartbreakingly boring! I walked away thinking, “Yorktown was for this?” Then I realized I’m cut from the same cloth as the panel moderator.

Here’s hoping Darius and Jacky on March 10 cover for me.

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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