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Baines targeted in potential recall effort

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Fresno City Council President Oliver Baines might face a recall effort.

Oscar Robinson spent part of Wednesday afternoon at the Fresno County Elections Office getting the low-down on how to get a recall petition started.

I was waiting in line behind Robinson as he spoke with elections officials. We chatted briefly on the Kern Street sidewalk when he was done.

“He’s a fine man, but I just think I could do a better job,” Robinson said. “I live in the district, I work in the district, I have a business in the district. Everyday I see improvements that need to be done. So do my fans and supporters.”

Robinson said his first task is to get the 10 signatures needed to get an official recall petition. He said the plan is to convince District 3 voters to remove Baines.

If that comes to pass, Robinson said, “I’d throw my name in there and let the voters decide. Right now I’m just an individual working with some supporters and trying to get it started.”

Baines beat former Fresno City Council Member/state Assembly Member Mike Briggs in November 2010 to win his first term at City Hall. Baines won a second term in the June 2014 primary, getting 66% of the vote to avoid a November runoff.

But the outcome was surprisingly close when you consider that the other two-candidates, Barbara Ann Hunt and Eddie Rashad, didn’t have anywhere near the resources of Baines.

Hunt, a familiar face at council meetings and in local elections, got 19.6% of the vote. Rashad, a businessman, got 13.6%.

District 3 is different than the other six council districts in two ways.

The first is its geography. The district is a hodge-podge of unique neighborhoods. At the north end (as far as Shields and Cornelia avenues) are new housing tracts west of Highway 99. Then you’ve got Roeding Park, a good chunk of the Fresno High School area (but not the school itself) and a major piece of the Tower District.

That’s not all. District 3 includes the Lowell Neighborhood north of downtown, the Cultural Arts District, downtown itself, Chinatown and many of the vast industrial/warehouse projects at the very southern end of Fresno.

And then there is West Fresno, home to Edison High School and historic heart of the city’s African-American community.

No other council district can match District 3 when it comes to historic significance and scale of human diversity.

The second difference: District 3 politics seem more personal.

Cynthia Sterling, who represented District 3 for eight years before being termed out in January 2011, took her share of grief from disgruntled constituents speaking at the public microphone during council meetings.

Baines, too, periodically gets criticized by name in the same manner.

I’m not saying the other council members are immune to this personalized anger. I’m just saying the person in the District 3 hot seat seems to get more than the other six combined.

Why?

I think it goes back to District 3’s unique geography.

The new neighborhoods west of 99 and north of Roeding Park are too green to be organized politically. The Tower District south of Olive (District 3) doesn’t have the cohesion of the Tower District north of Olive (District 1). The Lowell Neighborhood is too poor and unstable to be a player. The Cultural Arts District has nothing but new apartment complexes.

And there’s not much to organize in what’s essentially a 10-square-mile industrial park at the south end of District 3.

The straw that stirs the drink in District 3 is West Fresno. There’s a ton of tradition there. That means the rivalry is intense to secure West Fresno as a political base.

Oscar Robinson’s recall effort may turn out to be so much hot air. But it does reflect on the volatile nature of District 3 politics, even when the incumbent has three years left in his second and final term.

Two final points.

Robinson said he’s the campaign manager for his mother, Gwen Morris. She’s a Republican running against incumbent Jim Patterson for the 23rd Assembly seat.

And I used to think Baines would run for mayor in 2016. The former Fresno police officer, a Democrat, clearly has strong ambitions for higher office.

But he hasn’t thrown his hat in the mayoral ring.

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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