The Fresno Partnership, a coalition of organized labor and community groups, held this forum on Feb. 22 featuring candidates running for the Board of Supervisors in Districts 1 and 4. Photo by Howard Watkins.

Forum Sets New Course for Local Politics

By Michael D. Evans

The Fresno Partnership shook up the local political world on Jan. 25 with a Candidate Forum for candidates in Fresno City Council Districts 1 and 7. The forum was unprecedented because of the coalition that came together to sponsor the event, its timing so early in the electoral cycle and the large community participation, with hundreds of attendees.

The Candidate Forum “changes the dynamic of the electoral politics in our municipal elections,” says Randy Ghan, secretary-treasurer of the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council, which is a member organization of the Fresno Partnership. “It’s going to change the notion of what local politics has been in our community—forever probably.”

Held on the Fresno City College campus, the forum was hosted by the State Center Federation of Teachers and sponsored by the Fresno Partnership.

The Fresno Partnership is a coalition “dedicated to restoring local governments to the purpose of operating in the public interest.” The coalition brings together organizations that might not agree on every issue but share common objectives and progressive ideals. In addition to a commitment to “pragmatic economic growth along with social, economic and environmental justice,” the Fresno Partnership seeks to “raise the level of civic engagement in Fresno…and to support the election of people who serve all of us, not just a select few.”

“This forum is a historic opportunity for the people in Fresno to come together and elect people who can really represent their interests, help them deal with the incredibly difficult economic times that we are going through and represent working people rather than the 1%,” says Pam Whalen, who represents both the ACLU and the Central Valley Progressive PAC on the Fresno Partnership.

Participating in the Candidate Forum were City Council District 1 candidates Mark Castro, Rama Dawar, Rebeca Rangel and Esmeralda Soria and City Council District 7 candidates Mauro Saldate and Mike Wells. District 1 candidates Lawrence Cano and Cary Catalano declined to participate, and District 7 incumbent Clint Olivier had a family matter the day of the event. Because of incumbent Blong Xiong terming out, District 1 is an open seat in the 2014 election.

Of the candidates who did not participate, “that’s a fundamental mistake they’re making,” states Ghan. “That’s their bad. And I think they’re ultimately going to pay a price for that.”

Some observers questioned the early scheduling of the Candidate Forum. Forums have typically occurred much closer to the election and almost always after candidate filing has ended.

“We need to start early getting people informed about who is running and build an army of volunteers who can go out and talk to their neighbors,” says Whalen.

The early forum “separates the wheat from the chaff,” adds Ghan.

The professionally organized event was effectively moderated by Dr. Jacqueline Ryle, following an introduction by Dr. Lacy Barnes, president of AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Local 1533 and speaking on behalf of the host group. The questions, which were not provided beforehand to the candidates, were asked by panelists from the broad categories of groups that make up the Fresno Partnership—labor, environmental, community and political.

The questions addressed a wide range of topics including community development and downtown revitalization, campaign finance reform, public safety, transparency in local government, immigration reform, air and water quality, high-speed rail, local hiring preferences and land-use principles. Candidates were also given an opportunity for a brief closing statement.

An interesting feature of the forum was a lightning round in which candidates could respond only “yes” or “no” to a series of statements. These were as follows:

  • The Fresno Board of Supervisors was right to reject federal funds to publicize the Affordable Care Act to Fresno residents. All candidates responded “no.”
  • My district would benefit from opening a Walmart superstore. All candidates responded “no.”
  • Addressing issues of homelessness is critically important in Fresno. All candidates responded “yes.”
  • I would vote for a measure to increase the minimum wage in Fresno. All candidates responded “yes.”
  • On the whole, Fresno youth have adequate educational, vocational and recreational opportunities. All candidates responded “no” except Dawar, who responded “yes.”

Despite few significant differences in the candidates’ views on the respective issues, there were substantial differences in style, presentation and depth of understanding of the issues.

Following the Candidate Forum, Ghan concluded that the Fresno Partnership is “moving in the right direction with lots of success and a lot of enthusiasm.”

To watch the CMAC video of the event go here: https://youtu.be/pIqiBp-jnis

The next Fresno Partnership candidate forum will be held on Feb. 22 and focus on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors races. When the time and location of that event are announced, the information will be available at www.cvppac.org.

*****

Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at evansm@usa.net.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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