2018 Election Results in Fresno Council Races May Provide a Glimpse Into the 2020 Mayoral Race?

Mayor Lee Brand’s endorsed candidates may all make the November runoff, but Council may still see three Democrats elected in November.

To review the June election returns in Fresno City Hall races is to think of Lee Brand in 2020.

The Mayor’s chances for reelection are looking better and better.


The Fresno County Clerk’s Office on Friday posted updated numbers from the June 5 primary.

In the only race still with any drama, Tate Hill moved ahead of Daren Miller for the No. 2 spot in Council District 3.

Miguel Arias is comfortably in first with 29.6% of the vote. Then there’s Hill at 15.2% (608 votes), Miller at 14.9% (596), Craig Scharton at 14.4% (576) and Larry Burrus at 11.9% (475).

The top two move on to the November general election (unless someone finishes with 50% plus one).

The County Clerk’s website says about 14,000 absentee ballots and 7,300 provisional ballots remain to be processed. The next update is 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Council President Esmeralda Soria ran unopposed in District 1. District 5 incumbent Luis Chavez (41.2%) and Paula Yang (36.6%) will battle in November. It will be Brian Whelan (38.9%) vs. Nelson Esparza (37.7%) in District 7.

Whelan’s 48-vote lead over Esparza is interesting. The lead was 39 votes when the first returns (absentee ballots) on election night came in. Perhaps Whelan’s ground game (get-out-the-vote volunteers working the neighborhoods on election day) is the equal of Esparza’s.

Jose Barraza is third in District 5 with 17.5%. He won’t make the runoff, but he got considerable support. Does Barraza back Chavez or Yang in November?

But let’s look at the numbers from a longer-range perspective.

Brand is a Republican who narrowly beat Henry R. Perea, a Democrat, in the 2016 mayoral election. Brand, as Fresno’s strong mayors always do, governs from the center. Still, City Hall’s elective positions, non-partisan in theory, are very much partisan in reality. The reasons: Campaign contributions and volunteer labor.

Brand on June 5 endorsed Hill in District 3, Chavez in District 5 and Whelan in District 7.

Hill is in second place, but fighting for survival. Chavez very much wanted 50% plus one to avoid the runoff. Whelan is in first place, but has quite a challenge ahead of him since Veva Islas (who got 23% of the vote in District 7) might throw her support to Esparza.

More than one City Hall observer on election night suggested to me that these results were something of a rebuke to the Mayor’s influence and stature.

Why does this matter? The thinking in local Democratic circles is that the council dais next November could have Soria in District 1, Arias in District 3 and Esparza in District 7. All three have strong Democratic affiliations/leanings. Chavez operates from the center, but he is a Democrat and young enough to cherish a political future after his City Hall days.

The thinking isn’t so much that the Soria-Arias-Esparza coalition could make life miserable for Brand in the governing of Fresno, though that’s certainly possible. The thinking is that the Soria-Arias-Esparza coalition would signal a fundamental shift in Fresno’s political culture. California, after all, is a one-party state and that party belongs to the Democrats. Perhaps Fresno is finally catching up to reality.

Come 2020 and the mayoral election, the local Democrats would then buck tradition and run a strong candidate against an incumbent Brand who would be considered vulnerable to the shifting currents of history (incumbents Alan Autry and Ashley Swearengin had only token opposition in their mayoral reelection campaigns). Come January 2021, Fresno would have a Democrat-dominated City Council and a Democrat in the Mayor’s chair, a first since the city moved to the strong mayor government in 1997.

I don’t buy it, at least not yet.

Certainly there’s no guarantee that Arias and Esparza will win in November. More to the point, I think Brand would view it as a major advantage to run in 2020 against an alliance featuring Soria, Arias, Esparza and a Democratic challenger all chomping at the bit to impose on Fresno the same kinds of economic and social policies that emanate incessantly from that Democratic shop in Sacramento. You know what I mean – far left policies backed by virtue-signaling arrogance.

And if Soria, Arias, Esparza and the Democratic mayoral challenger in 2020 say they don’t want to emulate Sacramento, that all they want is a Fresno City Hall operated on economically prudent principles and focused on fostering both responsible justice and ordered liberty, then why switch mayoral horses in mid-stream?

Lee Brand in such an election would be a fearsome opponent.

  1. I think this article is getting a bit ahead of itself. I think Lee Brand will have no serious opposition in 2020, that 2024 is when we will be getting the Democratic Mayor. Also, each council member has their own issues, Bredefeld, Brandau, and Olivier do not agree with Brand on every vote. Brand has done some good stuff for Fresno, and I am sure each council member will look very forward to working with the Mayor on areas of agreement.

  2. I do not undersrand why the mayor created the rental home inspection. I grew up living in public housing and moved to Clovis. My parents worked hard to move out. Any cost of inspection and repair will be paid for by the renters. We will see a reduction in affordable rental units and possibly increase homelessness. Also, Fresno is still a anti-business city. We need to cut the red tape and make business permit automated.

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