By James Mendez
Candidates for the 2020 mayor’s race have said this is a pivotal race that will decide the course of Fresno’s social-economic development for many years to come. As of July 15, five people had announced their intent to run for mayor of Fresno—Elliot Balch, Luis Chavez, Jerry Dyer, Andrew Janz and Richard Renteria.
The mayoral election takes place on March 3, 2020, concurrent with the California Presidential primary. The deadline to file one’s candidacy is Dec. 6, but additional viable candidates are unlikely to surface. If the leading candidate for mayor gets more than 50% of the vote in the March 2020 primary, that person wins outright; if the top candidate falls short of 50%, there will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters in the November General Election.
Two of the candidates, Janz and Balch, are already actively campaigning. Both have developed Web sites with biographical information and issue positions, and both are accessible through campaign e-mail and phone contacts. They have signs and bumper stickers and have made presentations at voters’ homes and forums.
Dyer has some signs but has not yet begun to actively campaign. Although he does not appear to have any campaign social media, he seems to be making more public appearances in his police chief uniform. Chavez and Renteria do not appear to be actively campaigning at this time.
At a July 13 forum hosted by the Central Valley Progressive PAC, two of the mayoral candidates, Balch and Janz, presented their positions on important issues facing Fresno and answered questions on homelessness, the impact of immigration laws on Fresno, the environment, housing and police accountability.
On many issues, there was not much disagreement between the two. Both favored funding the Immigrant Advisory Committee, which was vetoed recently by Mayor Lee Brand. Both expressed significant differences with Dyer.
Janz noted that, if elected, he would engage the community to find a replacement for the police chief who is currently being selected by Dyer and Brand. Both Janz and Balch spoke of moving toward an inclusive government that serves all the people of Fresno, not just those who live north of Shaw Avenue.
Brand began his reelection campaign on Jan. 19, 2018. By Dec. 31, 2018, his campaign had amassed $445,650.36, much of it from Fresno developers. His thinking was that a large war chest would discourage opposition. Indeed, there were no challengers until Janz picked up the gauntlet on April 26, 2019.
Also on April 26, GV Wire, an online site founded by developer and Republican mega-donor Darius Assemi, released a poll of 300 likely voters’ preference in the mayor’s race. The poll, which included Brand, Dyer (who had not yet declared his candidacy) and Janz, showed that Janz had good name recognition as a result of the Congressional race. Brand came in a distant third.
Subsequent to the GV Wire poll, Fresno’s conservative business establishment decided to anoint Dyer as the next mayor rather than support Brand’s reelection. Facing that reality, Brand withdrew from the race on May 20, 2019.
Janz was raised in Visalia. He earned a B.A. in economics and an M.A. in public administration at California State University–Stanislaus. Janz says that his master’s program helped him understand how cities operate and what it takes to run a city. Per Janz’s Web site, he was “selected to attend the prestigious Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which was founded by former CIA Director Leon Panetta.” Later, Janz earned his law degree at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.
For a number of years, Andrew Janz has worked as a deputy district attorney for the Fresno County District Attorney’s office. He is currently assigned to the Violent Crimes Unit where he has handled a number of high-profile cases.
In the 2018 election cycle, he ran for Congress in District 22 against Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Tulare) losing by 5 percentage points in November 2018, but gaining significant name recognition and political experience in the process. After the election, he continued his work in the DA’s Violent Crimes Unit. In January 2019, Janz founded the Voter Protection Project to encourage voter registration and oppose voter suppression and gerrymandering.
Janz says that his campaign will focus on ethics, integrity, honesty and transparency, all of which he feels are severely lacking at City Hall. Furthermore, Janz plans to address homelessness and its many causes; bring more and better jobs to Fresno; enhance and increase public parks; address poverty, which he believes is a major cause of Fresno’s gang and crime issues; and improve public safety not only by increasing the number of police officers but also via criminal justice reform measures.
Janz is refusing to take contributions from developers. Over the years, while donating mainly to Republicans, developers have used their financial influence to control Fresno city and county development. Janz feels strongly that developer control of Fresno needs to be constrained.
The other active candidate, Balch, declared his candidacy on May 30, 2019. Balch is a 38-year-old, third-generation Fresnan. He is a 1999 Edison High School valedictorian, a fluent Spanish speaker and a 2003 Harvard graduate. After college, Balch worked for four years in the state legislature in Sacramento. He returned to Fresno in 2008 and served as the Downtown Association’s board president.
Per his Web site, from 2009 to 2014, Balch was at City Hall under Mayor Ashley Swearengin during the “Great Recession” as the downtown revitalization manager leading on infrastructure projects including Fulton Street; helping to secure millions of dollars to support small business growth; assisting in the creation of the Downtown Fresno Partnership in 2010; focusing on new design standards and land-use planning, and working with developers to facilitate individual projects. In 2014, he relocated to get an M.A. in public policy from the University of Chicago.
Returning to Fresno in 2016, Balch became the chief operating officer at the Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF), again working with Swearengin, now the president/CEO of the CVCF. Balch served on the Yes on P Steering Committee in 2018. Measure P, a ballot measure to provide funding for parks, was opposed by Mayor Brand, Police Chief Dyer and the Fresno conservative establishment. Yes on P won a majority of the votes but not the two-thirds majority required for passage.
This mayor’s race is about working “together, to overcome our disparities,” says Balch, and “reaching forward for prosperity, or falling back in fear or inaction.”
Mayoral candidate Dyer, during his only campaign press conference, used the exclusionary campaign slogan “One Fresno Way.” While he has strong support among Fresno’s conservative, White, evangelical Christians, his positions on the issues show that he is not focused on forming an inclusive community.
Dyer stood in opposition to Measure P, the 2018 parks initiative that was supported by the majority of Fresno residents. In 2018, Dyer said, “I’m not a sales tax guy. I’m not an increase taxes person. I’m generally adamantly opposed to those things.”
He has said he supports no tax increases except for policing and public safety. He also supported the 2017 ordinance that criminalized the homeless.
His 18-year tenure as police chief has shown his management to be problematic. Several recent articles on Fresno police practices regarding traffic stops and police shootings have raised the issues of racial profiling and racial bias.
In 2012, the city had to pay lawyers and plaintiffs when it lost lawsuits for sexual harassment and racial discrimination due to the hostile work environment that Dyer created.
Further poor departmental management was in evidence when in 2017 Dyer claimed to be unaware that his second in command, Keith Foster, was selling heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines. Foster was subsequently found guilty and imprisoned for his actions.
To make an informed decision that will be beneficial to all Fresno residents, voters will have to look at the mayoral candidates to see who best speaks to their needs. Voters will need to decide which of the candidates best displays the vision, the knowledge, the ability, the experience, the leadership, the ethics and the integrity they want to see in their next mayor.
James Mendez is a retired physician. He is a supporter of public education having been a recipient from kindergarten through medical school. He and his wife are thankful for this time of their lives to spend time with their daughters and grandchildren. Contact him at email@example.com.