Will the Fulton Mall be transformed from a civic jewel into a symbol of Mayor Swearengin’s failed leadership? Photo by Leonard Adame

GOP Focus on New Faces Such as Swearengin

By Eduardo Stanley

Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from a piece that appeared at www.voxxi.com.

What feeds conservative illusions of a comeback? They rely on “new faces” and a different political message.

The GOP is playing some hard cards with “new” faces such as Ashley Swearengin, Fresno mayor since 2008—she was reelected in 2012—a 41-year-old conservative politician who shows a more flexible image compared with old-fashioned Republicans. She announced last month she will run for state controller.

She declared her experience as co-founder of the Regional Jobs Initiative—an industry-focused effort aimed at helping unemployment—and a similar position obtained by appointment from former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger before becoming mayor to be a crucial asset for the controller position.

However, Swearengin will face a tough campaign road. She will go through a preliminary election in June—Republicans may help her by not placing a “difficult” challenger—but for the November election most likely she’ll face Democrat John Perez, a termed-out well-known elected official.

What does Swearengin have to show besides some symbolic jobs and her current mayor-ship? And how successful is she at her current job?

“Ashley Swearengin is smart, enthusiastic, and works tirelessly on behalf of builders, developers and the affluent in Fresno,” says Mike Rhodes, founder of the Central Valley Progressive PAC. “She has put significant city resources into bulldozing homeless encampments and forcing them out of downtown in a campaign to revitalize Fresno’s urban core.

“As recently as last month, Mayor Swearengin convinced the City Council to pass an ordinance preventing homeless people from pushing shopping carts,” he notes.

More impressive yet are her two big political defeats. The first one, in June 2013, involves her obsession to privatize businesses held by the city, as a typical conservative proposal. Swearengin’s bid to privatize the city’s garbage residential trash pickup lost in the polls.

The second one: The City Council voted 4-3 to stop a project called Bus Rapid Transit in January 2014. The project, supported by Swearengin, would have been funded by $50 million from the federal government and would have improved local public transportation dramatically.

Those opponents are, like Swearengin, conservatives. So why did they vote “no”? According to some analysts, it was because the project is opposed by big businesses not interested in more green and massive public transportation.

But why couldn’t Swearengin secure at least another vote on behalf of a project she supported and that could bring much-needed jobs to this city of 500,000 residents?

After all, her electoral campaign in 2008—as well as those of many of her conservative peers now at City Hall—was based on the promise of jobs.

If Swearengin really wants to aim for a state electoral post, she needs more than a cute image because she will be confronted by these failures and lack of leadership.

Finally, Swearengin is known for not having a good rapport with minorities, particularly Latinos.

*****

Eduardo Stanley is a journalist and photographer covering issues related to immigration and the Central Valley. Learn more about his work at www.eduardostanley.com.

  • Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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